LAST WEEK IN COURT

JANUARY 22 - JANUARY 28

01.21.19On a freezing day in Manhattan, a 30-year-old woman was arraigned on multiple charges: second degree assault and two misdemeanors. The ADA did NOT request bail and yet Judge Paek imposed it - $1,000 for the felony, $1,000 for one misdemeanor, and $1 for the second. The accused’s public defender was visibly shocked.

01.22.19 Judge Drysdale requested that the ADA offer 2 days of community service in lieu of a Stoplift program for an 18-year-old Latinx woman arraigned on charges of petit larceny and resisting arrest. The Stoplift program requires accused people to pay for the program and would have been prohibitively expensive for the young woman. The accused woman plead to a lesser charge (disorderly conduct violation), but Judge Drysdale cautioned the woman that if she shows up late to community service, she could receive a sentence of 15 days jail.

01.23.19A young Black man was arraigned on charges of felony possession and sale of a controlled substance in Manhattan. The ADA, Christopher Rivet, requested $25,000 bail. The defense attorney argued that although the charge was a B felony for intent to sell, the complaint did not actually indicate sale, it only indicated misdemeanor possession. The public defender argued that any bail would effectively be a remand, and argued for their client to be released on his own recognizance. Judge Paek set bail at $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash bail.

A Latinx man was arraigned in Manhattan on charges of forgery in the second degree. ADA Rivet requested $3,000 bail. The defense attorney argued that the accused be released on his own recognizance given that the man was gainfully employed and the sole financial provider of his child, and that the complaining witness has no desire to pursue the case. Judge Paek set bail at $6,500 bond/ $3,000 cash.

01.26.19In Manhattan, a young Black man wished to conduct pro se defense on a drug possession charge. Judge Clynes cautioned the accused about self representation and denied the motion, stating that he would be represented by his attorney today. The accused man asked to have his rights read. His case moved to second and then third call, both times he was forcibly removed from the courtroom and judge did not permit the accused to speak on his own behalf. Two Court Watchers felt that denying the man any agency in his own defense escalated his seeming animosity and unwillingness to cooperate.

01.27.19In Brooklyn, a 40-year-old Black man was arraigned on criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree (a misdemeanor). The ADA offered a conditional discharge; Judge Hecht suggested instead that the accused be sent to Misdemeanor Brooklyn Treatment Court (MBTC), based on the charges and the man’s record, noting that the accused seemed to have “fallen off the wagon.”

For a case involving operation of a vehicle with a suspended license in Brooklyn, the ADA consented to releasing the accused, a Black man in his 20’s, on his own recognizance. Judge Hecht asked, “Can’t we just resolve this case?” and suggests downgrading the charge to a violation and a $75 fine. The ADA disagrees because there was an accident, but the defense attorney notes that there are no allegations of an accident in the complaint. The judge released the accused on his own recognizance.


Reflection from a Watcher

When I arrived for my shift in Brooklyn, I was very surprised how casual everyone who worked in the courtroom was. Judge Rodriguez looked relaxed and chatted with other employees, and guards stood around and joked with each other. In comparison, it was so clear that everyone who had a family member or friend who was going to be arraigned looked scared and concerned. The difference in attitude was striking. I suppose that if this is your job and you see it day in and day out you have to find a way to be more relaxed about it, but when you think about how much arraignments mean to people on an individual level, and on a societal mass-incarceration level, it felt bewildering.

The case I remember most struck me because it was very sad. They brought up an old, small Black man who seemed like he didn’t have the capacity to hurt a fly. I don’t know if I’m saying that right, but what I’m trying to convey is that it was clear he was a danger to no one. There’s just no way. Judge Rodriguez seemed almost annoyed at this case. He asked the man if he’d been arrested at a deli for stealing a...Rita? “What’s a Rita?” the judge asked. “It’s a Lime-a-Rita,” the man’s defense attorney said. The absurdity of having to explain to the judge what a Lime-a-Rita is? And then the judge confirmed that it was only one can. The thought of this small, old man walking into a deli and taking a freaking Lime-a-Rita, and then having to spend the night in jail? Surely, something is broken here. The man plead guilty, received time served, and was allowed to go. But it was just so stupid. The system lacks basic human compassion. Obviously I wasn’t there when he took the can, but he certainly didn’t deserve a night in jail and a record for taking a Lime-a-Rita.

