In case you didn't know, let me just tell you that our criminal justice system here in the US is totally fucked up. This is something I have always known, but today that point was really hit home for me when I got to observe its workings much more close up. As a citizen, I felt so disempowered, so impotent, before this apparatus of the state enforcing its vision of morality, of order, ensnaring mainly underclass people and people of color in the process.
I made my way to a New Jersey Courthouse at a very early hour this morning to appear in court for a summons for something that occurred sometime this past summer, months ago. Court is not what you expect. Law and Order and Legally Blonde present you images of a dignified setting, something courtly and majestic about the courtroom. This was the lovechild of a wood-panelled basement den from the '70s and the meeting room of a small evangelical church, the back of the court essentially church pews set up for all the defendants on trial, a large mass of them that will be fed through the court system in one breath.
In the long period in which nothing happens, while defendants mingle with lawyers and people sit awkwardly awaiting their fate, I went to the bathroom. Fuck this place, I thought as I rubbed one out in the bathroom, the one thing I was able to do as some act of defiance there, secret act behind a stall, dirtying the place up, a middle finger to the place, to the whole corrupt system.
I watched as an elderly white male judge repeatedly rolled his eyes and shook his head as he tried a Latin couple who spoke no English, doing his best to shame them, and imposing a harsh monetary fine on them that was totally unnecessary and destructive despite tears from the woman telling how she was unemployed, used to work in shipping for a manufacturer, but injured her back and was now on disability and living with her son and couldn't afford the steep fine. Not that I necessarily believe in Hell, but were I to, I would comfort myself with the fact that this judge would get his comeuppance there. As is, I live in this world and there are people with all of this power to mete out punishments and decide cruelly the future of other people for such minor "offenses" that it makes my blood boil.
It's honestly mind-boggling all the shit that goes on - and this was one tiny courtroom dealing with minor offenses in one small corner of New Jersey. It made me so depressed to multiply this hundreds and hundreds of times each day to get some understanding of what this all meant.
Today, I really started to understand probably what it is that drives people to some bunkered down anti-government mentality on the far right (and less so on the far left). And I got it. Something needs to change. It's this unstoppable machine that no one has the ability to change, especially those most affected by it, that it requires specialization and accreditation to even be able to engage with the legal system as something other than a defendant. There's so much wasted money involved that all of the people involved in it benefit from. It's a rolling snowball of shit, greed, racism, arrogance, and power that we are all just sucked up into as it rolls over us, nothing we can do to stop the nonsense. There are so many adverse effects produced in the lives of the underclass through the legal system that keep them where they are. And what's even more fucked up is that this is the point. This is really the purpose of the current legal system - using the various apparatuses of the state to keep class and racial stratifications in place - to maintain order, as it were, doing so with burdensome fines, blights on your criminal record that would harm your chances of future employment, unreasonable probation sentences setting one up for failure (of no substances or alcohol, say, for two years, which was someone's sentence in court today), or actual jail time. Seriously, fuck everything!
And so once I got back to New York, I spent hours at the gym, taking out all my aggression on various weights, not knowing what else to do, what else I could do.