By Cheryl Smith
Now if there’s a smile on my face, it’s only there trying to fool the public, but when it comes down to fooling you, now honey that’s quite a different subject –“Tears of a Clown”
I love that song by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Too often people will try to tell you how you should act, feel, and look and speak. They want to criticize the parent screaming loudly at a graduation — not knowing what that parent or child went through to get to that momentous occasion. Then there’s the person who thinks you should “let out the tears” at a funeral, not knowing that you’re crying inside.
Or, what about the person who tells you to smile? That could be extremely infuriating, especially if you don’t know the person, because they don’t know your journey!
Which brings me to my truth.
I know how it feels to be judged and “dictated” to. I don’t like it and I try not to subject anyone else to what I call insensitive behavior. Now that doesn’t go for inappropriate behavior, like cussing, spewing hate, being disrespectful, or similar acts. I do like to find out the “why” with folks, though.
So, as I watched court proceedings last week, I asked that question often. I needed to understand. Edward Thomas, sat quietly in Judge Hector Garza’s courtroom as defense and prosecution attorneys went back and forth over allegations of everything from failing to turn over “three pieces of evidence,” portraying bias, speaking out in front of jurors, and not adhering to proper courtroom decorum. Mr. Thomas was on trial for beating Muhlaysia Booker on April 12, 2019 at the Royal Crest Apartments in Dallas. Ms. Booker was later found shot to death, May 18, 2019.
Emotions ran high as Judge Garza cited Atty. Andrew Wilkerson for contempt of court for an outburst in front of the jury. Refusing to remain silent, Mr. Wilkerson cited case law and told the judge that he would have some explaining to do. “Let them put us in jail for zealously representing my client.” While saying he would wait to say what the result of the contempt citation would be, Judge Garza also threatened to issue a second citation if there was another outburst.
He instructed attorneys to wait for his rulings on objections, before responding. Mr. Wilkerson told the judge that he was wrong for telling him “sit down” in front of the jury, saying it leaves a negative impression, that could reflect negatively on the case, painting the attorney as a “crazy, angry Black man!” For his outburst, the Thurgood Marshall Law School grad ended up in a jail cell in Lew Sterrett Justice Center. The judge gave him 14 days and a $500 fine; however, he was released on a personal recognizance $500 bond.
There were some who felt that Mr. Wilkerson was “over the top,” that he should have acted a certain way; while others said they appreciated the passion he displayed. His defendant was later found “not guilty” on aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a felony; but “guilty” of misdemeanor assault. Although Ms. Booker is a transgender woman, the defense said the fight was between two men. Attorney Larry Taylor of the Cochran Firm considers Mr. Wilkerson to be a good person.
“He really is a good person and he is very passionate about his clients and the law,” said Mr. Taylor, adding that his friend and mentee is correct that he is expected to walk a certain way. “As a 6-foot-1-inch Black man, I am careful not to raise my voice. Even though I am at the same level as my counterpart, who is not Black. “The issue is that whenever you are in a courtroom there’s a fine line as to where you can go. There’s all kind of risks with alienating the court, even if you feel that you are not being treated fairly.” According to Atty. Taylor, there are certain “invisible rules” regarding actions and appearance. Such is also the case in my profession but thankfully times are changing.
While we still adhere to certain levels of decorum and have to be cognizant of giving off “angry Black” vibes; now you see more women, especially on television, who wear their hair like I do, naturally. When Atty. Taylor wore his hair in cornrows, a young man came up and asked him if he was a lawyer. He replied “yes” and the young man became excited because he said his mother told him that in order to be a lawyer you had to look a certain way.
The young man had watched Atty. Taylor in action and was impressed by the way he carried himself and how people showed him respect. That exchange between the two encouraged Atty. Taylor to “buck the system,” and while he is always cognizant of lines, barriers, perceptions and misperceptions; he embraces change. Just think about it. Sadly Ms. Booker is no long with us. About two months after her fight with Mr. Thomas, she was found shot to death. Perceptions become reality. As I sat in the courtroom, thoughts of all the misperceptions and biases were swirling around in my head. For many, the only reality was what was in their heads, between their two ears.
The thought that “your” reality is the only one that matters is why we have so many misunderstandings. Instead of inserting yourself into the equation, it might help if you asked, “why?” Ignorance escalates and exacerbates situations that could otherwise be solved. Instead we run around, sometimes stuck on stupid, trying to run others’ lives when we can barely handle our own. No matter what, we don’t have all the answers and sometimes we don’t even have the right questions.