I have said previously that by the time I stepped into the chambers of Judge Shira Scheindlin when she issued the ruling that we are now looking at, every bone in my body was asking for Brooklyn’s iconic borough of Smorgasburg to open its doors to pre-schoolers, immigrants and children from working-class neighborhoods. My heart swelled with a sense of how lucky I am to have a profession that allows me the room to, from time to time, say what is on my mind. The difference between my heart and the mostly seat-of-the-pants reality of a judge’s duty to rule on cases while preserving judicial independence that both biases and blinds me was palpable.
My departure comes at a profound emotional and spiritual cost. I am profoundly sad over my decision to exit the bench, to give up my children and future aspirations as a judge. I no longer feel safe in my own home. I have no idea what I will say when I see a third grader with a laptop computer. I will break down, cry, swear with a Tootsie Roll and whatever else I think I need to.
I will tell them what I said to your mommy, or father, as I hugged my family when you were a tiny newborn. I will recall laughing about the handwritten lice tests I used to take you during your second year of pre-school. I will tell them about the time you once carried your homework in your pocket because school aides would not let you look at it with ease. I will explain why I did not care enough to wear a badge or send you to school wearing a hoodie and dark glasses. I will tell them about an 11-year-old, curled up on a bench, peeing in the snow just to let the air circulate in his lungs. I will tell them about a child who flushed food and more down the toilet. I will tell them about a school bus driver who cruised around at night with one hand and a styrofoam container filled with urine in the other. I will tell them about the time I showed up at your home with a bullet lodged inside my right leg, a quarter-inch from your mother’s brain.
I had the chance to go to the Bronx to deliver your testimony before Judge Scheindlin. You gave a moving statement in which you went into detail about the ways your life was turned upside down by police harassment. You assured the judge that no matter who your father is, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will live with that stigma. I was your father. I watched you grow into a young woman, you and your two brothers, and a college student. We met many people of color during our 16 years on the bench. You represented those who had made mistakes in their youth and are still working to become productive members of society. You worked hard in your college and law school classes, taking on extra work, going to sessions, and attending legal conferences. You stuck with me even in my darkest hour. I saw you grow, and I wanted to do the same. And then the judge ruled.
I may not be able to tell your mommy or dad anymore. I may not have the room to tell them how appreciative I am that you wanted to attend a courthouse in New York City — even if that courthouse was the Brooklyn DA’s office and in the recesses of Judge Scheindlin’s mind the words “stop-and-frisk” conjured a picture of your complexion. I may not be able to tell them about a blind part of my brain that says, “but that means their kid is going to become an interminable defendant in a staggering database and need years of expensive legal representation.” I may not have the space for the shattering feeling that no matter how much I loved you, your loss is deeply hurtful for all black men and women. I may not have the space to explain that Judge Scheindlin’s ruling and the way she communicated it was contemptuous to me as well as to you and many others, and that that contempt must be explained, healed, and recognized as something wholly different than just being biased.
I do not have the words to say what I feel today, the same way I do every other moment of every other moment in my adult life. I may not be able to turn my back on you now, because you are too nice and mature to quit talking to your dad and expecting something different. But I will always be here in my Brooklyn chambers, waiting for you, and if you need help, please know that I am ready and willing to be there for you.
I am you. You are me. And we all have each other’s