Black women made history in Harris County, Texas as they were elected as judges with aspirations to change the face (and reach) of justice.
“The people said it was time for a change,” said Germaine Tanner, one of the women elected.
“We can lead here in Harris County. We can lead in the state of Texas,” LaShawn Williams said.
“For black women particularly, we take a seat at the table and things change. For us in this situation it will change in terms of criminal justice reform, health care, these are the kinds of cases that will come before us and really impact our community.”
Harris County now has a total of 19 Black women serving as judges — 17 are first timers and two ran for re-election.
On Jan. 1, Black Girl Magic happened and they were sworn in:
It’s a brand new day in Harris County! Swearing in of the Newly Elected County Officials and Judges.
Today we usher in a new era of representative government and progressive leadership in Harris County. #ItAllStartsHere pic.twitter.com/oJpjK62X1L
— Harris Democrats (@harrisdemocrats) January 1, 2019
Who the judges are: Sandra Peake, Judge Ramona Franklin, Germaine Tanner, Angela Graves-Harrington, Cassandra Hollerman, Tonya Jones, Dedra Davis, LaShawn A. Williams, Latosha Lewis Payne, Linda M. Dunson, Toria J. Finch, Erica Hughes, Lucia G. Bates, Ronnisha Bowman, Michelle Moore, Sharon Burney, Shannon Baldwin and Lori Chambers Gray.
Harris County, Houston’s home and the largest county in Texas, which has a 63 percent Black and Latino population, had the largest turn-out at the polls for midterms in the county’s history.
There were some voting issues, as also recorded in states like Georgia and Florida, where technology issues resulted in a suit by Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Organizing Project to keep polls open later, avoiding disenfranchisement.
Additionally, there were outright attempts to suppress the Black vote, including a Harris County poll worker who told a Black voter, “Maybe if I’d worn my blackface makeup today you could comprehend what I’m saying to you.”
When the voter said she was going to call the police, the poll worker responded: “If you call the police, they’re going to take you to jail and do something to you, because I’m white.”
She was subsequently fired, and voters made their voices heard in an election that featured more Black women on Harris County’s ballot than any other.
The newly elected judges will make decisions in the county, where 80 percent of the inmates are people of color.
Although judges are not the only ones at fault for racial disparities in sentencing, they can change the status quo. They set the tone in the courtroom and can make sure everyone gets a fair hearing.
“We talked about coming in and being more compassionate,” Ms. Latosha Lewis Payne said of her newly elected colleagues.
“Being more understanding of the poor and disadvantaged that come into the judicial system.”She added, “I hope that our election will usher in courts that ensure an equal opportunity for justice for all.”
Reader Question: What issues do you think these women can tackle as a collective