Monday, April 2, 2012

Respect my Au-thor-i-tay

First to disclose... I have never spent much time in a courthouse. Ever. I am more of a "cubicle / office / spreadsheet" kind of girl.

So imagine my amazement last Friday when I had the opportunity to observe a power structure / power trip worthy of a prison guard in a B rated movie. Simply outstanding if you like people watching (I do). Since the arraignment seemed to mostly be about paperwork and setting future court dates, I was settling in for a lot of dull administration but was fortunate to get a front row seat of our penal system in action.

Again and again, I couldn't help but think... the current attitude of a "domination nation" is just so WRONG. All people deserve respect, even if they look like they are strung out, have had problems with abusive spouses, or sat on the Capitol steps when a police officer told them not to. If you are human, you are worthy of respect. Period. But apparently somebody missed that Sunday School class...

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When the citizens arrested on March 3rd congregated in the hall outside the courtroom prior to the arraignment there was a noise level akin to a cocktail hour - probably about what you would expect when 30-40 people are gathered and talking in a corridor of hard surfaces and nothing to dampen the sound. The buzz in the air apparently bothered the bailiff so he told everyone to sit down and be quiet.

I would estimate 70-80% of the people complied with his order (it definitely was not a request), including me. I overheard someone say something along the lines of, "There is no rule that we have to sit down and be quiet out here," and perhaps that was just enough to push him over the edge. When some people remained standing he walked next to them and did his best barrel chested domination stance about a foot away from them. I would have stared at the situation but I'm told that is impolite and I guess I'm still trying to maintain some level of politeness. Anyway, the people standing/talking did not sit down meekly (or stop talking) and this seemed to enrage him further.

After trying to browbeat them for about 30 seconds to a minute, he decided he was not being cooperated with enough. The noise level had dropped significantly but not everyone was sitting down. At that point he ordered everyone into the courtroom. I believe his words were, "You need to move into the courtroom and sit down and be quiet." I started thinking he perhaps had a hangover.

So everyone complied and he then took his domination show to the front of the room where he worked the crowd with his best evil eye and a few eyebrow wrinkles to prove he had years of experience with that particular imposing expression. My father informed me that he technically has arresting rights in the courtroom so it was an interesting, "If I cannot make you do what I want outside the courtroom then move to my jurisdiction," ploy.

All in all, it would have made for an interesting field trip for a sociology or women's studies course. The domination display continued and once everyone was in the courtroom the man wanted absolute silence. He said repeatedly, "Silence. Be quiet. No talking." Of course, we had wanted to stay in the hall for awhile rather than sit in the courtroom but whatever. His eyes darted around the room angrily the entire time and he even removed a woman (and her sister) because she was blowing her nose.

I wish there was a way to kindly remind everyone that every other human being is worthy of respect. Frequently it feels as though this perspective is quite lacking. It is like we live in some weird "domination nation" culture - that a request first before an order would be a weakness rather than a strength.

In my experience, when someone "in power" starts off with the stance that their authority is not to be questioned I feel the need to push back. I think it is just an inherent truth that some people, like me, like to be free to agree to comply rather than forced to comply. I am a rule follower but I am also a free thinker. I would contend that unreasonable demands (like sit down and be quiet when there is no stated/known reason to impose this on a group of people) *should* be met with push back. We are not "sheeple" to use a popular term these days.

Perhaps this bailiff was just having a bad day. I look forward to observing more in this courtroom in the future. However, I continue to wonder what it would take to shift a culture from a "domination nation" position to a respectful (but very firm - he does need to keep order, after all) culture. I think it is important that law abiding, day-to-day, ordinary citizens who are not "activists" per se, are willing to be observers of our democracy in action. If we are not willing to bear witness, our process quickly devolves into a power struggle between those in power and those requesting something of the powers that be. It is the third party objective that, in my opinion, will make sure things remain fair and just. Jury duty is not your only civic duty. Please consider being that person. Join us!

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