Fighting for Justice by Court Watching
Across the U.S., people are fighting the court system, often as it tries to take their children or drag them or their loved ones into the prison industrial complex. They learn:don’t go through this alone! Banding together, especially to do court watch, is a major tactic used to try to avoid the catastrophe that court can inflict on victims.
In Silicon Valley, California, a community group called DeBug’s Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project pulls together activists, victims, legal workers, and family and friends to deal with cases, mostly criminal. But they also support and encourage people with other types of cases, such as a civil suit when a family member is killed by a law enforcement taser.
DeBug meets weekly and helps each person make a plan for the next week regarding the court case. As the court action threatens to engulf one like a huge wave sweeping them out of their life as they knew it, DeBug helps them remain on their feet and take steps one week at a time to keep on fighting. Read more about this Justice Project at acjusticeproject.com.Raj Jayadev, an organizer for the project, reports, “By bringing a community organizing ethic to the courtroom, we learned we candramatically change the outcome of cases, keep families together, and change the landscape of power for our loved ones entangled in the criminal justice system.” In Michigan Rev. Pinkney does court watch every single week.He began court watching in 1999 and says, “I didn’t know about the court system back then and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Now I know that every person they can put in jail this system will.”
Although a U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, requires all prosecutors to turn over to the defense all exculpatory evidence—which might tend to prove one’s innocence—withholding evidence is not uncommon, and the prosecution gets to choose when before trial they’ll reveal the evidence. In states like California, at the first court appearance the prosecution gives the accused a “discovery packet” with a copy of the police report and perhaps other items. But in Michigan this doesn’t happen; one must demand the information to get it. Rev. Pinkney says, “Don’tplead guilty until you see your police report!” With his guidance more than 175 young people have been saved from becoming fodder for the prison industrial complex.
Also, when Rev. Pinkney court watches, he pays $15 to buy the recording of the entire day—all the criminal cases heard that day. This can be of extreme importance in assuring that the recording will not be tampered with later.Unfortunately, in California they don’t use recordings but use human court reporters, and it would cost thousands of dollars to buy even one day’s transcripts.This leaves the record open to being altered, and with computerized stenographical machines, there is not even a paper trail, just readily altered electronics.
Rev. Pinkney works in the community to educate people about what’s happening even before they’re arrested. People are cautioned to assert their 5th Amendment right to remain silent, not to talk to the police.People who follow this standard advice tend to do better in their court struggles.
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