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NEW YORK NEW YORK: A sign of the Times

rhondathompson, [email protected]

NEW YORK NEW YORK: A sign of the Times

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The armed court officer walked a few steps ahead of the Barbadian, opening and closing doors and ensuring that New York State Supreme Court Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix can walk freely and safely in the court building in downtown Brooklyn.
As the Administrative judge of Brooklyn’s vast civil court system, Hinds-Radix is required to have a court officer everywhere she goes in the vast complex of courtrooms, offices and other areas, even in her own elaborate chamber.
It’s not something she requested but it comes with the job, especially in these times of assassinations, threats and assaults on public figures, particularly on elected officials in the United States.
By popular demand
Unlike judges in the Caribbean and most Commonwealth countries, top jurists in New York State must face the electorate in order to sit on the bench and while their election campaigns don’t involve manifestos and rallies, they must secure the support of voters at election time.
The Barbadian has gone through that process twice, first as a civil court judge and a few years later when she sought elevation to the State Supreme Court.
Last November, Sylvia G. Ash, a West Indian with Vincentian, Grenadian and Trinidadian roots, sought to follow in Hinds-Radix footsteps by moving from the Civil Court to Supreme Court and  she too had to secure major party endorsements and then collect the most votes at the polls.
The presence of both Hinds-Radix and Ash on the bench, two well-known and highly respected women, known in legal and judicial circles for their impeccable temperament, fairness and independence reflect the times in America.
And as the United States paused last Monday to remember the late Dr Martin Luther King and consider how far the country has gone and how much further it needs to go, few doubt that significant progress has been made but that Dr King’s 20th century message remained relevant in the 21st century.
For there was a time during his years providing a voice for the voiceless and for those who felt the sting of segregation when King said the country couldn’t wait to dismantle the racist Jim Crow laws that barred Blacks, especially females from high positions.
Back then, the idea of a black woman heading the civil court system in Brooklyn was unthinkable. But last year, the Barbadian became the first black woman appointed to head Brooklyn’s civil court and lead between 75 and 100 judges, the vast majority of them white men.
“She is eminently qualified for the position,” New York State Senator John Sampson, who until recently was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of Hinds Radix.
Sampson, the son of a Guyanese attended last week’s ceremonial induction of Ash as a high court jurist and he paid a similar tribute to Ash.
The Ash ceremony held in a crowded courtroom filled with more than 200 judges, attorneys, court officials, elected representatives who serve at the federal, state and local legislative levels, and relatives of the newly minted and fully robed judge, reminded everyone of King’s powerful message that “we shall overcome.”
It showed the relevance of his immortal “Dream Speech” more than 40 years after his assassination. For without the advocacy of King, Marcus Garvey, Shirley Chisholm and a host of others it’s unlikely that the United States would have President Barack Obama in the White House today and blacks wouldn’t be serving at every level in the public and private sectors across the country.
And when Roland Richard, a Caribbean steelpan maestro played the United States national anthem and Lift Every Voice And Sing, the Negro National Anthem, few people, if any in the audience, failed to reflect on the importance of Dr King’s work and how stunning the whole thing was.