“Our White World”: Illinois Prosecutor Faces Charges After Race-Baiting Comments In Murder Trial

CT  MET-AJ-GARNATI.jpgOn the death of Nelson Mandela, the case of Williamson County State’s Attorney Charles Garnati before the the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission would seem to confirm just how much work has yet to be done. Garnati has been called to account to an argument in a murder trial that contrasted the black defendant with people “in our white world.”

Ethics officials charge Garnati with statements that “served no purpose other than to appeal to racial prejudice.” The statements were made at the trial of Marcus Marshall who allegedly shot and killed LaQuinn Hudson at a party in August 2010. He was tried by an all-white jury and Garnati seemed to want the jurors to see the murder as a matter in black and white. He began with “Now in our white world, ladies and gentlemen ….” He then observed “there are some very good law-abiding citizens in that community here.” He was referring to the small African-American community in the area.

He is facing four charges, including conduct that “tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or legal profession into disrepute.” Unlike Garnati, the good people at the Illinois bar seem to believe that “in our legal world” such references to race are anathema.

Garnati later agreed (as he had to) that Hudson deserved a new trial. To put it more simply, he denied a man a fair trial for murder and wasted the time of both the court and the jurors by turning the proceeding into a race-baiting travesty.

Garnati is in his eighth four-year term as the elected state’s attorney. He is a Democrat. He has been previously charged with ethics violation in an alleged malicious prosecution, though the court ruled in his favor. He also publicly accused police of harassing him after he prosecuted officers in the town when one stopped him as he was pulling into his driveway.

With the death of such an icon as Mandala, the timing could not be worse for Garnati. However, these comments would hopefully be treated as anathema at any time.

The question is what the proper punishment for such statements should be. Race-baiting does not simply show a lack of professionalism and ethics but conveys to citizens that their race will be considered in criminal prosecutions. Given his concession that a new trial is needed, he will presumably argue that this was a terrible mistake on his part and that poorly crafted words left the wrong impression of his true views. Should one such incident lead to his being removed as a prosecutor or even disbarred?

56 thoughts on ““Our White World”: Illinois Prosecutor Faces Charges After Race-Baiting Comments In Murder Trial

  1. Blouise, The discussion works when conversing with those who already have some understanding of white privilege and how devastating it can be. It doesn’t go far with those use white privilege but don’t have a clue. They’re entitled don’tcha know.

  2. Blouise,

    If you gals like to have a little fun, next time at a funeral or wedding, be a little flirtatious towards a married guy like me.

    Have a friend close by camera & watch his face turn beat red in fear. 🙂

    Talk about that dear in the headlights look… I don’t know what to do. 🙂

  3. bettykath,

    Have had the same discussions regarding “boy”.

    😉 … we can but try.

    We understand what Chris Holden meant when he talked about hugging his sons a little tighter after the Zimmerman verdict.

  4. Blouise,

    It wouldn’t have matter to me if it had been you, a white lady or the black lady, as an easily frightened older white guy I would have become very nervous seeing either of you out strolling my neighborhood late at night or day.

    I would have been thinking, Oh my god, the cougars are on the prowl again! Wink 🙂

  5. bettykath,

    True. The set “bigotry” is much larger than simply racism or the consequent white privilege.

  6. Blouise, an excellent example.

    I’ve been sensitive to the use “atta boy” b/c it has been said to me, an offhand remark due to white male privilege. Not since I was an infant would I be mistaken for a boy. But I got a new look at it when a male friend (Black) told me his reaction to it when it was directed to him by a white man. Being rather assertive, he let the man know that he was well beyond puberty and objected to being called “boy”. This story generated some discussion among other (white male) friends who didn’t have a clue until I asked them what Black men have traditionally been called. The light went on. We all took a small step back from white privilege.

    Then the Black woman being interviewed for a job being told that everyone at the company was doing well, even “her”. “Her” being the only Black employee. The white man doing the interviewing and showing her around didn’t realize he was showing white privilege.

  7. Blouise,

    I think you are mistaking effect for cause. You (and your friend) were subject to the consequences of white privilege which is a result of systemic bigotry. That you supposed wrongly that some of your neighbors wouldn’t act on it says a lot about you but even more about them. Color blindness isn’t a negative. Racism is. In a world through the lens of equality, no one would have been called. In a world through the lens of equal protection, she’d have been afforded the same treatment you got. Don’t mistake your virtue as the causation for it lies in the vices of others and a biased system.

  8. Gene,

    The beauty of our Constitution is that although it established white privilege, it also provides all that is necessary to end it.

  9. Gene,

    I disagree.

    I am not a bigot or a racist but I am susceptible to the white privilege mindset and must check myself on an almost daily basis because of the culture in which I, being white, live.

    For instance, I can go for a walk at 3:00 in the morning in my neighborhood and if a cop drives by he will stop but only to make sure I am safe and not in some kind of trouble. A couple of years ago one of my good female friends who came to visit for a week (she’s black) decided to get some fresh air at 1:30 in the morning and asked me if I thought it was safe for her to walk around the block. I do it all the time I told her. (We live on Lake Erie and the setting is quite beautiful and peaceful, especially at night when there is little traffic and no kids.)

    At 1:55am a cop car pulled into the driveway and officer escorted her to my door asking if she was staying with me. I was furious with the officer who told me they had received a “concerned” call from a neighbor.

    (Two months previous a female, white, friend had come to stay with me for a weekend and had gone out for a stroll by herself in the early morning hours without incident.)

    My black friend, trying to assuage my embarrassment, was philosophical about it all.

    Who was at fault? I was. My white privilege blinded me to the reality of the situation and had I been thinking clearly, I would have told her it was perfectly safe … and then gone with her.

  10. Blouise: “Awareness of white privilege must take place before lasting progress can be made.” Well said.

    Gene: “The matters of “white privilege” and bigotry are, in my mind, inextricably linked. I don’t see how they can be divorced either. One begat the other.”

    I agree that “white privilege” contains bigotry, but bigotry doesn’t necessarily contain white privilege. White privilege is a special manifestation of bigotry within white society. For example, there are Blacks who are bigoted against whites and they for darned sure don’t also have white privilege, nor can they correctly be called racists b/c they don’t have the power to enforce their bigotry.

  11. Blouise,

    The matters of “white privilege” and bigotry are, in my mind, inextricably linked. I don’t see how they can be divorced either. One begat the other.

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