Op/Ed By Gerorge Payne –
Embattled Judge Leticia Astacio has an illness called alcoholism; it is a disease that effects millions of people all over the world.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has stated that over 1.3 million adults receive treatment for AUD at a specialized facility each year. An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths, 31 percent of overall driving fatalities, and more than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems.
Given the epidemic proportions of this illness, why are so many people gloating in Astacio’s plight? She is a victim of a deadly and prevalent disease that we should all be working to eradicate. Why the fixation with her downfall?
The bottom line is that Astacio needs professional help. She needs a support system that has her best interest in mind. She needs to be in an environment where she can recover.
Sadly, none of this is happening. We live in a society that far too often treats people with addictions as spectacles to be judged, laughed at, and ultimately criminalized. This is a society that tends to build people up as shining examples of virtue and hard-earned merit, only to gleefully tear them down when they reveal their human flaws and weaknesses.
Nor can the racial aspect of this story go ignored. Far too many people in Rochester, and across the nation, are savoring this woman’s personal unraveling because it justifies, in their prejudiced worldview, an opinion that they hold about women of color in general.
They do not allow Astacio to make her own mistakes, and be accountable for her own actions. She is not allowed to be an individual, for she represents to them a minority judge who did not deserve the position in the first place. Her unethical choices are indicative, in their warped understanding of race, of an inherent character blemish that taints the ability of all people of color, across the societal spectrum, to be in roles of authority and leadership. Whether acknowledged or not, this attitude is still very much alive today: It is the standard definition of racism.
And, what is demonstrably clear is that people are actually rooting for her to fail in the most public way possible.
I even came across a photo of her in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, inhaling her breathalyzer before she started her car.
Mind you, Astacio was in her car, at her house, performing what the court ordered her to do as part of her recovery, yet she was shamelessly photographed (dare I say exhibited) for the paying readership of the D&C. Should that not remain a private moment?
More recently, I saw a story flash on Yahoo News about Astacio being handcuffed in front of her fellow judge. Again, why is her sickness and misfortune a story that captures the attention of not just people in Rochester but all over the nation? Why does the public so readily feast on these invasive images?
There have always been corrupt judges; just as there have always been corrupt people. There have also always been sick and damaged judges; just as there have always been sick and damaged people.
Working as a social worker and nonprofit community organizer for 17 years, I have learned that sick and damaged people need healing, repair, and unconditional love.
In more extreme terms, they need courageous love, the kind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often wrote and spoke about. And, as is usually the case with King’s wisdom, it is universally applicable wherever compassion comes up against hate.
I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth.
And, when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For, through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.
Astacio has made serious mistakes.
She has forfeited her right to be a judge based on the destructiveness and lack of integrity that these mistakes represent.
But, the only way to drive out the addiction of alcoholism and the elements of self-hatred which led to these mistakes, is through the light of forgiveness, the path of healing, the drive to trust, the power of love and the freedom to choose a nonviolent response to crime.