By Manny Otiko, California Black Media
People getting busted for hosting parties based on racial stereotypes is nothing new. But it’s not something that you expect from a legal organization that’s supposed to stand for impartiality in the law. But that’s what happened when photos leaked of a Halloween party thrown by the Judicial Council of California. The Judicial Council is the policymaking arm of the California courts. Its goal is to be an independent and impartial administration of justice.
According to a report from the San Francisco ABC affiliate, the party featured stereotypical images of people of color depicted as prisoners. Some of the male staff members dressed as a transgender character from the TV show, “Orange is the New Black.”
News of the Judicial Council’s party has sparked a political uproar from Black organizations and legislators.
“I am deeply disturbed by the reprehensible, racist and poor judgment the Judicial Council displayed at a Halloween party last year,” said Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D- Carson), a member of Legislative Black Caucus and Chair of Democratic Caucus. “For a public policymaking body that is equipped with the responsibility of fair access to the courts, it is highly disappointing that a group of judicial staff members would put down a race simply to win a contest. It is never okay to engage in stereotypical behavior or homophobic mockery, all while distributing offensive photos over a public server for ridicule.”
“I stand with the NAACP and am calling on the Judicial Council for a sincere public apology and an immediate reprimand of these senseless actions. This is demeaning, discriminatory, and sends the negative message that black people and members of the LGBTQ community are bad people.Although the damage is done and the seed is planted, and quite possibly for years to come, we will not tolerate bias from a department whose responsibility is that of justice for all. This action will not go unchallenged,” said Gipson.
The California Capitol Black Staff Association released a statement condemning the images.
“As public servants who work for a public body created to provide equitable access to California’s courts, it is shameful that these individuals chose to engage, on state time, in a type of hate speech that depicts dangerous stereotypes that have haunted the Black population in America since slavery,” said the California Capitol Black Staff Association.
According to the ABC report, Michael Roosevelt, an employee of the Judicial Council, said the images make a mockery of the organization’s goals.
“Here you’ve got the image of people who work for and support the courts who are dressed in prison garb, darkening their faces, depicting a prison setting where disproportionately those people who are incarcerated are people of color,” said Roosevelt.
The Alliance of California Judges said the incident proves the Judicial Council needs to be reformed.
“If the Chief Justice won’t restructure the Judicial Council, so its judicial members are elected by their peers, then it’s high time for the Legislature to take control of the judicial branch funds away from the Judicial Council and place those funds in the hands of a trial budget commission consisting of trial judges elected by their peers,” said the Alliance of California Judges in a press statement.
The pictures were also condemned by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena,) chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.
“The racist actions of those associated with the Judicial Council are shameful!” said Holden.
Dr. Amos Brown, national board member and president of San Francisco NAACP, who first learned about the incident from a Bay Area reporter said, “This should be a wake-up call for Blacks in this state. Blacks make up 6 percent of the California’s population but 45 to 50 percent of the inmate population.” Brown suggested an “ignorance of Black history” was the reason these employees could host a party in such poor taste.
Brown said he credited the executive director for the written apology discipline actions that have not been announced, but still feels like the damage has been done.
Third Baptist Church in San Francisco will be meeting with judges from the San Francisco Superior Court area on August 23 to discuss how to work together so the criminal justice systems can embody justice and restorative justice for the African American community and the greater community.