By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
Judge Gonzalo Curiel is my fraternity brother – Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc., Alpha Chapter. I was Dean of Pledges of his 17-member Scroller Club (pledge line). He is also an amazing musician. Curiel wowed I.U. Soul Revue audiences with his blazing “Santana style” lead guitar. Curiel was in the band that played with my singing group in the mid-70s.
While I was in graduate school at Indiana University Bloomington, Curiel was earning his undergraduate degree. He stayed to complete law school. From the start, even strangers could tell this brother was smart, talented, focused and had that “Region Swag” – East Chicago, so his meteoric rise came as no surprise to those who knew him back in the day. Now at the height of his career, his Mexican heritage is being raised to challenge his integrity.
It’s really just a sign of the times. Many mistakenly believed that the election of Barack Hussein Obama was the ultimate validation of an end of racism. Too many folks were over anxious, proclaiming a new reality that they enthusiastically embraced as, “post-racial America.”
It was as if more than 400 years of abject inhumanity could be erased in a single act.
These pundits were wrong on so many levels.
First, the election of an African-American president and the legacy of slavery are false equivalents. There is nothing in logic or physics that enables one to negate the other. The second problem is that while he was elected – after arguably the worst presidency in history – Congress unashamedly thwarted his every move. It was like winning a luxury car with no engine.
President Obama was disassociated from every progressive gain of the past seven years and soundly blamed for anything that went wrong. No, racism didn’t dissipate after 2008. It intensified as haters worked to block every Obama move in their resolve to “make this country great again.” Let’s call the notion of post-racial America what it really is…a cruel joke.
The 2016 presidential campaign will far more accurately gauge the country’s racial progress as presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump repeatedly attacks the character of Judge Gonzalo Curiel – judge in the Southern District of California. The Trump University lawsuit alleges seminars and classes were like infomercials and pressured students to spend more money.
During a recent rally in San Diego, Trump described Curiel as hostile and a “hater.” He declared to the Wall Street Journal that Curiel has “an absolute conflict” with his case because Curiel is “of Mexican heritage.” Also that day, he tweeted that he will win the case in San Diego, though he has a “very biased and unfair judge.”
Trump told supporters he was “getting railroaded by a legal system that — frankly, they should be ashamed.” He called for Curiel to recuse himself.” The judge who happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” Trump’s twisted rationale added, “We’re building a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants.” Trump repeats the insult despite GOP alienation and intense media scrutiny.
My memory of Gonzalo Curiel suggests no hint of a man who would acquiescence to Trump’s bullying tactics. The bombastic, controlling GOP presumptive nominee appears to have met his match. For once, this pompous, pious magnate who would be king will be held to the same yardstick as everyday people. One of Curiel’s lifetime friends agrees that he won’t back down.
East Chicago native Gregory Vega, best friends with Curiel, told The NWI Times Trump’s tactics won’t intimidate Curiel. Vega, who graduated from Bishop Noll Institute in 1971 with Curiel, added, “He grew up in the Harbor, he had a credible threat on his life by a Tijuana cartel, do you really think that being called names is going to frighten him? The answer is no, of course not.”
No matter how many Republican advisors plead with Trump to stop fighting with the judge, regardless of the fact that his own attorney argues against recusal, the candidate persists in responding badly when he can’t get his way – without regard to collateral damage.
There is no doubt that Judge Gonzalo Curiel will emerge unscathed in the wake of this ruthless assault. He will be professional and do his job with professionalism and character.
The question is what psychological and social wounds will remain on those on the sidelines long after the verbal jabs have ceased – the spiritual carnage left along the roadside of America’s war of public opinion as antipathy between people mounts.
How sad is it that the discord is predicated purely on race and ethnicity – not only permitted but promoted by the standard bearer of bigotry; a man who wants to become leader of the free world. Evidence suggests that would be much more than we can stand.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.