EVERETT — A Snohomish County judge’s comments about race have prompted the union representing sheriff’s deputies to demand a public apology Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas earlier this month talked to students at Everett High School about the Black Lives Matter movement. Lucas, who is black, is a past president of the Snohomish County chapter of the NAACP. The judge has shared his views in public before on racism in society and the criminal justice system.
On Tuesday, he said his remarks to students did not include a phrase, which is being attributed to him on social media, that police “execute black people.” The quote has been circulating among local law enforcement on Facebook.
The judge provided a copy of his 19-page speech, which does not include the word “execute.” He said when he gives speeches, he generally sticks to his prepared remarks.
“Why would I use that?” he said of the word. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Lucas spoke at the high school Jan. 10 during a campus-wide assembly honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Students chose the theme “The March from Selma Continues.” Lucas said he drew his remarks from an article he published in 2015 called “Black Lives Matter: Voting Rights Are Not Enough.” Much of the content is identical, he said.
The school did not record the presentation in the Civic Auditorium, said Leanna Albrecht, district spokeswoman.
The next day, Lucas’ comments became the focus of a Facebook post by sheriff’s Sgt. Ian Huri, who has children attending Everett Public Schools. The sergeant said he was “horrified” at the comments in the context of recent killings of police officers around the country. He wrote that he read on social media the judge had said that police “execute black people.” He asked school officials to condemn the judge’s statements.
“I feel that the concepts of racism, the justice system and equality are important to discuss in an academic environment but for a Superior Court Judge to be given a forum to make such an inflammatory statement only serves to fuel the attacks on law enforcement,” Huri wrote in his post.
He has since added a comment below the post that the school district assured him that the word “execute” was not used.
In a Tuesday press release, the union representing sheriff’s deputies said it was wrong for Lucas to make “the statement indicating that law enforcement officers are killing unarmed black men.”
School district officials said Lucas spoke to students about the work of Martin Luther King and “the capacity of each individual to make a difference.
“In addition to being a Superior Court judge, he has also authored several articles,” district officials said in a written statement. “He shared what prompted him to start writing were police-involved shootings that were reported widely in the media. His speech was not specifically an attack on law enforcement.”
School officials also said the district supports police officers.
“Overall, the school has received positive input from the assembly, and we are proud of our students’ efforts in coordinating a powerful event that highlighted the important social justice work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the district’s statement said.
The controversy has touched on national conversations about social issues. Last year, 135 police officers were killed in the line of duty, 64 of them by gunfire, Huri wrote. In recent years, smartphone videos and social media also have renewed scrutiny of police shootings of black men in other parts of the country.
In July, roughly 100 people attended a vigil outside the Snohomish County courthouse a week after violence across the country took more than a half dozen lives of black men as well as police officers.
“We need to be able to say ‘black lives matter,’ without somebody being offended,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said at the time. “For many years in this country, black lives haven’t mattered as much.”
The deputies association alleged in its 10-paragraph news release that the statements made by the judge “create an aura of prejudice against law enforcement” in his courtroom.
The union said its 251 members have become “increasingly concerned with the divisive and prejudicial comments” made by Lucas.
The judge on Tuesday said the union’s description of his speech to students was not accurate.
“And a person cannot be expected to apologize for an act they did not do,” he said.
The union’s press release also referenced a November story in The Daily Herald. The story quoted what Lucas said about police shootings as he sentenced a young man to 40 years in prison for shooting three people.
Young black men are being gunned down by the police, Lucas said. He wanted the defendant, who is black and associated with a street gang, to understand the system wasn’t rigged against him.
“Our society is racist and there is (a) double standard against blacks, particularly black men,” the judge said. “But the idealization of violence is not the proper response to racism.”
Lucas has been on the bench since 2004. He graduated from Mariner High School. He also attended Stanford University and the University of Washington and obtained his legal degree from Harvard Law School. His wife serves on the local NAACP board.
His prepared remarks noted that he was a child with parents from the South when the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. As he grew older and gained legal experience, he realized “voting rights are not enough to guarantee justice for black Americans,” he wrote.
What is needed, Lucas wrote, is the right to “full development,” which he defined as being valued, loved and cared for by society.
“Denial of the right of full development is what prevents black people from possessing that full citizenship and acceptance that would prevent the perpetration of violence against us,” he wrote.
However, Huri posted an update on Facebook last week. He said that school officials reached out to him.
“So far they have been very responsive and have talked about how much they value the officers who serve in their schools and who serve the community as a whole,” he wrote.
Statement from Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas
I spoke about these matters with the sheriff. I asked him specifically to allow me to speak to the deputy who made the Facebook post. I want to speak with him and reach an understanding … My door is still open.
I also emailed (Everett schools Superintendent Gary Cohn) about this matter and he assured me that that the district did not apologize for my remarks because the district did not endorse them. He indicated that two parents complained. I see nothing wrong with this posture. I believe the sheriff’s association press release to be inaccurate on this point.
I promised both of these leaders that I am open to dialogue on this subject.
The press release “demands” that I apologize for a version of events presented there. I do not believe that version is accurate. And a person cannot be expected to apologize for an act they did not do.
I am more than willing to apologize for any harm or hurt that I have done to someone. In what I actually said I think my meaning is clear and does not inflame passions to attack the police. And it is improper to take my words out of context, in order to make them mean something I did not say. Words matter. And people do not have the right to change my meaning for their own purposes. However, one of the problems in this situation is that we have not yet reached a community consensus on how to discuss these matters. I do sincerely believe that this needs to be done and I am more than happy to join in the effort.