Chiquita Tate appeared to have it all. She graduated from the top of her class at Clark-Atlanta University in 1996 and then obtained her law degree from Southern University in 2004. The 34-year-old attorney went into business for herself, starting the Tate Law Firm, LLC, where her motto was “We enthusiastically and aggressively fight for the needs and rights of our clients.” When she got married just over a year ago, it seemed as if she had finally completed the package. No one, not even those closest to her, could envision what was about to happen next. In the early morning of February 20, a Baton Rouge police officer found Tate’s bludgeoned body inside her law office. She had been stabbed 38 times. The next day her husband, Greg Harris, 37, was arrested based on a warrant for battery that was issued after an incident in December 2007. He is being charged with second degree murder and illegal use of a weapon after initial lab tests confirmed that traces of Tate and Harris’s blood was found on a bottle of bleach at the couple’s home as well as in his car. Now, those who knew her best mourn her death including her mentor, former boss and “adopted” mother Juvenile Court Judge Pam Taylor Johnson, who talked to ESSENCE.com about taking Tate under her wing, her interrupted bright future and what she thinks may have happened.
Chiquita was so lovely, cheerful and had this infectious personality. She came to my office seeking employment as a judicial assistant in 1999. She had to interview with me directly but came by one day unannounced as I was on my way out. I told her that I couldn’t meet with her at that time. She asked if she could use the phone in the outer area where the judicial assistant would sit. I said sure, just close the door when you’re done. She must have seen that my office looked a little neglected because when I got back, there she was answering my phones and had organized the desk. I said, well, when can you start?
When she started to understand the assignments given to our law clerks, I suggested that she apply to law school. When she was in school, every now and again she’d come by and I would lend her money for lunch or gas. It was at that point that she started calling me Mom. I would get her to help me do things in the community like mentor children. Once she graduated she started working in the community full time as an advocate in child protective matters. She had a very special interest in that because at one point, she was in the foster care system. It became a passion for her to make sure children who went into the system were treated fairly and that their parents received the services they needed to get them back. Then she started representing children who were in the criminal justice system, where although she was awarded a nominal fee for her services, she would hardly ever accept it. She would say, “it’s not so much about the money, I just want them to do better.” She was a phenomenal up-and-coming young lawyer. I frankly don’t know where she got the energy from but I had great plans for her—not only as an advocate but as a public official.
Chiquita also had an impulsive side. She called me one day and said, “Hey, Mom, I want you to marry me tomorrow.” Both she and Greg [Harris] showed up at my office the next day. She had gone to get their marriage license but was told she would have to wait three days. They ended up going away to get married where they wouldn’t have to wait. That’s just the way she was. If she decided to do something, she was just going to go ahead and do it. I met Greg when they first started dating. I never knew that anything was going on or that Chiquita was being abused in any way. I really can’t develop any scenario in my mind that would make sense of what happened.
She wasn’t fearful of anything or taking on any issue. I saw her the day she died. I was rushing to pick up my biological daughter, who now feels like she lost a sister. Chiquita wanted to talk about starting a mentoring program for girls. I told her I didn’t have time to get the information and would get it to her later. She said she would come back the next day. She walked me to my car, hugged me and said, “I love you, Mom.” It was 3:30 P.M. on Thursday, February 19, and the last time I saw her alive. Her funeral was somber and joyful, because so many people came out to express what an asset she was to the community. I’ve never known a young person who had the power to transcend so many generations.