With his joint appearance alongside Bill Cosby on Thursday night, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington continues an arc that is bringing growing fame as one of the newest voices calling — or shouting — for a renewed focus on self-respect and education among the black youth that too often end up in his courtroom.
In recent months, Arrington has been increasingly critical, both in his public comments and in his just-released autobiography, “Making My Mark,” of a generation of African-American youth that he says has, far too often, forgotten the hard-fought struggles for civil rights and instead embraced a corrosive culture of crime, violence and cheap sexuality.
The national controversy surrounding his decision to ask white attorneys and staff to leave the courtroom so he could have a “fireside chat” with the black defendants and their families last month caught Cosby’s attention, said Arrington, who recounted his disbelief when his secretary told him Cosby was on the phone.
“I really don’t have time to be fooling around,” Arrington recalled saying; “I’ve got to get on the bench.”
When he got on the line, said Arrington, Cosby had a proposition.
“‘I want to come to Atlanta and help you in your effort to turn these young people around,'” recounted the judge. “‘These young people are worth saving.'”
The two are now “co-coaches” of a newly formed mentoring program, “BeCOS we’re MARvelous,” and they served up a stiff blend of outrage, encouragement and humor to the appreciative crowd that frequently shouted encouragement, pumped fists into the air and leapt to its feet for standing ovations.
The event, billed as a “team meeting” of the new partnership, was hosted in the packed, cavernous auditorium of Benjamin E. Mays High School in southwest Atlanta.
Students from throughout Atlanta Public Schools, as well as some from other metro-area counties, were in attendance, said Fulton County Superior Court spokesman Don Plummer.
Many of the students were accompanied by parents, and among the attendees were Atlanta and Fulton County government officials, including Sheriff Myron Freeman and District Attorney Paul L. Howard and Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall.
Joined by Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Belinda Edwards and comic film star Chris Tucker, a graduate of DeKalb County’s Columbia High School, Arrington repeated some of the reasons that drove him to clear his courtroom: a continuing parade of criminal defendants, 95 percent of them black, streaming through his doors; the nonchalant murders committed by young men; the father hauled into court for having sex with his own daughters and whose family begged Arrington to allow him to come home.
“There’s no morals, no feelings,” said the judge, shaking his head. “We cannot tolerate that uncivilized behavior.”
In his three-piece suit and pink bow-tie, Arrington offered a counterpoint to the T-shirted, tennis-shoed Cosby, who stalked the stage, forcefully pounding home his self-described “tirade.”
“The problem we have is apathy,” he boomed. Anger and depression are rife among the black community, he said.
“Why would a boy say he doesn’t mind going into prison because his friends are in there?” he asked incredulously. “Something’s not right! Our children are trying to tell us something, and we’re not listening!”
Cosby said the attention given to Arrington’s decision to speak privately to black defendants was misplaced.
“Why not clear the damn courtroom?” he asked. “Judge said, ‘Clear the room, I want to talk to my people. … I want to talk to you, boy, I’ve seen you in here four times.'”
Cosby was unsparing in his criticism of apathetic parents, teachers, social workers, preachers and “those idiots on the radio, TV and in the newspapers” who, he said, are complicit in the downward slide of youth culture.
“Who are these people?” he asked. “Get rid of ’em!”