LAST WEEK IN COURT

JANUARY 15 - JANUARY 21

“Bail when requested always seemed punitive -- based on the ‘seriousness’ of crime rather than flight risk”

  • Last week in Brooklyn, a Black man was arraigned on gravity knife possession and gun possession charges. The accused was allegedly double-parked when plainclothes officers in an unmarked vehicle approached and asked for his license, which was suspended. The police alleged they found a gravity knife in the man’s pocket and found a gun in the trunk of the car after the arrest. Court watchers noted that it seemed given the allegations, ADA Langsam requested $20,000 bail. The defense attorney explained that the car didn’t belong to the accused. He was a passenger and the police asked him to move to the driver’s seat to move the double-parked car, and then the police subsequently searched the car. The defense attorney also pointed to the policing practices during the arrest, noting that “the police tactics in this case were bad.” Defense also argued that the police officers seemingly tried to get the accused’s DNA without permission by offering him a water bottle. Judge Novillo set $5,000 cash bail or bail bond/credit card alternative.

  • A Manhattan prosecutor requested $30,000 bail and Judge Paek set $30,000 cash/$15,000 bond on a homeless individual charged with 2nd degree burglary, effectively remanding them.


Guilty Pleas and Jail Alternatives

  • A man was arraigned in Manhattan on two counts of petit larceny for allegedly stealing items from Duane Reade. ADA Roe recommended a plea that would carry a 6-month jail sentence. The man’s public defender explained that their client has been struggling with substance use and trying to get into a program. Judge Paek offered 30 days jail and the accused took the plea, meaning he will spend 30 days in jail (unable to access substance use treatment) on a shoplifting charge.

  • Another man was charged with six counts of petit larceny, also for allegedly stealing merchandise from Duane Reade. ADA Roe recommended a plea to the charge with 9 months jail time. The man took a guilty plea to all charges and Judge Paek sentenced him to 5 sessions of the CASES program with a 30 day jail alternative if he does not complete the program or does not return to prove completion.


Reflection from a Watcher

I’ve been a volunteer with Court Watch NYC since September 2018, since then I have spent about half of my Saturdays sitting in Brooklyn Criminal Court observing arraignments. One of the things that continuously surprises me is the prosecution of the crime “theft of services” aka turnstile jumping in many cases. During a shift in late November, a few days after the first snow of the year, I was sitting in Brooklyn court on yet another Saturday afternoon. That day, I saw several arraignments where the charge was theft of services. One of the cases specifically stood out to me because I recognized the person who was being accused. He is someone that I see regularly in the subway and is often asking for money, stating that he is homeless and needs help. He jumped the turnstile in a Brooklyn subway station. Seeing him being arranged was unnerving. He plead guilty to the crime, was offered time served and was released.

The fact that this man was arrested and that this charge was added to his criminal record, simply because he is an individual who is homeless, is astounding and upsetting. I would imagine that he jumped the turnstile because he was seeking warmth on the subway during or after the snowstorm, because it was too cold and wet for him to stay outside. He harmed nobody and his only “crime” was being homeless. What if, instead of bringing him to the precinct, the arresting officers asked him what type of assistance he needed, or brought him to a shelter or a food bank, or provided him with a metrocard? All of these options would have been significantly cheaper and easier than arraigning and prosecuting him, all over a $2.75 subway ride.

