General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon told members of the Brainerd Kiwanis Club Friday that "Latinos and other non-English speaking people who reside in the United States would have a much better quality of life if they would learn to speak the English language."
Judge Moon said, "I am a proponent for the English language to be established as the national language of choice in the United States. However, I am not a proponent for anyone residing in this country to be compelled to give up their national heritage, language or culture. There is a difference."
The judge said, "I understand that most Latinos come to the United States to work and earn money and that learning the English language is not a prerequisite for that purpose. However, for many of them residing in this country without the benefit of speaking English is costing some of them their very lives."
Judge Moon told the group at the Country Place Restaurant of a police officer in Collegedale who was investigating a burglary in progress behind a local business late one night. When the officer arrived, an Hispanic man was standing close to the wall and window behind the business. The officer told the man to raise his hands and lie on the asphalt. The man said something in Spanish that the officer did not understand and then pulled something silver from his pocket.
Judge Moon said, "Had the cell phone light not come on with an in-coming call, the officer would have shot and most likely killed the man. The police officer would have been justified under the totality of the circumstances and most likely would have either not been charged or charged and acquitted based upon a reasonable mistake of fact defense.
"The officer, in telling me the story, said that he had already begun to put a slight amount of finger force on the trigger. An innocent man was almost killed while excusing himself, not because he was committing a crime, but because he did not speak the English language."
Judge Moon also told of a pregnant Latino woman in Chicago who went to the emergency room with excessive bleeding, but was not able to communicate with the doctors about her pregnancy. She was sent home after a few hours, and she died the next morning from complications that were ordinarily treatable.
A third episode the judge referenced involved another Latino woman who was injured in an automobile accident with her six-month-old child.
Judge Moon said, "A good Samaritan physician stopped on the side of the road to assist. The lady could not communicate with the doctor about her diabetes and her significant allergic reactions to certain drugs."
He said, "I don't know if the woman would have survived or not if she had the ability to speak English and communicate with the doctor. However, I do know that her lack of communication with him diminished her odds of survival. Unable to dialogue with medical and law enforcement personnel in these emergency situations no doubt cost these non-English speaking persons their lives every day."
Judge Moon said he recently had a Latino man charged with murder who had given a confession to police investigators. The defendant's confession was about to be read into the record in the court proceeding having been translated by another police officer. The judge ordered that a neutral and detached interpreter who was certified by the state of Tennessee to be called in to court to translate the defendant's confession. Defense attorneys had objected to the police officer translating their client's statement out of fear of a bias and embellished translation that could be prejudicial to their client.
Judge Moon said, "Too many people who reside in this country and our community cannot avail themselves fully of 911 protection and full police protection in reporting crime due to the language barrier and the fear of deportation due to the illegal status of millions."
Judge Moon said, ”These are only a very few of the infinite numbers of daily scenarios suffered by Latino and other non-English speaking people who reside in this country. Speaking the English language can do more than just enhance the quality of a person's life, it can protect them and it can make a difference in life and death in many of these unfortunate situations.
"I do believe that many of them wish that they could speak the English language and many are taking classes. I am only suggesting that more must do so. I can only hope that my remarks today will not be misconstrued nor misinterpreted, but will be considered and accepted for the purposes that which I have given them. I have focused solely upon the need for all persons residing in America to do more than just co-exist, but equally important to communicate in a common language. I make no judgment upon the important issues of the legal status of any person residing in this country other than to say that an illegal alien is exactly what the term implies, 'illegal.'”
He said, "My conclusions may be 'politically incorrect,' and I am certain that I will be criticized for what I have said here today. However, the unnecessary hard knocks and painful happenings suffered by non-English speaking persons living in the United States and this community cannot be denied."