Monday, June 18, 2007

Lunch at the Gangbanger’s Grill

by Michael Dymmoch

This is my picture of Hell: Eternity in criminal court without possibility of parole.

Even before you get into the building at 26th and California you’re demoralized, in the parking garage—assuming you’re a juror, lawyer or cop and can get in it. It's filthy. Defendants and their families have to park on the street or take the bus.

You have to go through security—“Take off your belt. Everything out of your pockets. No exceptions.” When you get to your courtroom, you spend 75% of your time waiting for something to happen. Some judges handle dozens of cases daily. Bond court judges sometimes process 200 arraignments per hour.

At lunch time, since the cafeteria is closed for renovations, you get to choose between the roach-coaches parked on California and the coffee shop near the main entrance. Cognicenti call it the Gangbanger’s Grill.

When you find an anomaly like Cindy, the Sheriff’s deputy who still seems to give a damn, you wonder how she escaped the process that turns most of the deputies into zombies, and most of the defendants--most of whom are guilty--into placid cattle herded from cell to pen to court room and back. Cindy, as it turns out, has only been here since December. And since she used to be a process server in bad neighborhoods, this probably seems like easy duty.

The system is a Bizarro version of Monopoly:

Your attorney didn’t show--Lose two turns.

Motion to dismiss denied--Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go.

The Judge grants you a continuance--move forward three spaces.

Witness recanted--Get out of jail free.

Individually, the players seem decent enough. The attorneys could be your next door neighbors—if you live in a good neighborhood. When they come to court, the defendants seem harmless. Until you discover that the 24 year old standing respectfully before the judge with his hands behind his back--that fellow you wouldn’t give a second glance if you sat behind him on the bus--has been charged with pouring gasoline into an occupied car and setting it on fire.

Maybe the people involved in the day to day get so jaded by the enormity of the horror and the mind-numbing delays that they don’t notice any more. But somebody ought to.

If the rest of us don’t get involved, who will?

If no one does, how can anything ever change?

4 comments:

Barbara D'Amato said...

Yikes. You're absolutely right. What specific things can people do? Write to reps? Letters to newspapers? I'm so not informed about this.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Yes. Write, call, agitate. But first go to court and see what's going on for yourself. Think of it as research. Chicagoans can join the Court Advocate program--check with your local police district rep. If you're scared to go alone, I'll take you.

Fight for better schools, better cops, better drug intervention. The new anti-drug campaign is good--it points out that people who start drugs early are more likey to become abusers. Check out High Society: How Substance Abuse Raveges America and What to Do About It by Joseph Califano, Jr.

Vote. Most of the judges I've see at 26th & Cal are great, but every election bad or unqualified judges get reelected--in spite of advance warnings in the papers.

Pay more attention to what politicians are saying--and not saying. If what they promise sounds too good to be true, vote for the other guy.

If you think one person can't make a difference, consider how attitudes about drunk driving have changed since Cindy Lightner founded MADD.

Any other suggestions?

JD Rhoades said...

This is my picture of Hell: Eternity in criminal court without possibility of parole.

You get used to it. Getting paid helps. ;-).

If you think one person can't make a difference, consider how attitudes about drunk driving have changed since Cindy Lightner founded MADD.

You mean how the whole concept of "innocent until proven guilty" has basically been gutted and replaced with "trial by machine"? You mean the way the whole idea that the police can't just stop you and roust you without some probable cause to believe you've committed a crime has become a joke? Believe me, I've considered it.

Barbara D'Amato said...

For judicial evaluations, try:

The Chicago Council of Lawyers
www.chicagocouncil.org
750 N. Lake Shore Drive 4th floor
Chicago IL 60611


I suppose we all should take a listing of good and bad judges when we go into the voting booth.