LAST WEEK IN COURT

JANUARY 8 - JANUARY 14

Reflection from Watchers

Last week in court, there was a case that, like so many, I feel embodied and exposed the inefficiencies, inhumanities, and power dynamics which propel our criminal punishment system forward each day. It was a slow night in Brooklyn court, and a young female defendant had been called forward by the monotone court officer. She walked up to the podium handcuffed, shoelace-less, and beltless. She stood silently next to her young white defense attorney waiting for the ADA to make his way to his podium and begin proceedings that, for her, hold life-shaping weight, and for him, hold the weight of the case file in front of him. The ADA sat shuffling papers for a while, eventually approaching the bench and speaking in hardly recognizable legal jargon to ask the judge for more time for this case. The judge granted them more time and the young defendant went back to her spot behind the Plexiglas barrier. 

We saw another 2-3 cases come through after which Judge Dougherty announced that she would like to go to dinner now as there were not many other cases for the evening on the calendar. The ADA agreed and began to pack up the papers in front of them. Before the judge stood to leave and enjoy her dinner, the young defense attorney from earlier kindly reminded her that he still had his client in handcuffs sitting in the court room waiting to be arraigned. The defendant had been forgotten about.

Sitting silently with both her body and voice restrained; her body by the metal cuffs on her wrists along with 5 + armed court officers and her voice by the threat of more punishment if you speak out/at all. The judge said “Oh yea” and looked to the ADA, “Are you ready with the (Insert legal jargon)?”  With no explanation or feeling in his voice, the ADA responded “No.” The judge, seemingly satisfied with that answer, looked to the defense attorney and sort of shrugged. The defense asked for them to see this defendant first before breaking. At this insistence, Judge Dougherty inquired further with the ADA “when will you be ready?” To which the ADA responded “We’ve sent (legal jargon) upstairs and haven’t gotten it back yet.” The ADA only answers what is directly asked of them. No nod to when they think they’ll be ready or have whatever documents they need to proceed. With this, Judge Dougherty again looks at the defense says “We will see her first when we come back from dinner.” The Court officer announces they’re breaking and will return in an hour. With that, another hour of this young woman’s life is so flippantly spent in custody.


After many months of watching, this week saw one of the rare cases where the judicial system had a clear role to play, as a defendant was accused of an axe assault on his mother. The facts in the case were clear, and it’s a case whose severity requires some response from society; yet even there, in a case that probably meets the bar of what most people think of when they consider a sufficient reason to arrest someone, our system doesn’t address the underlying causes in a way that will be helpful. A suicide watch was requested for this defendant, and while arraignments don’t go into the likely mindset or mental health of the defendant, it’s a case where in the end mental health attention and psychiatric help is surely called for—something corrections officers aren’t equipped to handle.

This is the first case with such extreme injuries and clear violent intent, whatever the extenuating circumstances of possible mental illness, that has passed my way in six months of attending arraignments. The rest of the arrests fulfill a different role, often of policing communities of color. Judge Dougherty was presiding, who always takes a very paternal approach. That can be good (in a case where ADA Rossman requested an egregious $10k bail on an 18 yo black defendant who was involved in a program with a social worker and lived with a guardian, she made a point of ROR at the price of a lecture and a request for greater involvement with social services), but it can also lead to berating defendants who dare to speak in court. A black defendant who wanted to represent himself and make a sort of sovereign citizen argument was angrily shouted down, and his pro se request denied with a lot of aggression. The rules barring a defendant from speaking on their own behalf have an understandable legal rationale, but since defendants are adults, to be denied the agency to even directly answer a question (answers must be made to an attorney who passes the response on to the judge) is not just about legal norms in the courtroom. It’s also about stripping someone’s full personhood, who is represented only by quotes from an arresting officer read out by the ADA. A defendant claiming sovereign citizenship is making a point that has a certain emotional validity when they reject the power of the police system over them. It is a system that does operate with little oversight, where the claims and actions of officers are all accepted equally even though the record of the officers may reveal misbehavior. To object to it doesn’t do a defendant any favors in court, but to be made to accept the process meekly with no protest (when it may land you in pretrial detention) is a type of erasure. Yet put a toe out of line and the response from Judges is real anger—how dare you speak in their court, they ask? When no one is able to ask, how dare you charge someone in this way, or how dare the system be structured this way, it’s a real problem. It’s always notable when observing how much the submissiveness of the defendant is an expectation that, if it’s not observed (though there’s not exactly a primer on courtroom behavior), it causes an aggressive response from the bench. Obedience above justice is the message, unintended or not. 

