By Doug Chin
Special to the Northwest Asian Weekly
The decision by federal Judge Thomas Zilly to overturn the unanimous verdict of an eight-person jury that the City of Medina and City Manager Donna Hanson fired Police Chief Jeff Chen because of racial discrimination and to order a new trial was atrocious.
Judge Zilly decided that Chen’s attorney, Marianne Jones, “relied primarily on innuendo and subterfuge rather than evidence” to establish racial discrimination. Ostensibly, the Judge was referring to all the racial slurs (“…you eat turkey “at Thanksgiving?; “I thought Chinese people were more patient than that,” and “I thought that you people had small penis”) that the City Manager and Medina city employees directed at Chen, and the times they racially differentiated him (“you people”), and referring to him as a “smiling Chinese.”
How can Judge Zilly say that these racial slurs are not evidence of racial discrimination?
How can Zilly, a white man, gauge the degree of insult, hurt and racial discrimination of such a remark. Tiger Woods said it was “hurtful” when fellow golfer Sergio Garcia remarked — “We will have him (Woods) around every night. We will serve him fried chicken.” When basketball great Rick Barry was a TV commentator and turned to African American star Bill Russell and said “You people like watermelon,” he was fired.
To me, as a Chinese American, the racial remarks by the City Manager and other city staff were very insulting, hateful and demeaning. Moreover, such racial slurs are clear evidence that the people making these remarks are prejudice. Judge Zilly is wrong to assume otherwise. After all, are we to believe that she and others who make racial slurs do not harbor greater prejudice toward Chinese and/or other people of color?
By the way, did City Manager Donna Hanson and others who made racial slurs ever apologize for their remarks? I don’t think so. Like others, she has a socially internalized and institutionalized racially-prejudicial attitude towards Chinese and probably other persons of color. She is what I call an “institutional racist,” someone whose bigotry is so ingrained that racial slurs appear innocuous to them.
And what is all this about Judge Zilly claim that the City of Medina, even if City Manager Hanson had a racial motive for firing Chen, would have fired him for lying to investigators, forging memorandums under subordinates’ names, destroying data, improperly using city funds for purchases, snooping in other officials’ e-mails, and losing the confidence of subordinates? It seems that the Judge is saying that the City would have been justified in firing Chen on these grounds, which would be highly doubtful. First of all Chen refuted all these claims, which were fabricated or irrelevant. Furthermore, there are numerous cases where people lie, destroy data, snoop at others emails and/or don’t like their boss. Yet, they don’t get fired, unless that is, they are really after you.
Clearly, Judge Zilly, in overturning the jury’s decision is playing both judge and jury, and his opinion favors the City of Medina claims. How can Chen get a fair trial with him being the judge. He already has his mind made up. He is prejudicial. How can Chen get a fair trial anywhere when it is clear that a judge has clearly decided that there was, at most, a weak case of discrimination. Unbelievable. There can be no justice for Jeff Chen.
Sadly, Zilly’s decision is reminiscent of the prejudice and discrimination faced by the early Chinese in America. In the 1880s here in Washington, the treatment of Chinese was brutal. In town after town, the Chinese was routinely beaten, robbed, and forced out. Hundreds of Chinese were killed, many hanged. Yet there were few arrests and a jury conviction was rare. The judicial system did not work for the Chinese then. Ironically, here in the year 2013, the judge overturned the jury’s decision that found the City of Medina and Donna Hanson guilty of discrimination against a Chinese. The judge action is not only a slap in the face of Jeff Chen, it’s a slap in the face to Chinese Americans in this state. There is no justice for Chen and us Chinese.
Judge Zilly wrote that he called for a new trial “to prevent a miscarriage of justice.” The miscarriage of justice was not the verdict in the initial trial, it is Judge Zilly overturning the jury’s verdict, and his decision for a new trial. (end)
Doug Chin is the president of the Seattle chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.