White bank manager acquitted of racism, racial intimidation

Efforts to hold Rittenhouse bank manager Charles Graff guilty of all 19 civil rights and racial-discrimination counts were thrown out on Friday, days after Rittenhouse announced it would fire Graff because he had a negative, pending employee evaluation.

A jury acquitted Graff, 46, last week of one count of criminal conspiracy in connection with the misuse of a photo that showed African-American teenagers gathered in a park, which resulted in Graff telling an employee at his branch that he could “see their hands … up by their black asses.” Graff testified that he used the phrase sarcastically and meant no harm, describing it as a white man’s way of saying, “We have had enough, boys,” according to the Associated Press. He claimed that an assistant manager told him that the white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan had been in the area, and that other statements used by Graff that morning were mere jokes about the incident.

Opponents of the Rittenhouse Corporation, which runs the bank, and of Graff, argued that Graff’s comments amounted to racial intimidation.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a lawyer for the defendant, argued during the trial that the lack of any physical evidence – no physical evidence suggesting that Graff committed a crime – demonstrated that “a similar incident would probably be taken with the same gravity if the defendant were black.”

Judge John G. Murry did not enter a guilty verdict against Graff, saying he “should have acquitted him on his whole case but not on the criminal conspiracy count.”

McCarthy expressed disappointment in the court’s decision to acquit his client, who managed to get arrested and prosecuted for the same words he had uttered, saying he hoped the acquittal would send a message that racism was illegal. He also referred to the jury’s decision as an “enormous victory.”

Following the acquittal, McCarthy told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his client had been punished far worse than he was; the bank terminated Graff on July 12, over a half-hour after the photo was taken at Rittenhouse on May 16, and now Graff may face legal charges for violating the civil rights of customers who did not press charges against him.

“It’s a systemic problem that every other company on the planet has not addressed,” McCarthy said. “We’ve just now uncovered one case of institutional racism and it has to stop.”

McCarthy said he and Rittenhouse were discussing how much to charge Graff for civil rights violations and other allegations against him, which could include firing him, if he is found guilty on the criminal charge.

McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who worked for over a decade in the Southern District of New York, where he helped convict members of the United Blood Nation and the Nation of Islam — two white supremacist gangs — when he was an assistant U.S. attorney, told the Inquirer that he hopes the acquittal will offer some reassurance to other white supremacist groups and others espousing anti-black sentiments, who have been trying to recruit bank managers to their ranks.

A number of well-known far-right groups were named by the Southern Poverty Law Center in a report that sought to find evidence of what the SPLC termed “institutional racism,” including the National Alliance, the American Nazi Party, the South Asia-based Tamil Aryan Council and the white-nationalist Nationalist Action.

McCarthy said he believed that the acquittal would embolden far-right activists and put pressure on the City of Philadelphia and the Rittenhouse Corporation to pay attention to issues of racial discrimination. He said he was planning to speak with the San Francisco-based investigator he worked with to “present the facts and the law.”

In a statement, the Rittenhouse Corporation said that the civil and criminal justice systems had “carried out a fair and impartial trial without regard to race or ethnicity,” and that Graff was terminated “because he failed to comply with Rittenhouse Corporation policy and displayed an unprofessional workplace.”

“The Bank welcomes all of its customers, regardless of race or creed,” the statement continued. “The Bank is fully committed to creating safe and secure workplace environments where all of its employees are treated with respect and have the opportunity to thrive professionally.”

Read the full story at The New York Times


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