Twenty-four years ago when Langston McKinney, now 65, took office as City Court Judge, his election was not greeted warmly by some skeptics in law enforcement, who tagged him as being too "liberal."
However, over his 24-year judicial career serving on the Syracuse City Court bench, he reduced their fears and helped guide the court away from its conservative past to infuse more justice in the local judicial system.
Judicial success is difficult to assess when most who face a judge could give a damn on what he looked like or what his or her life situation is. But judges bring their life experience and perceptions to the bench with them. Only the statue of Lady Justice, ensconced in every court house, is blindfolded.
Ya'll know that justice isn't blind.
For the first time in history, the African-American community in Syracuse could actually see a judge as a human being, not just an African-American judge.
Just simply a judge. Langston was someone we knew and he brought an understanding of the law and its consequences that adds to the collective body of experience that makes up our judicial system.
Just his presence in the room has an effect on any group of people, and when your wisdom, insight and quest for justice for all becomes enjoined with others' there is bound to be some sharing and learning between all.
All of our judges believe they're doing the right thing on behalf of the people but having that other voice -- that voice that represents another piece of our American fabric -- is as important as the notion of justice being blind.
Judge McKinney was that voice and over 24 years his voice was heard in decisions, many that infuriated law enforcement, but having the breadth and depth of experience of a wise judge he also made law enforcement perform their duties more professionally.
"Where's the appropriate paperwork?" and "I know why he ran," was a point of view as important as knowing the local political chatter at the country club.
So Judge McKinney's retirement is a great loss to the Syracuse community. He'll be missed on the bench. We can only hope that some of Langston's common sense, wisdom and insight rubbed off on some of his colleagues over Judge McKinney's 24 years of service. Thank you.
Reach Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org.