Omission above justice, too. ADA Rossman requested an egregious $30k bail in a case where the black defendant was already remanded on another matter, and where the facts of the case were very hazy and an assault had left the defendant with a possible concussion. Rossman stepped in on the cases with some prior history by the defendant, and requested bail amounts that were extremely beyond reason. The defense attorney of the injured defendant made a case for hospital attention due to a potentially severe internal brain injury (a cat scan had detected a skull fracture), yet the accommodation made was only to get medical attention from the corrections office, which surely doesn’t have the same level of care. Our Brooklyn DA is incentivizing the wrong behavior from borough DAs, with the result that bail is set at unattainable levels and our fellow New Yorkers languish in jail under potential medical crises with no help from ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The cases where the response of the system is warranted or proportionate are vanishingly small. 

Another notable case saw a rejected plea deal of time served (I've always seen these accepted) where the black defendant was also filing a police misconduct complaint. He had a cast and had been accused of obstructing arrest.  The judge then had to make the ADA turn over a complaint form regarding the police conduct—Rossman did not volunteer this and was happy to not look into the injuries of the defendant or question the convenient police narrative. ADAs are given one set of claims and use these to argue for the most extreme outcome at the early stage of arraignments, whether or not an arrest may have involved police violence or relies on convenience in picking out who is being accused. Arraignments so often proceed as if police intervene only with just cause and proceed judiciously, when that can’t be taken as a given. 

Another black defendant, while ultimately RORed, had been arrested and held in jail over unpaid fines and DMV tickets after operating a vehicle on a suspended license. The refusal of the courts to see the real obstacle of paying fines, and the fact that they have interest accrue on them to boot, is a big problem. Watching on a slow night in some ways is much preferable to nights like this one, when defendant after defendant is pushed through, some RORed, but others trapped in unjust circumstances.

LAST WEEK IN COURT

JANUARY 1 - JANUARY 7

Excessive Bail:

  • In Brooklyn, a 25-34 year old Black man was accused of attempting to steal a Nike tracksuit valued at $110, and of brandishing a screwdriver when approached by the store’s loss prevention officer. The tracksuit was recovered, the screwdriver was reportedly confiscated, no one was injured in the incident. The prosecutor requested $10,000 bail. Defense said that request was excessive and pointed out that the accused has a serious physical disability, is parenting three children, and would be unable to afford bail. Judge Calabrese set bail at $10,000 bond/$7,500 cash.

  • A 45-54 year old Black man in Brooklyn was accused of driving while intoxicated. ADA Almog requested $25,000 bail. Defense said that the ADA’s bail request was excessive and argued that the accused, who makes $300/week, would be unable to afford it. Defense further pointed out that a Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) deemed the accused a low flight risk, and requested that the accused be RORed. Judge Ambekar set bail at $5,000.

  • In Manhattan, a 25-34 year old Black man was accused of assault. ADA Benjamin requested $7,000 bail. Defense said that request was excessive, and that given the accused’s inability to afford the requested bail, it would effectively serve as a remand. Judge Drysdale set bail at $3,000.

  • In Brooklyn, a 25-34 year old White woman was charged with assault after being accused of hitting her child. The prosecutor requested $20,000 bail, and did not mention anything about the accused being a flight risk. Defense said requested bail was excessive and that the accused could not afford that much. Further, defense said that photo evidence did not match the allegations. Defense requested that the accused be RORed. Judge Calabrese set bail at $10,000.

