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Virginia judge won't try Black man in courtroom filled with white portraits

Judge David Bernhard says having people of color stand trial in courtrooms that are filled with the images of white jurists could indicate that the system is biased against them.

Gavel Getty Images/iStockphoto

A Virginia judge has ruled that a Black defendant’s right to a fair trial would be tainted if the jury heard his case in a courtroom that was filled with portraits of white judges.

According to CNN, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David Bernhard wrote an opinion letter earlier this week that referred to the trial of Terrance Shipp Jr. He stated that having people of color stand trial in courtrooms that are filled with the images of white jurists could indicate that the system is biased against them.

Although some people see the pictures as a way to honor the former judges, Bernhard wrote that others may perceive the photos as a sign that the judicial system isn't for them.

“To the public seeking justice inside the courtrooms, thus, the sea of portraits of white judges can at best yield indifference, and at worst, logically, a lack of confidence that the judiciary is there to preside equally no matter the race of the participants,” he wrote.

Shipp, Jr. is accused of several offenses, including assault on a law enforcement officer and evading police. Attorney Bryan Kennedy, who represents the defendant, filed to have the images removed from the courtroom where his client was scheduled to begin trial.

Kennedy praised Judge Bernhard’s ruling, but says this is just a start. “This opinion is important because it is continuing the conversation about the symbols we use both inside and outside our courthouses,” the lawyer wrote in an email to CNN.

The judge’s decision comes at a time when racial tensions are high in America. Following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, many people have called for the removal of statues and symbols that represent racism. Monuments of former confederate leaders have been removed from many places across the country.

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