PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A rally organized by the NAACP was held in the Hill District to protest Common Pleas Judge Mark Tranquilli, who was recently reassigned for allegedly making racist comments in a closed-door conference.
“We did not come here to have a rally, we came here to make a statement,” Kenneth Huston, the State President of the NAACP, said at the rally on Freedom Corner, at Centre Avenue and Crawford Street Tuesday afternoon.
A memorandum obtained by KDKA lays out what Tranquilli said behind closed doors.
In a meeting with a defense attorney and an assistant district attorney, Tranquilli is quoted as calling a black woman juror “Aunt Jemima” and muses about her having a drug-dealing “baby daddy” at home.
That woman was on a jury that found a drug suspect innocent.
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The NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference says they “won’t stand idly by” while “systemic racism permeates throughout the system” of Allegheny County’s criminal courthouse.
“We stand here today to make it abundantly clear that racism in any form, in any system, cannot be tolerated,” said Huston.
The group chose Freedom Corner — not outside the Allegheny County Court House where Tranquilli sits on the bench, but Freedom Corner where African Americans in the Hill District came to get their voices heard in an era of urban renewal and federal housing policies and struggles.
Speakers at the rally encouraged people hurt and upset by the alleged racist remarks to vote.
Rev. Maurice Trent, pastor of the Lighthouse Cathedral Church says the judge’s alleged words send a signal of anxiety: “It feeds into the fear that we as black people have when we go to court and feel that we are not going to get justice, so we are asking the judicial system to do the right thing and remove this judge from his bench.”
The NAACP says it plans to send a statement to the judicial review board demanding that Tranquilli be removed.
Following the allegations, Tranquilli will not preside over any cases. Several defendants jailed on probation violations by Tranquilli were also released.
According to a report prepared by the Pennsylvania Commission on sentencing, Tranquilli has been tougher on white defendants than on blacks. The commission figures find Tranquilli’s record to be in the mainstream with his fellow judges in the sentencing of black defendants and defendants overall.