  • In Brooklyn, a young Black man who is currently a psychiatric patient receiving care in a hospital faced multiple charges for allegedly assaulting another patient. The prosecutor requested $10,000 bail. Defense argued that the requested bail was excessive, said that the accused would be unable to afford bail, and pointed out that the accused was a low flight risk since he was currently receiving treatment at the hospital. Defense further suggested that what the accused needed the most was ongoing medical care. Judge Calabrese set $10,000 bail for the top charge and $2,000 for the second charge.

Observations on Court Proceedings:

  • A court watcher in Manhattan noted that during arraignments on January 5, 2019, Judge Drysdale “really moved cases along quickly,” and in many cases “didn’t even allow defense to make bail arguments.” The observer said that proceedings “felt more rushed than usual” and voiced concern that the fast pace may have contributed to the day’s pattern of unusually high bail.

  • On January 5, 2019, court watchers in Manhattan reported a case in which the accused became distressed after the judge repeatedly told him to stop speaking during his arraignment. At one point, the accused said, “I have a right to talk,” following which the incident escalated. Court officers quickly surrounded the accused and removed him from the courtroom.

  • Court watchers reported confusion and tension between Judge Dougherty and an interpreter during arraignments in Brooklyn on January 7, 2019. As per their observations, Judge Dougherty “condescendingly told [the] interpreter how to interpret” and repeatedly told the accused and the interpreter to “stop.” Later in the arraignment, when the accused continued talking after being told to stop, Judge Dougherty “refused to have it interpreted.”

Standout Cases:

  • In Brooklyn, a teenage Black woman was charged with robbery after being accused of stealing a cell phone at knifepoint. ADA Almog requested $10,000 bail. Many of the allegations brought against the accused were refuted by the defense, which stated that the accused did not, in fact, have a knife during the incident. Defense further pointed out that the accused is a senior in high school currently living with her boyfriend’s mother after being the victim of abuse. Given the accused’s current living situation, such high bail would be impossible for her to pay. Judge Ambekar set bail at $2,000.

  • Court watchers reported confusion with the outcome of an arraignment in Brooklyn on January 7, 2019. The case involved a non-violent dispute about a reportedly loaned-out cell phone. The prosecutor requested an order of protection against the accused even though the complaining witness explicitly requested no order of protection. Despite the complaining witness’ request, and although the dispute under question was not violent, Judge Dougherty issued a full order of protection.


Reflection from a Watcher

I was really disturbed by this morning's Court Watch shift in Brooklyn.

Judge Calabrese set bail in every case where the ADA asked for it — nine cases total in three hours. The bail he set was excessive in every case, ranging from $5,000 to $500,000, and he did not appear to take the accused person’s ability to pay into consideration in any case. During shifts with other judges, I've rarely seen bail set above $2,000 (the legal maximum for the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund to be able to pay), even for domestic violence, assault and gun possession charges. With Judge Calabrese, every single individual’s bail was well above the $2,000 limit, virtually ensuring that they will remain in jail for days, weeks, or months even though they haven't been convicted of a crime.

Almost every time he set bail, Judge Calabrese said, "I think some bail is appropriate," before setting an astronomically high, totally unaffordable amount of bail. To be fair, the bail he set was often much less than the bail ADA Jonathan Hagler requested, but that's because ADA Hagler was requesting even more exorbitantly high bail.

One particularly memorable case involved a domestic dispute between two women, a couple, after one of the women initiated a breakup with the other. One of the women allegedly hid the other woman's gun; the breakup became physically violent, the police were called, and one woman was arrested. Later, the police returned and asked to search the apartment, where they found additional guns and bullets in the women's bedroom and in the bedroom of an uninvolved roommate, an older male Army veteran, who said that his weapons had belonged to his deceased father. The other woman and the roommate were subsequently arrested. The bail set in this case was $10,000 bond/$7,500 cash for each of the women, and $5,000 for the male roommate. The defense attorney pointed out that there were clear consent issues with regard to the police search, but Judge Calabrese seemed to ignore that fact when setting bail.

