The Court In Session (1/3)

August 26, 2009 by Jen

Court Date: August 25, 2009, 8 a.m./1 p.m.

A few months ago, I got my first speeding ticket. Friends with similar citations had been able to get the fines reduced by going to court, so I decided to go. It was not a productive endeavor, but it was interesting in a people-watching kind of way.
Unless you are on jury duty or want to know about the courtroom procedures for lawyers, there is almost no helpful information on the District Court website, so I did what I normally do: I got there early.
The line stretched halfway down the block.
I asked the person at the end of the line what it was for, and she said, “to enter the courthouse.” With a sinking feeling, I stepped in behind her and tried to look nonchalant about the whole ordeal.
A few younger teenagers walked by as we stood there. Turning to each other, they began to whisper and giggle, pointing at the long line outside the courthouse as they sauntered past. It felt like a stigma, as if we were carrying signs that said, “We have to be here. We can’t just walk away yet.”
To keep from thinking about my instinctive flush of shame, I took on the part of observer, detaching myself from the reality of what was happening, and imagining that I was writing an ethnography of the court. Here are a few of the things I noticed…
When we had just reached the doors to the building and were beginning to inch our way toward security, an official came outside and directed the second half of the line to move to another entrance.
Quickly, the grumbling sprang up in my part of the line. We had already been waiting for half an hour, and now we were the back of the line, while those behind us would now be at the front of theirs. It was not fair. I wonder if for people who are confronted with black-and-white laws (of traffic, of civic behavior), equal–fair–treatment becomes even more of a preoccupation than it usually is.
Now, a few hours later, the odd image of the morning that sticks in my mind is of belts. Lots of belts: leather, black, brown, canvas, glittery, thin, thick…
To pass through the metal detector (much like an airport), each person had to remove everything metal on their body, including their belts. Even nametag clips were banned inside. Afterward, the lobby area was filled with people threading their belts back through the loops, or draping it over their shoulders and fidding with the ends like a shawl, or coiling and uncoiling it around their hands.
Another hour later, before I finally reached the front of the line, some people were still holding their belts in hand, fiddling with the buckles or clenching their fingers on the leather. Maybe it was comforting to them. Maybe they just forgot they were still holding them.
…to be continued…
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