Jailed for Cultural Differences?

A news report on MyWay, details a story of Chad Johnson’s courtroom experience: a fanny slap, and the subsequent jail sentence.

Football star Chad Johnson may not be aware of the cultural scripts that Judge McHugh determines are appropriate for her courtroom.

Judge McHugh may not be aware of cultural scripts normal to football players.  Or she and others may simply find them shocking and inappropriate for the courtroom setting.

I suspect the courtroom laughter was a reaction to discomfort caused by the breaching of cultural norms, and the judge reacted to disorder in her courtroom.  Both were reactions to an uncomfortable situation.

It is interesting to understand that it is the judge who has the power (and the privilege to use it) to enforce societal scripts and cultural norms that she (and the majority of mainstream society) determines are the correct ones.  Yet she did not do this.  Reinforcing what isn’t culturally acceptable is a very different thing than reinforcing what is considered appropriate.  The judge might (instead of acting to remove an ‘offender’ from society) have chosen to act intentionally and relationally, and have chosen to restore justice as an alternative to punishment.   Seeing through a lens of restoring justice is very different than seeing through a lens of punishing criminals though.  Howard Zehr states that our ‘assumptions . . . govern our responses’ and that we need to ‘look to alternative ways of viewing both problem and solution’.  This is an interesting thought . . . our assumptions. What we ‘know’ to be true, may simply be assumptions instead?

It is interesting to discover that what we believe might be considered assumptions when we tend to think of these beliefs as self-evident truths.  Our western, linear, Euclidean worldview is based on axioms, that we consider ‘self-evident truths’, but I have begun to learn that these ‘truths’ may not be quite so absolute as we might imagine.  It is interesting, too, to think about how we form our identities – and this is by thinking in contrasts – ‘us and them’, so to speak.  This oppositional and divisive way of thinking creates boundaries and allows for unjust power systems to develop and flourish.  Affecting positive social change begins, therefore, by changing the ways in which we perceive ourselves, and consequently, how we interact within our interconnected multi-cultural world.

Referencing the specific domestic violence charge of head-butting in relation to his courtroom behavior, it is clear to see that Mr. Johnson is deeply enculturated into a lifestyle of football customs and behavior.  Maybe this is simply because Mr. Johnson spends a great deal of time away from mainstream society, and instead is engulfed in football sub-culture and it’s symbols.  I fail to see how the decision to remove Mr. Johnson from society for 30 days will provide justice to Evelyn Lozada, his estranged wife.  I also fail to see how jail time will help Mr. Johnson learn cultural and societal norms that may help him to avoid further social problems.

Judge McHugh has the power (and privilege to use it ) to help Mr. Johnson and others (including herself) to learn about the concepts of intercultural miscommunication.  Learning how others may misinterpret the messages one sends may be a better solution to restoring justice to those harmed in this situation than simply removing the ‘offender’ from society for 30 days.  Changing Lenses and learning how others communicate and understand the world they live in, may help to restore broken relationships, which is key in achieving true social justice.

After reading the MyWay news report, I am left to wonder about the two players who have been harmed in this broken relationship, Evelyn Lozada and Chad Johnson.  Did our justice system truly provide the victim, Evelyn Lozada and the offender, Chad Johnson with their just desserts?  Might Chad Johnson be a victim also?  How?  Was anyone else harmed?  We can ask again, “Who else might have been harmed?  and How?”

Who is responsible for repairing these harms?

These are the important questions we should ask ourselves.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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8 thoughts on “Jailed for Cultural Differences?

  1. I’m not really sure if I understand this completely….Chad Johnson was on probation for a domestic violence situation last August; He then failed to report to probation appointments for three consecutive months which then caused him to be brought into court resulting in a plea bargain for community service and counseling. Do I understand this correctly?
    Then, after the judge and lawyers had come to an agreement, Mr. Johnson was asked if he was satisfied with his lawyer’s performance, at which time he proceeded to slap his lawyer’s buttocks (a football player’s High Five).
    The judge then was angered and responded by sentencing Mr. Johnson to 30 days in jail.
    Do I have a good understanding of the basics of this situation?

    • I understand this situation exactly as you do.

      Do you think that justice is served by the Judge’s reaction (I’ll not give dignity to her actions by naming them a response.)?

      It is also interesting to consider that 50% of all African Americans spend time in the Criminal Justice system.

      Does this serve anyone well

      Can we not do better than this?

  2. I do not feel that her decision really had anything to do with “justice”. Nor do I feel that it has anything to do with “race” or “cultural” differences.
    I do think, however, that no thought was put into her so-called “decision”. Rather, it was a “defensive” reaction to an embarrassing situation that occurred in “Her” courtroom. I feel she used her position as a “judge” (a person in power) to “get even” with Mr. Johnson instead of seeing that “justice” was served.
    I do not feel that jail time was an appropriate response to end the situation. A more “professional” response would have been to adjourn court for a period of time and continue with the issue at hand (the probation violation) when she (the judge) has regained her composure.
    At that time, the issue of “justice” would have better been served.
    Mr. Johnson’s lawyer should request a new judge and hearing for this matter.

    • Lenora,

      You are correct about defensive reaction on the judge’s part and the need to gain composure.

      I like your suggestion that Mr. Johnson’s lawyer should request a new judge and hearing, too.

      It’s as though Mr. Johnson has been punished for other’s actions (laughter).

  3. EXACTLY! He was “UNJUSTLY” punished for the actions of others. No, it was not “court room” appropriate to slap his lawyer on the buttocks but I do not feel he did so to entice laughter. The judge needed to adjourn the hearing, regain her composure, speak to the lawyer privately regarding the matter and clear the audience from the court room before continuing with the hearing.

  4. Cultural differences or disrespect or what ever the name, behaviors do dictate outcome. Each person is ultimately responsible for his/her behavior. Excuses will not help a person grow. Acceptance of one’s behavior and working to improve one’s self will in the long term improve our societies. Could we blame the lawyer for failing to educate his client to the proper court etiquette? A 30 day sentence is not a way to improve Chad’s learning skills. Even if the lawyer asked for a new court hearing and a different judge, Chad could continue to disrespect the court with out the proper education on court etiquette.

  5. Behaviors do dictate outcome. It is good for us to remember that there are entire groups of people who have a history of being imprisoned and physically and mentally abused, and they had their families torn apart, and when these people were given their freedom, they were still denied an economic means of survival (is that really free?). They were forced to live segregated lives away from the majority and controlling group, and were therefore, denied the opportunity to be socialized to what the majority and controlling group deemed ‘proper’. We are seeing the consequences of the decisions our ancestors made with their cruel and inhumane institution of slavery, and the equally unjust ’emancipation’ they were provided. So, too, are we witnessing the outcome of enacting laws that were supposed to grant civil liberties that simply were not enforced. What good is a law that is not enforced? There may be very good reason that Mr. Johnson may not ‘respect’ a court ruling under the historical circumstances. This generation is experiencing the outcome of the unethical behavior of our forefathers. How unfortunate for us, as we did not cause it, yet it will be our responsibility to work to correct these historical harms.

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