A 24-year-old man who’s married with two kids got an earful when he apparently tried to interrupt a Cook County judge who was preparing to set bail on gun charges this week.
“Don’t raise your hand,” Judge John Lyke told the interjecting man. “Sometimes you gotta listen. Listening is twice as important as speaking ‘cuz God blessed us with two ears and one mouth. Because listening is twice as important. That’s how you learn.”
Lyke then laid out his own personal story of growing up in a notoriously dangerous South Side housing project where he managed to stay on the straight-and-narrow because he was more afraid of his mother than the street gangs who tried to lure him down the wrong path.
We’re not going to name the defendant or his co-arrestee in this story. That’s not important.
But the men wound up facing felony gun charges the same way literally dozens of other Chicagoans do every week: Cops smelled marijuana burning in their car during a traffic stop. The officers asked the men to step out.
Prosecutors said the other guy, a 21-year-old, has been convicted of illegal gun possession twice and of firing a gun once since the age of 13. Cops allegedly found a gun in his pants leg.
The man Lyke would later treat to a free life lesson also had a gun, prosecutors said. He allegedly tried to throw it out the driver’s side window, but it landed on the dashboard instead.
After hearing from prosecutors and a public defender, Lyke recapped what the attorneys said about him.
He was found guilty of residential burglary at the age of 14. He received probation for possessing a gun with a defaced serial number in 2017. He’s a high school graduate. He works two part-time jobs to support his wife and two kids.
“Let me stress again, young man, you’re presumed innocent,” Lyke said. “However you’re going to have to make a decision. You can’t sit on the fence. You can’t, on the one hand, be working, married, got two kids, trying to support them with two part-time jobs, and then on the other hand — you’re still presumed innocent — presumably packing a pistol as a convicted felon.”
“You gotta make a decision. Are you gonna go straight and narrow, or are you gonna continue to sit on the fence?”
That’s when the man, appearing via Zoom from a holding area, apparently raised his hand because he wanted to talk.
“Don’t raise your hand,” Lyke told him. “Sometimes you gotta listen. Listening is twice as important as speaking ‘cuz God blessed us with two ears and one mouth. Because listening is twice as important. That’s how you learn.”
“This is wisdom to talking to you.”
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth at all. I was born in one of the roughest parts of this country, the Robert Taylor housing project. And I had to make a decision. Was I gonna run with the gang bangers, or I was gonna do what my mama told me to do and go to school?”
“I really didn’t have a choice ‘cuz she would’ve beat my butt if I chose otherwise. I was more afraid of her than I were of them.”
“Your lawyer tells me you have a wife and two children who are depending on you. They cant depend on you if you’re locked up.”
Lyke set bail for the young father at $10,000. The man went home to his family by posting a $1,000 deposit.
The other defendant, the one facing his fourth felony gun case since the age of 13, remains jailed in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Lyke doesn’t shy away from offering wisdom from the bench when he thinks it may help a defendant down the road.
In April, Lyke told a defendant accused of fleeing police about the importance of complying with officers during traffic stops.
“Let me explain something to you and a lot of people,” Lyke began.
“I understand your fear, trust me. I get it,” said Lyke, who is Black. “However, the United States Supreme Court, as well as the Illinois Supreme Court, have said if a police officer asks you to get out of the car — irrespective of if you think it’s right or wrong — YOU GOTTA GET OUT.”
In fact, Lyke told the man, police had recently pulled him over himself.
“Here I am. I’m a judge, and I probably know the law better than 99.9% of the people on this planet, and if an officer stops me for whatever reason, asks me for my ID, and I give it to him and my insurance — and in fact it happened to me about a month ago — you know what I did? I gave him my license and my insurance. He ran it. He came back. He said, ‘Sir step out of the car.’”
“You know what I did? I didn’t start questioning him — ‘Hey! Whatchu doing? What am I doing here?’ Nah. I got myself out of the car.”
“Walk to the back,” the cop told Lyke.
“You know what I did? I walked to the back.”
“You know what he did? He searched me. Was that a legal search? Hmmmm. I don’t know,” Lyke said with more than a little skepticism in his voice. “I don’t know what he had on his mind. But I didn’t resist it. He searched me and says, ‘Mr. Lyke, alright, have a good day.’”
“Did I kick and scream? No. Did I start quizzing him, ‘Why you want me to get out of the car?’ No. Because I know the Supreme Court said, [if police] say get out the car, YOU GOTTA GET OUT.”
“You’re never gonna win on the street. Never. You gotta come to court. And if you think the officer’s wrong, that’s where you air your grievances out. Not on the street. Because only bad things can happen.”