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A Black Judge is Subjected to Continual Acts of Racism Despite Her Position

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In 2012, Gayle Williams Byers was elected to become the first black judge for the South Euclid Municipal Court in Northeastern Ohio. She came to the job with a wealth of experience after being a Congressional staffer on Capitol Hill and after spending nearly a decade as an Assistant Prosecutor in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland-area).

However, despite her election win, her experience and the honor of being the first female black judge in her court, she confronted forms of overt and covert racism from the start.

Over the past eight years, it has been one racial insult or slight after another being generated by the white power establishment in her community. Repeated efforts have been made to intimidate her, question her character, and to minimize her powerful position.

“If I, as judge, get treated in a racist manner, I can only imagine what happens to the average black person in the streets,” Judge Byers says. “We need to have a real and meaningful conversation about race as it permeates all aspects of society.”

South Euclid is a racially diverse community with about 50 percent of the population being African American and other people of color. However, the Mayor, police chief, city law director and five of the seven council positions are filled by whites.

The first racial incident happened to Judge Byers about six months after taking office when the police chief, law director and some members of council met with the judge to discuss one of her rulings with which the police chief disagreed.

The chief started his presentation by saying to the white group: I’m not here to “lynch” the judge, according to Judge Byers.

Judge Byers took great umbrage at the lynching reference. She said she had an immediate and intense reaction that the white chief of police would utter those words to a black female judge to minimize her and her elected position as head of the local judicial system.

She remembers digging her fingers in the arms of her chair.

This was only the beginning of one incident after another. Despite being chosen by the electorate for a second term, she has been falsely accused of not knowing her place, dishonesty, laziness and other racial tropes by white office holders.

They even installed ceiling cameras in her jury room without any consultation with her about the sanctity of jury privacy.

Even though she receives national honors and accolades for excellence, she still must fight racial battles with her own city administration. For example, Judge Byers has been selected as the only Judicial Fellow to the National Judicial College, a prestigious judicial position. Yet, that honor has been besmirched and marginalized by whites in power.

Judge Byers calls on white allies to become anti-racists. She says it is not enough to say you are not racist. Instead, you have to fight racism by being ANTI-RACIST.

Hear Judge Byers tell her story on this week’s Spectrum Podcast. This will start a series of serious conversations about racism in American.