“When God’s hand is on you, it always is.” — Tracie M. Hunter, 2014
The last time I laid eyes on Tracie M. Hunter, she was somewhere in the morass of a battle royale — a July 15, 2014, packed-room, pre-trial hearing before Judge Norbert Nadel. Her sixth attorney, Clyde Bennett II, was trying then to get Nadel to separate Hunter’s nine charges as then-Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge into three bundles of three charges resulting in three different trials.Bennett and Hunter were throwing up all kinds of legal Hail Marys fighting for Hunter’s legal life, her name and reputation — and, really, as is the case with most (some would argue all) high-profile blacks in America, they were fighting for every black woman and man ever “attacked” or maligned in the (mostly) white court of public opinion.
Yes, Tracie Hunter’s was a case underpinned, couched and sloppily framed by race and gender.Who did this wild-eyed black think she was, anyway?
I was sitting through the tedium of that warm July morning alongside Hunter’s rabid supporters and the rest of the looky-Lou’s in the county courthouse because I, too, was looking for a logical and organic conclusion to whom this black woman thought she was for a behemoth and unwieldy Cincinnati Magazine profile on Hunter I’d already been working on for one full year.
During that year, I observed and encountered all kinds of legal loopholes, interviewing more of Greater Cincinnati’s legal community that I will ever care to speak to again. I sat through thunderstorms of white-male privilege that turned to fear, anxiety and perceptions of outside threats from a no-name black judge these white men assumed had “taken” what was rightfully theirs. I spoke with hordes of powerful blacks who, despite their stations, whispered mostly unsubstantiated rumors about Hunter — everything from her mental stability to her unwillingness to play courthouse political games — that were all off-the-record.
I was surprised and disappointed, but I had to keep myself in check until I could at least connect some dots about Hunter for myself.
Ultimately, I had slow-walked the Hunter story for so long I allowed myself to become empathetic to Hunter. I replaced judgment with understanding after she told me about her horrific car accident while she was an undergraduate student at Miami University, a long-buried story I actually knew from a long-ago friend who lived near Hunter and went to Miami at the same time.
Hunter’s “profile” crystallized for me after I dug up newspaper reports of her youngest brother’s suicide-by-cop during a wild and weird armed robbery spree through Springdale and Glendale — communities I’d grown up in as a teenager.The September 2014 publication of “The Increasingly Complicated Trials of Tracie Hunter” marked a seminal moment in my career, not only as a writer but also my life as a black woman, as a tendon-busting chronicler of “personalities” and as a lifelong watcher of black folks and our ways of being in America.
In all my experience, the worst — certainly the strangest and least victorious — post to play is The Black Explainer: I’ve done it with Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, with President Barack Obama and with Hunter, and I’ve even done it with black people who litter.
That is, forever and always searching for language to help anyone who cares to be enlightened — not changed — about the strange cargo that is blackness.It is, as they used to sing in Israel Baptist Church on Sundays, a tedious journey.But the payoff can be utterly rewarding, because wherever two or more who understand The Black Explainer are gathered together in The Black Explainer’s name, there shall racial progress be in the midst.Speaking subversively of God, I went to Hunter’s church before I delved into any other real reporting about her. I wanted to see this little church that could be pastored by a juvenile court judge and how faith and the law might or might not mix.
The results were some powerful descriptions of Hunter preaching and singing to her very small tribe of (mostly women) misfit congregants. Hunter, I assume feeling safe, also let loose about her trials and tribulations and what she thought were “attacks” by the county’s GOP as she vowed to stay the course, hold to God’s unchanging hand and to keep doling out dignity for the county’s juvenile offenders whom she did not want shown on television in full perp-walk mode, shackled by hands and feet.
My magazine editors, perhaps held captive by shortness of editorial space or that the story was just too long — I recall being several thousand words over my initial word count — sliced all the church scenes from the story except as brief introductions to tell readers Hunter and I were speaking in her church basement during our three or four pre-determined, post-service interview sessions.
So, all the soul I was trying to present to folks clueless to her supernatural adherence to God’s word went in the trash folder of the Word file.
Still, some form or other of the same vocal and hard-working contingent who helped sweep Hunter in as judge, which was a surprise even to the Hamilton County Democratic heads, stayed in lockstep with Hunter even to this day.
However, intra-racial support for Hunter remains shaky, at best. I would bet just as many Cincinnati blacks as whites just want Hunter to go away.
At the Martin Luther King Memorial March this year, a reliable source told me that a local black TV anchor tried shushing a group of Hunter’s supporters by telling them Martin Luther King was not disruptive and that their behavior did not align with King’s legacy.
Where else but at a rally for the Main Man of American Disruption would a brief crowd's address about the soon-to-be forever-tarnished legacy of the county’s first black non-Republican juvenile court judge be appropriate?
In this way and in countless others, we have handed Tracie Hunter over to her captors, and she may eventually (finally, for some) do jail time for one of the original charges brought against her nearly two years ago.
Never mind that the shelf life of this tale seemingly will never expire and that readers, watchers, gossipers and maybe even Hunter’s supporters have story fatigue. This neither dilutes the seriousness of Hunter’s pending report to jail — recently stayed, for now, by Ohio’s highest court — or the fact that Hunter’s will be an epic chapter in the history of race and gender-relations in this city and county for whomever writes it.
I just hope it ain’t me.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]