My Dear Readers,
In the 5.4.14 post “Another Consequence of Racial Hatred,” I responded to an incident where a group of black men physically attacked a white motorist who was aiding a black child he had struck as the child was crossing the street. The attack, observed by as many as 100 onlookers, was halted when an elderly black woman intervened and put the motorist in a coma that he remains in today.
The media carried this incident across the country and the world, drawing comparisons to an incident in Jasper, TX when three white males, two of which were known to be white supremacists, murdered James Byrd Jr, a black man, by dragging him behind a pickup truck for three miles, resulting in his decapitation and death. The ensuing outcry from that case resulted in two of the men receiving death sentences, and the third was sentenced to life imprisonment.
I had the same expectations for justice as many others following the assault of the white motorist in Detroit, MI. However, now that the legal proceedings have concluded, I am left confused and bewildered by the messages of the judge, who spoke not only for the “rule of law,” but also for the expectations of a “moral and just society.”
Here is where my confusion and bewilderment lies: one of the males involved in the attack was a juvenile. The other three were adult males who (justifiably) received prison sentences for their roles in the racially motivated and unprovoked attack.
Upon the sentencing for Latrez Cummings, who by then had turned 19 years old and was being sentenced as an adult, the judge sentenced him to six months in jail. Six months in jail for an unprovoked attack that left the motorist in a coma and struggling to survive?
One could assume that the lesser sentence was due to his status as a juvenile at the time of the criminal act. Okay. That would make sense to focus on rehabilitation and not punishment. The others, being adults, are fully accountable and are to be held to the consequences of their actions.
What I find shocking, highly questionable and totally unacceptable are the comments made by the judge during the sentencing phase.
The Associated Press (7/17/14) reported that Wayne County Judge James Callahan, in responding to Cummings’ statement of not having a father figure in his life, stated:
“You needed a dad, someone to beat the hell out of you when you made a mistake, as opposed to allowing you or encouraging you to do it to somebody else.”
What? Is he serious? Are we on another planet? Our society is demanding accountability, and the judge is telling this young man that he needed a father to beat the hell out of him to keep the child from doing it to someone else?
But it doesn’t stop there. As the prosecutor openly objects to a sentence in which she describes as being “too light,” she adds:
“There are many young black men who were raised without a father but haven’t committed crimes.”
Judge Callahan, who is white, was obviously offended by her remark. He replied:
“Did I ever use the term “black”? It does not matter if the person is black, white, yellow or red.”
So, if color is not the issue, does this mean that all young men need their fathers to “beat the hell out of them?” Is this the “rule of law” and the expectation of a moral and just society? As a father, am I expected to do this?
My confusion and bewilderment aside, as a professional, as a person and as a father, I am writing the following OPEN LETTER to Judge Callahan:
To the Honorable James Callahan:
Respectfully, you are WRONG. You suggest by your words that wrongful behavior must be used to prevent wrongful behavior, and that is a harmful message to send to society.
Granted, our citizenry was psychologically wounded by this attack. The time of the sentencing was supposed to be a moment for healing of the wounds caused by racial strife.
However, the message that you provided not only serves to encourage more violence, but also serves to denigrate thousands of young males being raised in single parent homes who have not turned to violence as a means of expression.
You may have a lifestyle or live in a space where color and race are not factors, but the reality is that many of us have to respond to the issues of race and color every day. As African American men, we respond to (and endure with indignation) spirit-wounding interactions on a daily basis just from hailing taxis, riding on crowded elevators and other simple acts when interacting with others in the public domain.
Your comments not only reinforce the concept of violence as a just and fair punishment for a slight, but also heightens FEAR, which often leads to more violence. Consider this: what will be on the mind of the next white motorist who has to contend with the legal and moral dilemma of stopping to care for another person following an accident while riding through a residential community comprised of people who are racially or ethnically different? Do they stop and risk their safety? What is the right thing to do?
Privilege and the good life allows individuals like yourself to wade in the legal waters with opinions that will impact the lives of others for many years to come. What is sad, however, is that you truly do not understand the realities facing our psychologically wounded brethren as well as this missed opportunity to heal those who could have benefitted from prudent words and actions.
Judge Callahan, shame on you. Violence can never be the answer or tool for effective discipline for our children regardless of gender. In a moral and just society, it is essential that we identify alternative ways to communicate restraint and other such skills without the use of violence.
Just for a moment, consider the type of person who is raised with violence as his foundation. What type of spouse will he become? How will conflict be resolved in spousal relationships? Does one now add the term fear into the martial contract or vows?
Sir, this is not the type of society that I seek to leave for my children. I call upon all men and women regardless of race, color or ethnicity to reject the reasoning that you have handed down from the judicial bench.
Your comments deepen the emotional wounds and diminish the good works of many of your judicial colleagues around this nation. Truly, your words do not represent their beliefs or their oath of service to their communities.
One particular jurist, the Honorable LeRoy McCullough, Judge, King County Superior Court (Seattle, WA) is well known and respected by local citizens as well as within the legal community. Judge McCullough has accepted it as his responsibility to serve as a role model from the judicial bench, church and community activities.
Judge McCullough has, on numerous occasions, spoken to youth, particularly young men of diverse ethnic communities, and offered guidance, role modeling and understanding as to the expectations of citizenry in a moral and just society.
One day Judge McCullough and I will have the opportunity to sit in fellowship and discuss your words. The humanness of the error will be acknowledged, lessons will be learned, and as we conclude, the two of us will continue to honor our work and the passion of service to our communities.
Another missed opportunity. What can we learn and take away from this? To advocate for violence to prevent violence will only serve to achieve further violence. In the end, we become victims living in fear of each other.
Let us stand at the crossroads and have the willingness to forsake violence and chose a different direction.
Without the rule of law, we live in a society bent on chaos. As you sit on the judicial bench, please weigh your words carefully and serve to model the behavior that is desired in a moral and just society.
Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D. MSW, CTS LICSW
Until the next crossroads. The journey continues…