Kyle R. Canning, a judge in the rural upstate town of Altona, New York has resigned after posting an image of a noose on his Facebook page with the text, “IF WE WANT TO MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN WE WILL HAVE TO MAKE EVIL PEOPLE FEAR PUNISHMENT AGAIN.”
In January 2018, Canning became a judge for the town, the New York Times reports. He was not a lawyer; having legal background is not required for town judges in New York State, though they undergo specialized training, according to New York’s town and village justice court manual. Town judges have five days of training in Albany and then continue their education each year. Canning said he ran for office after the town supervisor approached him. He said there was a need for a judge and no one running. Six weeks into his new position, Canning posted the image on Facebook.
Someone had brought it to the attention of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, and they began an investigation in June. Canning stepped down, and by order of the Commission agreed to never work as a judge again. The investigation closed last week and was recently made public.
Though the noose is universally recognized as a hate symbol, largely against African Americans, Canning said he did not see it as racial, but as a symbol for the death penalty, which he supports. He also allegedly didn’t catch the “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” slogan relating to President Trump’s campaign, and said he was a registered Democrat who was against Trump.
“The post was not racist. I’m not a racist guy,” Canning told the New York Times. “I see it as pro-death penalty, pro-capital punishment. It doesn’t need to be a noose; it could have been a gas chamber. It could have been an electric chair.”
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A gas chamber would also not have been without its own dark history hearkening back to the Holocaust. Regardless of the symbol used to convey the death penalty, the death penalty itself is also often a racial issue. According to the NAACP, Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, but 42% of those on state death row and 35% of those executed. On federal death row, more than half are people of color. The NAACP also cited research that found homicides that involved white victims more often resulted in the death penalty for the perpetrator.
The government’s complaint said Canning’s post conveyed “racial and/or political bias” and that he “failed to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
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Canning told the Times he tried to be “fair and impartial for everyone who came in front of me.”
However, the judicial commission argued the image of a noose could never be without heavy, painful context.
“The noose is an incendiary image with repugnant racial connotations,” Robert H. Tembeckjian, the judicial commission administrator, said in a statement. “It is the very antithesis of law and justice. For a judge to use the image of the noose in making a political point undermines the integrity of the judiciary and public confidence in the courts.”