A Rural County Judge In Central Texas Makes Excuse About A Racial Remark
Posted June 29
Burnet, Texas — There are 880 mile markers along Interstate 10 across the state of Texas from Louisiana to New Mexico. From Brownsville in the southern part of the state to Dumas in the Panhandle, it is another 898 miles, give or take. That is 268,597 square miles of real estate, and no matter how you cut it, this is a big state.
The landscape of Texas reflects its size. From major metropolitan areas such as Houston and Dallas, to towns so small that there is not even a stop light or a post office, the picture of Texas is one of great diversity and difference. Or is it?
An African American man, Otis Tyrone McKane, stands accused of murdering a San Antonio, Texas police officer last year. The man has not yet been to trial and is still only accused of his crime and is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. When the San Antonio Police Department announced the arrest of McKane, a county judge from a nearby Burnet county goes on Facebook and shares the post, adding the comment "time to get a tree and a rope", a comment that almost anybody would recognize as being racially insensitive and inappropriate. Those words would make anybody seem prejudice. Words so horribly implicating that no person should even think them- especially an elected official.
The comments came from Burnet County Judge James Oakley. They were made on November 21, 2016 after the arrest McKane was announced. The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct ruled earlier this year that after they had received 18 written complaints against Oakley, that they would hear the argument.
Judge James Oakley told the commission that the "tree and a rope" reference came from Old West references to hanging. Then he pulled a political ploy and said that he was simply referencing a 1980s picante sauce advertisement that ended with the threat from an actor who is portraying a cowboy, saying "get a rope" when a man from New York replaced his brand of salsa with another brand.
"My comment was intended to reflect my personal feelings that this senseless murder of a police officer should qualify for the death penalty," Oakley told the commission. "In my mind, the race/gender of the admitted cop killer was not relevant."
That sounds like a logical attempt at covering up one's most inner feelings, or it could simply be an attempt to be some sort of slapstick comedian, either way the comment was deemed inappropriate and the commission gave Oakley a 30-hour training program for new judges and participate in four hours of racial sensitivity training with a mentor- neither of which had he completed until this incident.
Some of his comments concerned members of the panel and in the commissions official reprimand the commission stated as much by saying, "During the appearance, Judge Oakley made certain statements that indicated to the Commission that he could benefit from racial sensitivity training with a mentoring judge."
The outcome was little more than a slap on the wrist for the Judge in a county that is made up of only about 2.3% African Americans.
Last year, a Dallas County elections judge was removed from his position after making racially insensitive comments on Facebook. Granted, his comments were a little more abusive and consisted of using the "N Word" on a Facebook post, but either way, racial intolerance seems to be the norm, at least in parts of rural Texas.
"I do admit that I said some things on Facebook, but I really feel that that was my personal opinion," former Dallas County Elections Judge Randy Smith told the Commissioners Court at his hearing last year. Even though Smith begged for forgiveness, he was still asked to resign.
In Burnet County though, an only slightly less direct comment earns sympathy and pity from many residents who live within the county. But a small minority of residents find themselves still outraged at the Judge's comments and seemingly light punishment.
But the story does not stop there in Burnet, Texas.
The community of Burnet had 6,138 residents in 2014. For years, the city has been run by small clicks of families or organizations. These organizations "protect" the community and as one prominent citizen who works in the financial sector told me after civic organization meeting.
"This is how we circle the wagons", he said.
" If it had not had been for somebody else, I never would have been accepted into this community", the man said.
That somebody else that this man was speaking of happened to be another well respected member of the financial industry in the small Central Texas town.
You see in a state as diverse as Texas, you would think stories like this would be long gone with the dinosaurs that drew up these "unspoken lines" but somehow, mindsets and thought process like these are still allowed to exist.
They say that time changes everything and perhaps that is true. But in places like Burnet, it may be a very long time before any change is seen and while we wait, a small minority population will live their lives only slightly better than it was before 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed.