Finding Freedom through Communication
Mayor Cory Booker (Newark, NJ) has been enjoying the national and international spotlight for some time now. There is talk of this Harvard graduate becoming governor and even president. News stories and interviews show him as this heroic black man who went into a downtrodden city and is turning it around. But, do outsiders really know what is going on in Newark? Although downtown Newark is currently going through a “beautification” and slow “whitening” process, residents in the city’s surrounding black neighborhoods/wards are failing to see any major improvements or changes in their communities – outside of increased taxes and city water rates, and numerous fines/violations and court dates. Yep, the typical urban story of terrorize the negros, tax and fine the hell out of them and watch them flee. They don’t call it “reclaiming” for nothing.
(Photo: peeling paint covers the ceiling in Newark, NJ city court building. )
Today, I had the un-pleasurable pleasure to experience the city of Newark’s court. All residents in the city are required to show-up in court if they receive any violations for garbage/failure to recycle/putting garbage out on the wrong day/ etc. (yeah, I’m serious). In addition to taking off of work to be in court, you are also responsible for paying a hefty fine and court costs (I’m not making this up). So, you arrive at court by 8:30 a.m., which is the scheduled time, and arduously find your way through the dirty and dilapidated maze of the building’s corridors. You pass through stairwells of peeling paint, black/latino “criminals” and white lawyers in suits. Finally, you make it to the court room only to find benches packed with ticketed residents and yep, NO JUDGE (who usually strolls in around 9:15 a.m.). After waiting almost an hour or so for the judge to arrive and being threatened by the Newark police officer for chewing gum or talking to the person beside you, the “Honorable” judge finally arrives and goes through the calendar call of about 200 cases. Yes, all of this for failing to put your garbage out on the right day! The judge then reminds us how lucky we are that almost 100 people scheduled for court didn’t show up or else it would be really “cozy” in the court room (Yes, she used the word “cozy”). It is as if you landed in a nightmarish madhouse full of insane people with unwarranted authority.
The judge goes through each case, rattling off the same lines (blah, blah, blah) while the elderly citizens, and non-english speaking citizens stand in front of her looking confused and baffled. They ask questions or make statements that are not relative to the case because our educational system in this country never properly taught them about the judicial process or how to comprehend. Not to mention – some of the defendants are probably illiterate. The same Newark police officer comes to the front and stands over the confused citizen as a way of intimidating them into just saying “Yes, I am guilty. I will pay the fine.”…And the cycle repeats.
Is it justice to require city residents to appear in court for simple fines like garbage/recycling violations and sit for sometimes 3 hours to have their cases called. Is it justice to require city residents to listen to cases about lead/building code violations when the very court building they are sitting in has peeling paint on the walls and ceilings? Is it justice when the city provides sub-standard restroom facilities with stall doors thrown on the ground, plywood boards laying over sinks, doors that barely open, no electricity, broken windows, and filth built-up from years of neglect?
Increased property taxes. City budget cuts and lay-offs. Fines imposed on residents. Chaotic court process. Dilapidated court building. Judge paid to sit all morning and tell residents they have 30 days to pay a fine for violating recycling rules. Is this not a crime?
(Photo: restroom stalls in the city of Newark’s court building with inoperable doors. Note: the picture makes the stalls appear much cleaner and sanitary than they really are.)
(Photo: city of Newark’s court building’s dark restroom with no electricity. The lack of light somewhat hides the filth.)