Passing judgment means thinking outside the box

Forum Editor and Forum Editor

In October, BGSU basketball coach Louis Orr awoke one morning to find graffiti chalked on the driveway of his home. Some of the graffiti were racist etchings, featuring a swastika and the words “white power.”

It was soon discovered by the local police that four teens—ranging in age from 15 to 17—were to blame for the crime, and one of the teens actually admitted to his involvement.

That same article says that teen, “told police it was a ‘prank,’ and that one of their classmates — who they consider to be a friend — lives at that house.”

This story made news all over the country via national news sites like the Huffington Post, because Orr is known from his time in the NBA as well as his collegiate coaching career.

Two of the four teens in this case were charged with ethnic intimidation and criminal mischief and appeared in court on Tuesday. Usually in cases like this, it goes one of two ways; either the judge lets them off with a slap on the wrist, or else tries to make an example of them by throwing the book at them.

On Tuesday, however, the judge in this case did neither. He was quoted as saying, “With the consent of all parties, the youth were ordered to have a face to face meeting with Mr. Orr and/or his family.”

Now I’m someone who usually tends to be skeptical of any authority figure right-off-the-bat, but in this case I must take my metaphoric hat off to this particular judge and the wisdom of his decision.

It would seem to me that anyone who is an -Ist (racist, sexist, ageist, etc.), mainly hates the group it opposes because of two reasons: first, they were taught to hate that group and second, they don’t know any (or at least very few) of the people who comprise that group.

I think what the judge is going for here, is to make sure that these teens get the chance to meet, and have an actual conversation, with a member of the group which they are supposedly racist against. And it just happens to be the person whom they targeted with racist graffiti.

Of all of the means of dispensing justice at the judge’s discretion, this is probably the one that strikes the most terror into the heart of a couple of teenagers who drew some racist epitaphs on the driveway of a very large, and athletic, African American man.

After the meeting between Orr and the teenagers, the prosecutor’s office plans to meet with Orr and discuss how to proceed with its charges against the teens.

This is exactly the common sense approach we need from more judges. Woessner could have decided to immediately throw the book at these teens, taking the chance of ostracizing them and labeling them as racist for what they may have intended as a (unfunny and tasteless) joke. That would only serve to exasperate the teens’ attitudes toward others.

On the other side of the coin, if this was not in actuality a joke, to let the teens off with a slap on the wrist could send the message that there are no consequences for reckless and stupid behavior. That too, could only serve to exasperate the teens’ attitudes toward others.

What I like best about the judge’s decision is that it lets Orr play a role in dealing with the teens. As the victim of the teens’ racist graffiti, Orr should have more of a say in the consequences that the teens face.

Were they really just playing a joke or were they sincere in their racist chalk etchings? Are they openly remorseful to Orr and his family or only resentful at having been caught? As someone who as presumably faced racism in the past, Orr may be the best to judge the intentions of the teens and thus help the prosecutor’s office decide the severity of the charges that should be levied.

Racism, of course, is stupid and meaningless but we all do stupid things as kids and I hope that regardless of the outcome, these kids will see the error of their ways and change for the betterment of our community and our society.

I hope these kids realize that this judge has, if nothing else, given them a fair chance to explain, defend and promise to change themselves. They better grab that chance and make the most of it, because a lot of kids in the criminal justice system are not that fortunate.

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