WEDNESDAY, NOV. 21 — 54-B District Court Judge Andrea Larkin is under fire after suggesting that she wants to protect college students from jailbirds facing “more dangerous” felonies within the city of Lansing.
Lansing and Ingham County officials will look to pass a pair of resolutions rebuking Larkin’s comments, which were reported by City Pulse today. In an interview regarding regional court consolidation, Larkin said Michigan State University students shouldn’t be forced to cross paths with “people from Lansing.”
She also said a courtroom or lockup shared by East Lansing and Lansing would only increase the likelihood that college students — should they get arrested for picking a fight outside a bar, for example — would eventually be housed with more hardened criminals that are more likely to frequent the justice system in Lansing.
“It’s the experience,” Larkin added. “It’s the trauma of being housed or being bused with somebody who might act out violently or have a serious mental illness and not be able to bond out for a few days. It’s about the degree of the seriousness of the offense. This is an overwhelmingly young population. It’s not about superiority.”
Several area officials have taken umbrage with the “subtext” embedded within those recent remarks.
County Commissioner Thomas Morgan and City Councilman Peter Spadafore said they plan to introduce resolutions condemning the “disgusting” rhetoric.
“Judge Larkin’s comments are divisive, disgusting and despicable,” Morgan said. “She’s advocating for two different justice systems: One for college kids and another for more urban areas. Particularly coming from a judge that’s supposed to be fair and impartial, I’d like for her to apologize immediately and spend some time looking at the Constitution. If she’s unable to do that, then maybe being a judge isn’t the right thing for her.”
Spadafore said he was “appalled.” He said Larkin has a right to be opposed to regional court consolidation but suggested there’s no room for her “coded language” as the discussion continues. Larkin’s suggestions have ramifications for every resident of Lansing, Spadafore said. “We should be speaking on that.”
Larkin was away on vacation Wednesday and didn’t immediately return a phone call for additional comment.
She previously noted, however, that “a lot of research” corroborates a theory that more violent criminal offenders serve as a bad influence for lower-level offenders when they’re housed together in the same facilities. She also raised a similar set of concerns publicly at a recent East Lansing City Council meeting.
Larkin previously said that as a parent, she wouldn’t want her college-aged students mingling with some Lansing citizens. She also suggested that students haven’t fully developed the frontal lobe of their brains and indicated that continued maturity — unlike Lansing residents — could have prevented their alleged crimes.
“There needs to be some recognition of the demographics in East Lansing,” Larkin said previously.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor also spoke out against Larkin’s comments. He said Larkin is pushing “false stereotypes” to drive a wedge between residents in both cities and kill any ongoing efforts toward courtroom consolidation. Lansing residents abide by laws and are proud to live in the city, he said.
County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth also said Larkin’s argument doesn’t hold water regardless of how her comments were perceived. He noted defendants from both cities often eventually land together in the county jail and in many cases, they’ll even become bunkmates. “That happens all the time,” Wriggelsworth added.
State Rep. Sam Singh also emphasized that college students — particularly those at Lansing Community College — usually live outside of East Lansing and well outside the jurisdiction of Larkin’s courtroom. Any belief that East Lansing is a city only filled with college students is “a little misguided,” Singh said previously.
And the bustling college town deals with its own share of violent crime. A man was shot last week — the second shooting in East Lansing this year — after a group of men shoved their way into an apartment near Lake Lansing Road. The man escaped without life-threatening injuries. It was later determined he was not enrolled at MSU.
“The subtext within Judge Larkin’s comments is kind of incredible. This kind of double standard in our criminal justice system is exactly why white college bros like Brock Turner get a slap on the wrist while people of color receive maximum sentences,” Morgan added on Facebook. “If I were her, I'd be more worried about saying racist, elitist shit and how that'd affect my re-election prospects, regardless of the boundaries.”
Larkin was elected to the bench in 2012, defeating current Mayor Mark Meadows in the process. She won again this year in an unopposed race for another six-year term. Meadows, for his part, previously said Larkin’s concerns sounded “like a pretty non-valid worry.”
Read more about an ongoing proposal to consolidate district courts in the latest edition of City Pulse.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to accurately reflect Larkin's recent election victory.