“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. Gene,

    White privilege does not necessarily mean either racism or bigotry. It’s a cultural phenomenon deeply embedded within this society and the law has played an active role in that embedding process.

    Let us, for a moment, harken back to the OJ trial and verdict. That entire process stunned white society for it was completely foreign to the culture of that society as a whole … non-racists/bigots were as stunned as racist/bigots for white privilege had been turned on its head.

    George Zimmerman’s trial, on the other hand, fit nicely into the expectations of the white privilege culture … allowing the white privilege non-bigots/racists to opine that a charge of manslaughter would have changed the results. Once again the soft lead molding of the law to perpetuate the white privilege culture. What they failed to see, because the blinders of white privilege were firmly fixed, was that manslaughter was the best a white privilege law could offer in that situation.

    Awareness of white privilege must take place before lasting progress can be made.

    1. “Awareness of white privilege must take place before lasting progress can be made.”

      Amen Blouise,

      That is the biggest part of the problem.

  2. bettykath,

    As I said, I don’t disagree with Blouise, and I don’t disagree with your statement either. It comports with what I’ve said previously on the nature of racism as being a subset of the larger group of behavior; bigotry. I tend to approach that problem legally though through the broader notion of equal protection. Ultimately that is the tool used to fight bigotry in all its forms from a Constitutional standpoint. Even in that regard though, mitigation is the best we can hope for. Changing people’s minds – or worse, irrational beliefs – is a much slower more socialized process. True, mitigation legally lends to that effort, but it is but one tool in a job that requires several.

  3. Gene, There will always be bigotry. The problem is when it is used by those with the power to act on their own bigotry that we get racism. Many in our “justice” system are bigoted, not all of them are racist. The racists are those whose actions target those against whom they are bigoted. They should not hold positions of power whether a cop, an attorney or a judge, or a bank officer. As Blouise says, the law is molded around white privilege. It is so ingrained in the system that it’s usually not noticed, except, of course, by those who get the short end of the stick.

    Laws can help end the white privilege advantage but the laws must be enforced by those who can recognize the white privilege bias and oppose it.

  4. Blouise,

    Far be it from me to cast aspersions for mockery. :mrgreen: And while I agree with what you said, I don’t think racism is a problem eliminated by legal means without becoming something more odious than racism itself: the Thought Police. The best the law can do is mitigate the effects of racism, but it will never be the solution to the cause(s) of racism. That’s a sociological and psychological change that not only requires education and exposure but time as well. While humanity is in many ways slow to change on the scale of an individual lifetime, I still think the progress made in this area is remarkable if you contrast the world of 1953 to the world of 2013. I would wish that humans are capable of adaptation at a faster pace, but like they say in the wood shop, “You got to work with the materials you have.”

  5. Gene,

    Like I said earlier … the law is a soft lead molded to fit white privilege. Anyone who thinks otherwise wasn’t paying attention to the travesty that was the Zimmerman trial nor the opinions that figured manslaughter was the only way to get a conviction for what was the cold-blooded murder of a completely innocent, minding his own business, black, teenager.

    I’m not railing against this white privilege system of justice as I’m a realist who recognizes futility. I know this guy in Illinois is acting in a manner far more common than not. I’m simply making fun of the law … lead so well molded for so long that it actually thinks it’s silver.

    Or, put another way … fool’s gold.

  6. Blousie/bettykath,

    I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you ladies that while being a racist goober is obnoxious and odious, it isn’t prime facie against the law (although acting on those thoughts can be). I think firing and/or a suspension is realistically the best legal outcome you could hope for realistically although personally I think the firing should just be a given considering his potential abuses of the public trust inherent in his office. As it is, he’s opened the door to challenge probably every case he’s ever prosecuted and obtained a conviction against a black or other person of color.

  7. bettykath,

    Agree 100%!!

    Oh,oh … smelling salts needed in aisle 3 for poor Miz’ Scarlett

  8. GBloggers,

    Have you read luckylarry’s most recent post? (@ 4:04 on the Monkey post) Free speech and all that, but now he is writing sex scenes. Please get this guy outta here.

