Roseland Heights Community Association

Judge William O'Neal Stood Tall

Posted in: Roseland Heights
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Retired Judge William O'Neal Stood Tall

Correspondent: MG Media

It was impossible to find a respectable photo of Judge William D. O'Neal. Therefore, this very brief outline of his amazing work will be presented without any images of the iconic judge. But here is one thing that you can be for certain of, he's a bona fide black warrior. And so were his pioneering buddies, activist and educator Silas Purnell and Dr. John Bradley. All three men are responsible for transforming the lives of thousands of young black children, who otherwise, may have been lost to the perils of poverty, crime, prison or death.

I can't forget about another one of their comrades, the late great Judge R. Eugene Pincham, who also changed many lives during his tenure as a judge and attorney. These are the kind of men that I wish some of my sell out peers would emulate, instead of trying to run behind a mayor or governor who has very little concern about the real issues plaguing urban Chicago (economic development). They don't make men like these legends anymore. What a shame!

Judge O'Neal was one of the Cook County Circuit Court’s most effective and down-to-earth jurists. We hear a lot these days about judicial corruption, but not nearly enough about the unsung heroes who move this system along, quietly but with great diplomacy and skill. Bill O’Neal was one such hero of the county judiciary.

Judge O’Neal was elected to the bench in 1992, and he dispensed justice in a firm but impartial manner from his courtroom in the 6th Municipal District in Markham. His was a flexible call during his assignment to the felony misdemeanor section. O’Neal went into private law practice in Harvey, his home base. His practice brought him into close contact with the community - some who came to him for help and protection were poor, uneducated, and uninformed about their rights under the law. He also served on the local school board in Harvey.

The thing that stamped Judge O'Neal as someone we all should know was his love for his community and his friendship with his posse of peers, who collectively educated black people. Together with Dr. Bradley, they sent over 5,000 young at-risk youth to colleges and universities to become doctors. Judge O'Neal was solely responsible for saving the lives of over 2,000 young boys and girls who passed through his courtroom. He could have easily sent them to prison, but he assigned them to Dr. Bradley and instructed the would-be-convicts to never return. In some cases, a hand full of them did. And the judge tried it again. He believed that the youth he came in contact with deserved a 2nd or even a 3rd chance. The majority of the young people he delivered to Dr. Bradley, went on to medical school to become physicians.

One of Judge O'Neal's most memorable cases was, when he tossed out the convictions of the Ford Heights Four case in 2001, citing Misconduct in his ruling. Cook County sheriff's officers investigating the 1978 murders of a couple in East Chicago Heights--now known as Ford Heights--arrested four friends after a woman friend claimed to have seen them commit the murders. But she later denied being an eyewitness, saying that police had walked her around the crime scene and told her what to say. The murder convictions against the Ford Heights Four collapsed under the weight of DNA tests and confessions from the real killers.

Judge O'Neal truly cares about the black community and its young people, men in particular. And while Rahm and others are aggressively lobbying to institute mandatory minimum on black and brown youth, judge O'Neal used his intellectual capital on saving these very people. For decades, these legendary men in mention transformed lives. Past and present, the hidden hands of power only interest is filling up jails and taxing the poor with speed light camera tickets and reducing state funding needed to assist them for survival. Go figure!

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