346 Broadway: New York’s Wasted Justice System

200px-noticetoappear.jpgI woke up early for the anticipated trip below Canal Street to answer the summons I had received two months earlier; a pink slip, energetically written by an officer of the law looking to fill his book of tickets. A stout figure in uniform with a belly that hung over his belt revealing a small holstered gun. Perhaps lack of exercise and abundance of carbohydrates so prevalent in American diets led to an appearance more appropriate for the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).

My only trespass being that I was in the wrong place at the right time for the police officer to write a summons, I wondered whether justice would have better been served had he payed attention to serious crime, instead of meeting his monthly quota?

After entering the lobby of the time worn building at 346 Broadway and passing through the metal detectors, I went up a large staircase and into the registration room, right to the end of a line of 100 people or more, reminiscent of those long Post Office lines right around lunch time. As the line moved, I finally reached the window attendant where the summons ticket is stamped and replaced with a ticket to Trial Room # 2.

The #2 Room: large and rectangular with benches and a judge’s desk. The color of the walls, indescribable as there is no frame of reference to compare except that it was institutionally dull. The judge, a man who must have been in his early nineties, a life dedicated to prosecution and defense, now retired, devoting time to ease the volume of increased ticketing. A female officer looking like Sarah Jessica Parker in uniform on a bad hair day, disgruntled disposition and some miscellaneous officers who repeated to each name called: “do you speak English?” followed by the announced infraction. The look of boredom filled the air, not unlike a subway car during rush hour. Everyone with a blank expression, avoiding eye contact by looking at the ads on a subway car wall, traveling on their way to work.

The fines, mostly $20-$100 for those few cases that were not dismissed, a reasonable judgment since the initial summons cited were nothing more than fillers for the officers to meet their monthly quota.