  9. raff, Who would want him as their attorney? Someone claiming white privilege. But I think he should be disbarred. He used his private racial bias in the public forum to prosecute.

  10. This individual deserves to be looking for a job or hanging out his own shingle. Of course, who would want this idiot as their attorney?

  11. Gene,

    Now, now … I was speaking from the Poor-Paula-White-Privilege-Point-of-View from whence the soft lead molding of the law allows for such understandable faux pas.

    Now, where’s my fan … I feel a swoon coming on.

  12. “How is he any worse than poor Paula?”

    He has actual power in the form of prosecutorial discretion, Blouise.

  13. Yep, Dredd. One of mine was snagged hours ago.

    And just to keep the record straight:


    “The Central Intelligence Agency played an important role in the arrest in 1962 of Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress leader who was jailed for nearly 28 years before his release … a news report says.

    The report, scheduled for publication on Sunday, quoted an unidentified retired official who said that a senior C.I.A. officer told him shortly after Mr. Mandela’s arrest: ”We have turned Mandela over to the South African Security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be.”

  14. On the death of Nelson Mandela …” – JT

    Yes, and on the life of Nelson Mandela.

    He was branded a terrorist by the U.S. government, much as Snowden is:

    In 2008 just before his 90th birthday, the United States gave Nelson Mandela a special present, striking him from a decades-old terror watch list and ending what US officials called “a rather embarrassing matter.”

    By then the anti-apartheid icon had long left behind the jail cells where he was incarcerated for 27 years, and was already enjoying retirement and his status as one of the most revered statesmen of the 20th century after becoming South Africa’s first black president.

    In past years, US officials have beaten a path to his door in his family village hoping some of his almost saint-like aura would rub off on them.

    On Thursday, when Mandela died at age 95, President Barack Obama hailed him as belonging “to the ages” and ordered that flags on US government buildings be flown at half-mast — a rare tribute to a foreign leader.

    Yet decades ago many in America did not share in the adulation of Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC), which had been billed a terrorist organization by both South Africa and the United States. His severest right-wing critics painted him as an unrepentant terrorist and a communist sympathiser.

    It was even reported that the CIA had helped engineer Mandela’s 1962 arrest when an agent inside the ANC supplied South African security officials with a tip-off to track him down.

    (Z News). I think it was brilliant and sly for JT to tie Mandela into this.

    Racial thingys wafted up into the blogosphere for all to see did they not?

  15. Illinois law is the proper consideration, beyond personal opinion, as to whether Mr. Garnati is “fit to be a lawyer“, as the Illinois rules describe it:

    RULE 8.4. Misconduct

    (a) A lawyer shall not:

    (5) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice. In relation thereto, a lawyer shall not engage in adverse discriminatory treatment of litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others, based on race, sex, religion, or national origin. This subsection does not preclude legitimate advocacy when these or similar factors are issues in the proceeding;
    …(9)(A) violate a Federal, State or local statute or ordinances that prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status by conduct that REFLECTS ADVERSELY ON THE LAWYER’S FITNESS AS A LAWYER. Whether a discriminatory act reflects adversely on a lawyer’s FITNESS AS A LAWYER shall be determined after consideration of all the circumstances, including

    (1) the seriousness of the act,

    (2) whether the lawyer knew that it was prohibited by statute or ordinance,

    (4) whether it was committed in connection with the lawyer’s professional activities.

    (Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, emphasis added). It is quite serious to use racial prejudice to deprive a defendant of a fair trial.

    It was preconceived, it was deliberate, and was public not a private opinion.

    His freedom of speech is not at issue, whether he is fit to be a lawyer is.

    Under those rules, he qualifies for disbarment under those considerations, but the bar will have to weigh any other mitigating circumstances in order to determine the proper action to take.

    IMO his should be disbarred for such unprofessional conduct that distorts the notion of justice beyond all reasonableness.

    The same would be true if he had an all male jury trying a woman for rape where he says “we men know how women ask for it”.

    The same would be true if he had an all female jury trying a rape case where he says “you women know how brutal mean are when it comes to sex horniness.”

    The same would be true if he had an all protestant jury trying a Catholic Priest for a crime where he says “you know how evil Catholics are with little boys.”


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