What I want to ask Judge Calabrese is: Who is made safer by having all three of these individuals locked up for the indefinite future? It is possible that one of the women is a victim of an ongoing abusive relationship; why should she be locked up? Why should a veteran in possession of family heirlooms spend the foreseeable future in jail because of a dispute that he was not involved in between his two roommates? The entire situation was so manifestly unfair, but ADA Hagler requested bail for each individual, and Judge Calabrese dutifully set bail without any regard for compassion or sanity.

As we watched Judge Calabrese set exorbitant bail after exorbitant bail, my friend and fellow Court Watcher googled Judge Calabrese and found that he's received lots of glowing press in recent years for his ostensibly "compassionate," "problem-solving" approach to criminal justice. It was shocking to see that this judge, easily the most callous I've seen since beginning Court Watch, has claimed to be a reformer. It's because of heartless, thoughtless judges like Calabrese that we need not just bail reform but the complete abolition of pretrial incarceration in New York State.

LAST WEEK IN COURT

DECEMBER 25 - DECEMBER 31

manhattan-court.jpg

On the second to last day of the year, in Brooklyn Criminal Court, the vast majority of the defendants peopling the packed arraignment schedule were Black men. Of around 25 men and women taking their turns standing before the judge, only one or two were White. Case files on the attorneys' desk stacked on top of each other, sometimes more than one warrant per person. One Black man was accused by a Rite Aid of stealing bottles of Advil and Motrin; they were, his lawyer said, for his sick children. Even more galling, the charge the state was bringing against him was drug possession, not petit larceny. Another Black man, elderly and ill, was given a chair only when his attorney told the court in some detail about his ailments. A Black woman, by the account her attorney gave, was merely present at an assault committed by her boyfriend rather than, as the state contended, part of it; the bail requested on one of her warrants was in the thousands of dollars. These and the other cases that stick most strongly with me, and which present their own kind of damning pattern within an already racist system, are ones where White prosecutors and White judges levy heavy charges and heavy bail on Black defendants.

Court Watching sometimes lays bare the small moments of humanity that exist within the court system, but more often, it's their absence that I notice. I've been struck, in the wintertime, by the frequency of accused people having been arrested without a coat, or in short pajamas, or in flip-flops. Twice in the last two months, I have seen frail, ill, or elderly defendants unable to stand before the judge. And even without harsher circumstances like these, the court is not set up for the comfort or understanding of people accused of a crime, despite the fact that they are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. The first thing I noticed about the Brooklyn Central Court building, for instance, is how imposing it seems, and how that imposition must be magnified if the reason you're there is because you've been accused of a crime. The limestone facade stands out on its corner of Schermerhorn, diagonally across from a very pricey hotel, and when you enter, there's a winding maze of crowd borders that shuffles you up to the metal detectors. The guards might direct you where to go, depending on the volume of people they're dealing with, or you might be left to find your courtroom yourself. You might have family and friends able to come to your arraignment, or you might not. Childcare, work, school, and all kinds of other obligations regularly make it hard for folks to trek to downtown Brooklyn even for the people they love the most.

When you enter the courtroom as a Court Watcher, it's almost as though you're watching a play from your seat in the audience. (And indeed, lawyers and other court personnel often refer to the pew-like rows of benches as exactly that: the audience.) It's a play in which everyone on "stage" (at the judge's bench, in the prosecution and defense respective warrens of desks, and among the court officers, clustering in various parts of the space) has the script, but the accused person and their family and friends (if they were able to get there) in the seats probably do not. They might not know exactly what's going on, and depending on which judge they're in front of, they might not get it satisfactorily explained. The performative aspect of the courtroom makes sense on some levels. Everyone sinks into the role they have to play. So too does the apparent detachment of regular staff that a lot of Court Watchers have noticed in previous reflections. The courtroom is a daily workplace for bridge officers, court officers, judges, and attorneys, and sometimes you have to detach a little to keep up a regular grind, but it's a daily workplace where other people's lives are irrevocably affected, every hour.

