From behind his desk, District Justice Richard Luther’s face is hard to read. Behind the large black suit and thick glasses is a man who despite being a District Judge for eight years still has the demeanor of the quintessential “beat cop.” As I outlined in my first article my work at the McKean County courthouse takes me to a wide variety of places, and on this particular day it took me to the Foster Township Building.
The docket on that day was light, a child abuse preliminary hearing that morning and a DUI hearing that afternoon. The light case load made for plenty of time to converse with the Judge. After asking the usual questions one asks a college student (Where do you go to school? What is your major?) we proceeded to talk about politics. Being a former cop, and this being during the protests by the Black Lives Matter movement, I decided to cut right to the heart of the issue and ask what he thought of the current wave of tension between the Black Lives Matter movement and the police. “Matthew, whenever there is an event like this there are always two sides that are both at fault” he said. “There are bad people out protesting, but there are also bad cops out there.” At that moment I realized that this was a perfect response for a fair minded judge to make.
I will be honest, when it comes to these kinds of issues, I am prone to the same sort of black and white kind of thinking that plagues Americans. Looking at my background it is not hard to see why I think this way. My father is a former police officer and many of the people I grew up around are some of the finest officers ever known. Also in a sort of Andy Griffith-esque way (if indeed I can say such a thing) many of the police officers I knew where not scary monsters that only came out at night, rather they were everyday people I would find at the local restaurant eating pasta on Thursday before heading back out into the streets.
However, it isn’t that way for many Americans, as many are so involved with crime and drugs that they rarely see the person behind the badge, as I have been blessed to see. I touched on the subject of crime in rural America in my last article, and it was no less prevalent in the judge’s office (as you can well imagine).
As I was leaving, one of the most poignant moments of the entire experience was when I began to wrap up my visit. The judge, looking down at his desk, pushed up his glasses and said to me “Matt, I’m really worried about the direction our country is headed in.” Normally, I would be inclined to resort to my usual ray of optimism, but in truth I could not agree more. But just as previous generations fought waves of crime and lawlessness, we too now take on the unenviable task of fighting the opiate epidemic, and keeping the streets of our great nation safe. Most importantly, we continue the work of making us one people, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.