Lawyers for a white police officer in Alabama charged with shooting an unarmed black man back in 2016 are attempting to have the African-American judge assigned to the case removed from the trial.
In an echo of the furor that erupted when President Trump attacked the impartiality of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a jurist of Mexican-American heritage presiding over the Trump University fraud case, Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin refused to recuse himself from the case because of his race.
The defense team for Montgomery police officer Aaron Smith moved to have Judge Griffin taken off of the trial because of a Facebook post the judge made last April describing the racial profiling he had undergone by police who had mistaken him for someone else.
Officer Smith is accused of beating 58-year-old Gregory Gunn with his police baton, tasing him, and then fatally shooting him seven times. Smith claims to have stopped Gunn as he was walking home to question him about some nearby robberies. He claims that Gunn took up a nearby paint roller and swung it at him, although Gunn’s fingerprints were not found on the roller, and, since both Smith’s dashboard camera and his body cam were switched off, there is no video evidence to support or belie his version of the incident.
Three other judges have previously recused themselves from the high profile case, two without stating their reasons for recusal and the third because a relative was working for a law firm defending Smith in a civil suit brought by Gunn’s family.
While the defense attorneys tried to force Judge Griffin to recuse himself as well, Griffin absolutely refused. Rejecting the idea that his race affected his impartiality as a jurist, he stated that the defense attorney’s claims could imply that he should recuse himself from a large number of cases simply based on the color of his skin.
“You brought race in here,” Griffin said. “I’m a black judge. I can take this black robe off, but I can’t take off this black skin. I live in west Montgomery. I live in the ’hood. Should I recuse myself from every criminal case that has happened on the west side?”
Griffin continued to preside over the trial. Yesterday, however, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed to hear the defense team’s appeal to remove the judge and halted the trial for the next three weeks as they consider their ruling in the matter.
The statue of blind Justice, holding the scales with a blindfold over her eyes, is obviously a mere cliche in the eyes of Officer Smiths defense team. If the day ever comes in this country when people can be judged only by members of their own race or ethnic group, it will be the day that justice dies in America. The blindfold will be there simply to absorb Justice’s tears.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.