Racial Slurs Eclipse Sacramento Courtroom YouTube Livestream ‘Chat’

By Koda Slingluff

SACRAMENTO, CA – All livestream hell broke loose in Sacramento County Superior Court’s YouTube broadcast in Judge Patrick Marlette’s department Wednesday when the “chat” function was left on, resulting in running commentary from more than a dozen people, sending slurs and hateful messages.

In the midst of the current COVID-19 airborne pandemic, courts have had to adapt to an online format in order to keep courtrooms from spreading disease. As such, courts turned to livestreaming their proceedings to keep public access possible.

Many counties, such as Sacramento, opt to use YouTube to publish their streams. This has the advantages of easier access without having to travel and a higher viewing capacity. But contrarily, courts now have to deal with an array of new problems—one of which was in full view Wednesday.

Generally, courtrooms opt to turn off the ability for watchers to leave commentary on the court proceedings. But it only takes a small mistake, a loading error, or just a click on the wrong button, and suddenly the “chat” function is available to everyone watching.

As one of the afternoon’s first defendants appeared on camera, a commenter in the “chat” immediately said, “DEPORT HIM.”

The case did not have to do with immigration, and there was no clear indication that the defendant was even an immigrant. He had not even spoken yet. He was appearing with a Spanish translator, which all Americans have a right to request for the sake of fair proceedings.

Viewers had commentary on more than just that defendant, though. There was particular hate thrown at any Asian-appearing people who walked onto the screen.

When Deputy District Attorney Stephen Choe appeared, one person commented that Choe eats “bat soup.” The same person then made allusions to Choe spreading illness, invoking fearful coronavirus prejudice.

Yet another person took it on themselves to comment the N-word every time a dark skinned defendant came onto screen. The person commented one letter at a time, in all capital letters, so the word took up the entire “chat” screen.

There were nearly 50 comments and around 17 commentators by the end of the day.

Sitting in a pre-pandemic courtroom gallery, making any comment would be contemptuous. Saying something about the case would be even worse. Saying something baseless, racially charged, and dehumanizing about the case would be almost unimaginable.

But with a “chat” function, the comments do not talk over a judge or interrupt proceedings in the moment. It does not disrupt the court in the same way. However, it may still be considered disruptive to public viewership.

Anyone searching for this court’s livestream would immediately see each hateful comment, plastered as large as the defendant’s face on the screen. By the end of the day, the livestream totaled over 100 views. Each person viewing the stream would see these comments.

Any family member or loved one of a defendant would see the stream. They could click the link and immediately see each hateful comment, plastered as large as the defendant’s face on the screen.

Possibly even stranger is how many of the 100 viewers did not know the defendants personally. For people like this, their first impression of a person would be paired with baseless comments, where the comments are just as present as the words of educated legal professionals.

Or for people like DDA Choe, their credibility in upholding the law is shown next to overt racial stereotypes.

Although these were the words of just a handful of individuals, their comments may have impacted the views of over 100.

Koda is a junior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Rhetoric. He is from Ventura, CA.


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