A traditional American... Halloween costume mocking the native inhabitants of this land.

Growing up, we had something called the “coffee filter” in my house. It was my mom’s cutesy way of telling us that we always needed to think before speaking, but it worked (most of the time).

The world would probably be a much better place if everyone bothered to use their coffee filters, but the sad fact is that most people don’t even have one. That’s probably the reason why there are so many racial epithets and ethnic slurs floating around that I’m still learning about new ones.

And it’s probably also the reason why judges are just blurting them out in court….

Last week, the South Dakota Supreme Court denied a Native American’s request to be resentenced before another judge. The defendant, Ivan Good Plume, had been convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to an 18-year prison term after he decided to bonk his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend on the head with a shovel.

During sentencing, Judge John J. Delaney noticed that Good Plume had a long criminal history. Delaney then mentioned Good Plume’s heavy drinking was likely involved, stating:

[P]erhaps you might be the greatest human being on the face of the earth if you didn’t drink. But I’ve got about 35 or 40 criminal entries in a five year span. And I would assume every single one of them has to do with drinking. A good share of them have to do with violence. A fair number of them have to do with women.

And you drink and your ability to control behavior is gone. I mean, it’s not even mildly gone. It’s completely absolute flipping berserk. . . . And my concern with you, Mr. Good Plume, is no matter how good a guy you are sober, there is absolutely no way known to God to keep you from drinking. And once you go drinking, you go sideways. That’s the problem.

So, right out of the gate, we have a judge accusing a Native American of having a heavy drinking problem. Maybe this guy actually did have a heavy drinking problem, but that’s just about as stereotypical as you can get when dealing with Native Americans.

But hey, at least Delaney had the good sense not to tell Good Plume that he was “drunker than 10 Indian chiefs.” That would have been bad, but what Delaney said next was worse.

Delaney decided to use another derogatory term to describe Good Plume’s behavior, noting that when Good Plume was drinking, he would “go native.” Of course, Delaney couched that little gem by explaining that he wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but that he had heard another Native American say it in the past:

[W]hen you drink — and this was not my term. It was used by a young Native American in extremely violent circumstances — and he said go native. Now I am not sure what it means but it smacked of huge violence.

Um hello, just because Native Americans use that term amongst themselves, it doesn’t mean that you can say it, Delaney. It’s like what happens when I listen to rap music: just because I hear rappers using certain terms, it doesn’t mean that I can go out and say them, too. And I’m sure that if I did, I’d get more than my fair share of dirty looks. You just don’t do that.

So Good Plume appealed, saying that he was denied due process at sentencing because of Delaney’s remarks. And to be honest, I think he was right to be offended, because he didn’t actually “go native.”

Sure, Good Plume was drunk and took a swing at someone’s head with a shovel, but saying that Good Plume was “going native” on this dude likens the event to trying to scalp him with a tomahawk to collect his wampum on a bad debt.

But the South Dakota Supreme Court said in its decision on the matter that Delaney’s remarks, although “ill chosen,” were not biased, because “the sentence was based on facts introduced . . . and not on racial stereotype or prejudice.”

I guess this gives judges in South Dakota the right to remove their coffee filters as long as they have the facts to back up their colorful remarks.

Defendant Loses Appeal Based on Judge’s ‘Go Native’ Remark [ABA Journal]
No Bias In “Ill Chosen” Comment By Judge [Legal Profession Blog]


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