In my time Court Watching, I've gotten used to a lot of what's said, a lot of the legal terms and penal law numbers and other information that gets conveyed only verbally and usually very quickly and sometimes not over a microphone. I've gotten used to it enough to be able to understand most of it, but every time I'm there, I decipher something new, and often I'm struggling, in the echoey, drafty, chatter-filled space, to hear the words in the first place. As a group, Court Watchers share docket numbers and other data, very often purely because one or more of us can't hear it when the bridge officer announces it. How much harder would it be to understand it if my English was more limited, or my hearing in any way impaired, or my emotions high because I wasn't sure if my partner or child would be released that day or not, and if they were, if we could make their bail?

This noise problem (which Court Watchers have been encountering and advocating against for months, but which accused people and their families have been dealing with for years) feels to me to be a function of the insider mentality. When we Court Watch, we make inroads into one of the systems that most aggressively upholds white supremacy, and that also has considerable power to unravel it.

A pattern I didn't expect is the unevenness of how the narrative of the facts of the case, as presented by the District Attorneys and at the heart of the script of the justice performance, gets unfurled. Not every case's facts are shared, which, although sometimes the logical move when a case is easily resolvable on both sides, reveals a tension between efficiency and humanity, tension that I am learning shoots through all the other ways the law is handed down. The system's biases against people of color and poor people are revealed first and foremost by the manner in which a person is arrested by the police, an unendingly racist practice that continually reveals itself both within the NYPD and within other jurisdictions. It makes sense not to tell a story for every defendant if a story isn't needed, for sure, but that raises an important question: who is it needed by? So even though the real place for the extended story is the space of a trial courtroom, one of the spaces that comes after arraignment, the discrepancies sometimes seem to fly in the face of equal treatment under the law. It recently struck me the part of the point of recounting the facts of the case, besides getting the state's case on the record and giving the defense an opportunity to counter, is so the accused person can hear what the state has against them. Each individual deserves to hear their own story in plain and understandable language, and that is not always the case.

The auditory problem is a persistent one, and so far, the response from the court doesn't seem to be the right one. Several weeks back, in an afternoon Court Watch session, our group (and only our group, as far as I could tell) was approached by a court official and offered assistive hearing devices. While a kind thing to do, the offer skewers the source of the real problem, which is systemic. The courtroom is large and loud and drafty, and offering an assistive hearing device is a Band-Aid on a problem that may well marginalize additional people: those with actual hearing impairments. The irony at the heart of both the information gap and the hearing gap that regularly yawn within the courtroom space is that in order for a regular citizen to most fully understand the language and workings of the court system, the best course of action is to be arrested multiple times.

During a shift right before the end of the year, the judge cautioned a White man that the next step ahead of him was Riker's. I was struck by how rarely I've heard that caution from a judge—indeed, how rarely I ever hear the next step in the process said out loud to defendants. If their case isn't dismissed or if they can't make bail, that's where they're heading, sometimes for months. Why did a White judge warn a White defendant, and not the dozens of Black defendants whose bail she'd set earlier in that session? And I've seen other White judges repeat what feels like a script about the importance of doing better and working hard only when the accused person in front of them is a person of color. What I'd like to see in 2019 from White judges and White district attorneys is more of an awareness that the deck our society shuffles is unfairly stacked against people of color in insidious and constant ways; that whiteness or money or both does a heck of a lot to protect certain people from doing time in prison; that the story of what happened at a ‘crime scene’ is a lot more complex than what a police officer might notice; and primarily, that a conviction for a broken windows crime (especially) can derail a person's life in ways you might not even be able to predict. The responsibility of the justice system should not be to punish, and is rarely, in practice, to rehabilitate; it should be more expansive, more humane, more measured, and cease to contribute to the social structures of white supremacy.