Federal judge helps Purdue celebrate King’s legacy

January 16, 2018 GMT

WESTVILLE — A federal judge and Northwest Indiana native, targeted by Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign for his Mexican heritage, this week said the country should look for bridges of understanding in the face of conflict by following the example set by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“When people are uncivil to us and show us disrespect, we should marshal those feelings of anger to fuel us — to become more — and never let these slights distract us from our important work,” U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel said.

At a breakfast at Purdue University Northwest to celebrate the civil rights leader, East Chicago native Curiel said King’s legacy was one of determination and resolve, even when people inside the movement rejected his tactics and those long opposed to racial equality sought to discredit him.

“It is a legacy of courage, persistence and grace in taking on injustice in all its forms under daunting and sometimes dangerous circumstances,” he said.

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Trump, who was touting his support for a southern border wall during the campaign in 2016, told reporters Curiel should be disqualified from presiding over a Trump University fraud case because of his Mexican heritage.

Curiel’s parents immigrated from Jalisco, Mexico, and settled in the Indiana Harbor section of East Chicago, where Curiel was born — an environment he said helped him appreciate the importance of America as a racial and economic “melting pot” founded in the rule of law.

The judge made no mention of Trump during his address and, during a question-and-answer session, said he would not discuss any legal cases before him, “in the past, now or in the future,” which drew laughter from the crowd of about 250 people.

But he said King, on his 89th birthday, would have wanted Americans to shine a light on the problems facing the country and confront the challenges that lie ahead.

“He would ask us to set aside our differences and act together as Americans to rid our country of inequality, division, hopelessness and despair,” Curiel said.

After graduating from Bishop Noll High School and earning his undergraduate and law degrees from Indiana University, Curiel entered private practice in Dyer for several years before moving to Monterey Park, California in 1986.

He was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of California from 1989 to 2002, where he served as deputy chief and then chief of the Narcotics Enforcement Division.

In 2006, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Curiel to the state superior court.

Nominated by President Barack Obama in 2011, Curiel was approved by the U.S. Senate and received his commission as a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of California on Oct. 1, 2012.

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Curiel noted that April 4 marks the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. He cited a former president, John Quincy Adams, in celebrating King as one of the great leaders of our time.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, become more, you are a leader,” Curiel said. “That’s exactly what Dr. King did and why we celebrate him today.”

King is an icon, the judge said, not just because of the laws he championed or the protests he led, “but because he came to represent the best of what America stands for: courage in the face of adversity, persistence in the face of nearly impossible odds and love in response to hate.”

The judge said he was inspired by his brother, Tony, but decided to pursue a career in law only after he was in college.

Curiel was scheduled give his presentation again Tuesday at the Purdue Northwest campus in Hammond for the university’s two-day “Together We Win With Love for Humanity” celebration.

Musical performances during the ceremony included those from criminal justice junior Casey "C.J. Musique" Baker and guitarist Angelo Cicco.

Chancellor Thomas Keon introduced the speaker while Regina Biddings-Muro, the vice chancellor for institutional advancement, was the emcee.