EDITORIAL: Judge shouldn't resign

Slurs' context matters

Context Matters

Judge Amato’s racial mishap during a court hearing shouldn’t get him kicked off the bench because of the context in which he said it.


Written by Brittany Radakovich based on the deliberation of a Media Milwaukee student editorial board


            Using racial slurs is never a beneficial thing but in the case of Milwaukee County Circuit Judge, Dominic Amato, it got the job done. Judge Amato used the terms, “Niggers, Wops, and Jews” during a court hearing June 14th and many are wondering if he should step down from his position after this incident. We don’t think he should.

            According to reports the defendant, Larry Wesley, became agitated during the hearing claiming that Judge Amato doesn’t understand where he comes from. Judge Amato stepped down from his post to talk privately with the defendant. During this time is when he used the phrase to describe where he grew up.

            In a situation like this, we think context matters entirely. The way in which Judge Amato said these terms was to relate to the defendant. He didn’t say them in a derogatory manner to insult, attack or provoke anyone. He simply repeated terms to show the defendant that he isn’t so different from him.

            We don’t know if he used the phrase to make a statement or if he was just repeating the terms that were used by other people in his hometown. Either way in the context it was used, it isn’t reason enough for him to step down.

            What Judge Amato said to the defendant helped placate him. He didn’t use the phrase to offend or upset the defendant or anybody else in the courtroom for that matter. He used them to connect and relate to the defendant. If what he did helped the situation then it shouldn’t be looked at as harmful to the defendant or anyone else.

We think it would be whole different story if Judge Amato used the phrase in a negative fashion to deprecate and belittle someone. We feel if he had done that then it would be problematic and more of a concern for him to step down.

            By stepping down from the bench, Judge Amato showed the statement was private and unofficial. Making the statement informally and one-on-one with the defendant showed he was just trying to relate to Wesley and calm him down. Since Judge Amato stepped off of the bench to speak with the defendant, we feel it doesn’t constitute him stepping down.

            While we do realize Judge Amato could have used different words to express how he grew up, we don’t think it would have had the same effect. If he had used other words, it probably wouldn’t have made the point Judge Amato was trying to make, which was to settle down the defendant and show him they aren’t so different.

            The ironic part of this incident was that the racial slurs seemed to have a healing effect rather than a wounded one, which is what some people would associate with the terms used. Context is the most important ingredient in this situation and in the context the phrase was used it wasn’t harmful or malicious but ultimately helpful.

            The phrase that Judge Amato said was used in a non-derogatory context to help alleviate the stress of the defendant. He didn’t say those terms to attack or verbally abuse anyone and since he said it privately, unofficially and in a contextual manner it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason  

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