my beatdown in court
I arrive in court 10 minutes late with a pile of sheets in hand, out of breath.
Today was the day justice would be served.
I was confident and feeling assured when I strode into the hushed courtroom.
Two months earlier I was wrongfully pulled over by a state trooper on the Garden State Parkway and given a ticket for "use of handheld device". The thing is, I was holding it in my hand because my iphone is also the remote control for my music collection which gets piped through the bluetooth speakers in the car.
So I looked up the law and saw that it said "no phone or texting or use of communcations..", printed it out along with my phone and text records which show that no calls were made nor texts sent at the time I was pulled over and was ready to defend myself.
I walked in and looked around a about 400 occupied chairs and people standing along the side and back walls.
I shelved my apology for coming late and stood there a bit bewildered.
All eyes were on the man sitting high above all others in a long black robe. The name plate oh his desk identified him as Judge Thompson.
There was an intimidating looking sergeant standing in front of him in a smart looking uniform, bald head and a stern mouth stuck in the half-frown position.
The judge was conducting the room like an orchestra. A parade of defendants would take their place before him and he'd open up their files, quickly look over them and start talking in a monotonous voice.
"Sir, you're aware of the charges against you..?"
"You can either settle it in court today for $750, or you have the right to an attorney..blah blah blah"
He was clearly enjoying his job and power. He had this passive aggressive and very condescending demeanor.
I was getting angrier and angrier as he just strong armed hapless defendant after hapless defendant into filling the city coffers (the coffers that pay his salary!).
I finally found a seat.
As much as the room keeps emptying it still looks full.
Someone cellphone rings, half frowned Sergeant in the front scowls.
Starting to get really hungry.
All proceedings stopped as a screen with a live hookup to the county jail is revealed. One by one a line of black males stand before the unflattering camera with their cases. The judge is clearly enjoying this.
Apparently it's easier to be condescending when the victim is not in front of you.
The room breaks into laughter sporadically.
Abused becomes abuser.
I'm starting to get dizzy.
A smart dressed young man gets up, but something about him is different. He doesn't have that defeated, submissive look to him.
The judge is visibly agitated.
Bald headed, half frown, smart uniform clenches his jaw.
The judge dictates his terms to him.
"Pay $900 in fines today and avoid possible suspension of license..blah blah"
The smartly dressed guy opens his mouth to say something....
The judge cuts him off.
"Trust me, this is what you want!"
The lady next to me chuckles. She's not the only one.
I want to vomit.
There are about 100 of us left.
The judge addresses all of us. He's talking so rapidly I can barely make out a word.
I hear "work it out with the prosecuter.."
"$35 court fees.."
My hands are getting clammy, my mouth is dry. I'm starting to re-think my strategy.
The judge walks out.
My head is spinning.
We are warned not to leave.
The walls are caving in on me.
A 6'3" black guy with his pants magically floating 5 inches above his knees is walking/dancing slowly up the aisle burping and yelling out "I'm goin'na trial baby.."
A 50 something year old ex marine is jawing with the insolent black guy now..telling him to "shut up before he ****** his ****** up his *****"
I put in a silent prayer to God for an all out brawl to break out.
God doesn't listen to my prayer.
The walls are spinning. I need food.
The prosecutor starts calling out names...
He's up to my letter in the alphabet.
I stand up and walk toward the front under the watchful gaze of bald, half frowning Sergeant.
I sit in front of a hulking Police captain. He looks at my file, runs his hand through his hair and looks up at me.
My eyesight is going blurry.
I focus in on coal black eyes.
"There are no points for this ticket, why are you here?"
I answered weakly, "because I'm not guilty.."
He looked at me strangely, as if I had just told him "Because I'm a parsley".
I tell him that I wasn't using my phone it to communicate just as an mp3 player.
He turned to the prosecutor sitting beside him and inquired about that.
The prosecutor looked at me sternly and said "that's also illegal".
I started replying and opening my papers.
He looked at me again through his metal glasses that made his eyes look bigger than they actually were and said,"you're arguing with me?"
The Captain was staring at me.
The Sergeant came over to the table to see what was going on.
They all looked so healthy and well fed.
The prosecutor continued, "you could wait for the judge to come back, plead not guilty when your turn comes, then get a trial date, spend another day here, and if you lose you'll have to pay double the fine, plus $250 and court fees."
The eyes glaring at me, the hunger pangs and the bright white walls were all pleading for me to concede.
My heart was racing, I was just dealt an uppercut and could feel the energy draining out of me.
I felt a last reserve of strength come out of nowhere, I suddenly felt like the lead character in a film of one little man's stand against injustice and "the system".
I was about to say something...when the Captain looked at me and winked with half a smile and said "come on David, it's just $130 I'll walk you to the window.."
I was beaten.