Chapter 3 – Judge James

Posted: December 1, 2015 in jail
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Here’s Chapter 3 of the book. I hope you are enjoying what you’ve read and will come over and read the rest of the story. I’m up to Chapter 15 and it’s going quite well.

Judge Robert Ulysses James leaned back in his chair behind his desk. His middle name was in honor of Ulysses S. Grant, whom his mother and grandmother considered a saint. This was carved in stone on his mother’s side of the family. Robert had been told the story of his family being former slaves at least a thousand times during his childhood. They would have named his brother Abraham if he had had one. He was the only child and felt that their heritage now rested on his shoulders. He often wished he had a sibling to help share the burden, but he accepted his fate gladly.

He was in his chambers and relaxing after a short lunch and getting ready to go back into his courtroom. His courtroom. Even after all these years on the bench, the thought of having his own courtroom still seemed a tad unreal, as if it was all a joke and soon someone would walk in and tell him so. That was nonsense. He knew that. But he always had that stray thought in the back of his mind. It never left him and never would. It kept him honest and on his toes. Every day was another day that he worked to fulfill his promise to himself to make things right, to better the condition of his fellow African-Americans and everyone else, and to never forget where he came from.

His was not the usual and often used cliche of a poor black child growing up in poverty without a father. That stereotype bothered him more than the “Amos and Andy” or “Super Fly” droll that passed as fact amongst most people, black and white alike, as the usual life of a black man in America.

He was familiar with the “Shuck ‘n Jive” routine of his ancestors and friends growing up in Oakland. To downplay it whilst being hassled by a white police officer was the best way to go. Not necessarily being stupid, but acting it. Keep your mouth shut, nod your head, offer no resistance, and he could usually walk away unscathed. Well, unscathed physically but not emotionally. It did no good to get upset. It was best to agree, be courteous, and offer no information unless asked. The few times he was stopped for being in the wrong part of Oakland, he would politely hand over his ID, mention his father’s name and wait. Always with a smile and always with patience while the officers checked and then double-checked his ID, asking questions and trying to trip him up. He learned to give quick and concise answers and to not elaborate. That lesson served him well as an attorney and later as a judge. “Rule your life with intelligence and not emotion” was his motto.

The officers were always surprised to learn who his father was. Robert did not fit the stereotype “Negro” of most bigots. He came from a good family, his father was a well known and respected attorney in San Francisco for a prestigious law firm, made good money and lived in Piedmont, the nicest area in Oakland. They owned their home, drove nice cars, kept the yard clean and tidy, and ate food other than fried chicken and watermelon.  He spoke proper English and his mother was constantly correcting his grammar. Any type of street or ghetto talk was not allowed. He was taught to speak properly, enunciate his words, and to hold his head up high.

Robert learned of racism not from his family but from simply walking down the streets of Oakland as a young child. He was aware of the different colors of people, but he was born in 1945 when Oakland was a place for hard working people who were harmonious with each other. Racial tension was rare.

Founded in 1852, Oakland quickly expanded due to the railroads. In 1906, the number of refugees and homeless people doubled as they made their way from San Francisco after the devastating earthquake. General Motor’s opened a plant in 1916, followed by Chrysler in 1929. Oakland soon became home of many manufacturing plants, canneries, metal factories, bakeries, manufacturer of the internal combustion engine, cars, and ship building. It was known as the “Detroit of the West.” It was prosperous and expanding. After WWII started, thousands of poor and rural African-Americans migrated from the Deep South to work in the shipyards.

After WWII, the black population began to expand as the shipping and automotive industries disappeared. Harmonious and prosperous before the war, by the 1950’s, the population was becoming poorer and poorer. Between 1950 and 1960, 100,000 property owners left to live further north. It was known as the “White Flight.”

The Oakland police began to heavily recruit white officers from the Deep South in order to respond to the increasing population of the African-Americans. The stage was set for racial tensions and was escalated by the brutality that the blacks were dealt with. False arrests, planted evidence, excessive force, and falsified police documents became the norm rather than the unusual.

In 1966, there were 16 black officers and 661 white officers. “The Black Panther Party for Self-defense” was formed. They followed white officers on their rounds, documenting their actions and openly carrying guns. By 1970, gang controlled dealing of heroin and cocaine caused the murder rate of Oakland to be at least twice that of New York city or San Francisco.

On one spring morning as Robert played basketball with Jerome, they stopped as the cop car parked and two white officers approached them. They asked them the usual questions of who they were and what they were doing.

“Why are you asking us that?” Jerome asked. He was a foot taller than the two officers and was as lean and strong as Robert. At 16, they were immortal, young, and healthy.

One of the officers sneered at him. “It’s not your place to ask us any questions, boy,” he said. Robert felt Jerome’s hackles rise. He gently put his hand on Jerome’s arm to calm him down. Jerome pushed his hand away and stepped closer to the officer. Robert’s stomach tightened.

For the rest of the story, go here:

My Name Is Chantelle

 

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