A Texas judicial board publicly reprimanded Burnet County Judge James Oakley this week after he posted on Facebook under the photo of a Black man arrested for murder, “Time for a tree and a rope.”
On November 21, 2016, the San Antonio Police Department posted to its Facebook page a mugshot of Otis Tyrone McKane, an African American man arrested and charged with capital murder in the killing of a police officer, with a short statement about the arrest. In response, Judge Oakley posted the “tree and a rope” comment to the SAPD’s Facebook page. The post also appeared on Oakley’s personal Facebook page. Oakley denied it had anything to do with race.
Eighteen people sent written complaints about the comment to the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct. In the formal reprimand issued to Judge Oakley on Monday, the commission said that multiple complainants “also questioned Judge Oakley’s suitability for judicial office, and expressed doubts that he could perform his duties impartially.”
The commission also wrote that, at his appearance before the commission on April 5, Judge Oakley “made certain statements that indicated to the Commission that he could benefit from racial sensitivity training with a mentoring judge.”
The commission found that Judge Oakley violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and ordered him to complete the 30-hour educational training program for new judges (which he had never taken) and to participate in four hours of instruction in racial sensitivity with a mentor to be chosen by the commission.
In March, Stan McCullars, an employee of the Clerk of Courts for Seminole County, Florida, posted on Facebook that Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala (Florida’s first African American elected state attorney) “should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree,” for announcing she would not seek the death penalty for Markeith Loyd, a Black man charged with killing his ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. The county clerk requested McCullars’s resignation after an investigation, and McCullars agreed to step down. Governor Rick Scott removed Ayala from the Loyd case and replaced her with a white prosecutor who will seek to have Loyd executed.
EJI has documented more than 4000 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in the South between Reconstruction and World War II — more than half of whom were killed under accusation of committing murder or rape. Nearly every one of these victims was brutally killed without being legally convicted of any offense. Law enforcement, judges, and other government officials’ indifference to and complicity in lynchings created enduring institutional wounds that we have not yet confronted or begun to heal, and the administration of criminal justice in particular is entangled with the history of lynching in profound ways that contaminate the integrity and fairness of the justice system. EJI is working to facilitate national conversation about the legacy of lynching in America today.