Racist Judge Tranquilli is a Symptom, not the Cause: The Racist Nature of our Criminal Justice System

by Sofia Huang

September 11, 2020

In the time since this piece was written, there have been several developments:

Formal charges were brought against Tranquilli by the Judicial Conduct Board to the Court of Judicial Discipline on August 12th.
Tranquilli wrote an apology, not to the victims of his racist remarks “the courts and our community,” that was published in a tweet on August 26th.
On the same day, The Court of Judicial Discipline ordered that Tranquilli be suspended without pay.
In turn,  on September 3rd, Tranquilli’s legal team issued a Respondent’s Brief in Support of Relief from the courts order to suspend his pay. The Brief argues that certain items in the complaint are not true, and that the decision to suspend him without pay is without precedent
However, the case against Tranquilli is moving along as per the order dated, August 26th, “the case will be conducted on an expedited basis with discovery to be completed by September 15, 2020, Pre-trial Memos of the parties filed by September 18, 2020, the Pre-trial Conference to be held on September 21, 2020, and the Trial will commence on October 5, 2020.” 

We seek the removal of this racist judge from Allegheny County Courts.

We demand his resignation. 

Throughout his tenure, Tranquilli has embodied white supremacy in the courtroom. If he does not resign, and if he is not fired, then he must be recused from all cases involving Black communty members, including jury members, witnesses, and the defense. #ResignTranquilli

With protestors across the nation rising up against police brutality and the systematic targeting of Black and Brown people by law enforcement, it is time we also pay attention to the racism festering in other parts of our criminal justice system: the judiciary.

In January of 2020, Judge Mark Tranquilli of the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas was exposed for making racist, anti-Black statements. Tranquilli called a Black Juror “Aunt Jemima” and speculated that she had a “baby daddy” at home who is “slinging heroin.” Since then, several of Judge Tranquili’s other racist remarks have come to light, such as when he mockingly employed African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) while lecturing Black parents in a custody conciliation on how they should communicate: “And when I say communication, I don’t mean, ‘and den da bitch done dis, and den da bitch done dat.’”

Due to Judge Tranquilli’s blatantly racist statements, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board filed charges against him alleging six counts of judicial misconduct on August 12, 2020. This begs the question of how a virulently racist judge, who has been under fire for judicial misconduct since 2005, has been allowed to keep his seat for so long.

Judge Tranquilli is protected by a system of criminal “justice” that not only tolerates but perpetuates racism and white supremacy. The three major institutions of the criminal justice system–the judiciary, police and law enforcement, and prisons–work in tandem to systematically oppress Black and Brown people. While the criminal justice system is often portrayed as a series of institutions involved in the fair administration of justice to those who have committed crimes, judges and the judicial system should not be seen as impartial arbiters of justice. Black people are 50 percent more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder and 12 times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes than white people. One out of every three Black boys born today can expect to be sentenced to prison, compared to 1 out 6 Latino boys and one out of 17 white boys. This is a institution that is systematically targeting racial minorities, while it purports to be race-blind.

With the national discussion focused on the Black Lives Matter movement to address police brutality, our calls to defund and abolish the police should be paired with an equally critical examination of our judiciary and prison systems. Let’s take Tranquilli as simply one clear example of the racist legacy of our criminal justice system that extends back to the “Slave Patrol” of the 1700s and continues to target Black communities today. This is a man who admits to having “no milk of human kindness left in these veins,” in reference to his low tolerance for probation violations. The Judge’s clearly deep-seated racist biases and systematic targeting of Black people in his courtroom represent just one example of how the criminal justice system has perpetuated the systematic oppression of Black people for centuries.

To draw attention to such deeply rooted racism within the criminal justice system, we at the Abolitionist Law Center Courtwatch and the Pittsburgh Women’s March partnered for a week of action (August 3-9) to demand Tranquilli’s resignation and further investigation. While the subsequent action taken by the Judicial Conduct Board is a step in the right direction, we are calling for further evidence of his racist disposition to be brought to light. Therefore, we are putting out a call for public comment from any individuals affected by Judge Tranquilli’s systematic racial bias.

It is time for us to demand justice for the centuries of racism that continue to structure our criminal justice system. From judges to police and prisons, we must leave no stone unturned until the fair administration of justice is not just a myth, but a reality.

Sofia Huang is a rising second-year doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at Duquesne University. 


“2018 Annual Report.” 2018-Annual-Report-Judicial-Conduct-Board-of-Pennsylvania-, 2018, judicialconductboardofpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018-Annual-Report-Judicial-Conduct-Board-of-Pennsylvania-1.pdf.

“Judge Accused of Making Racist Remarks Forbidden from Hearing Cases.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Feb. 2020, www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2020/02/06/Allegheny-County-Common-Pleas-Judge-Mark-Tranquilli-racist-remarks-forbidden-hearing-cases/stories/202002060120.

Ward, Paula Reed. “Allegations of Racist Comments Put Judge Tranquilli under Scrutiny.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5 Mar. 2020, www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2020/03/08/Allegations-of-racism-put-Judge-Mark-V-Tranquilli-under-scrutiny/stories/202003040183. 

Silver, Jonathan D. “Uncivil Court Prosecutor to Apologize for Dustup at Hearing.” Gazette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 17 May 2005, www.post-gazette.com/uncategorized/2005/05/17/Uncivil-court-prosecutor-to-apologize-for-dustup-at-hearing/stories/200505170226.

Bonczar, Thomas  P. “ Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001”. Bureau of Justice Statistics. August 2003. US Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs.

NAACP. “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet”. 2020, https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/