Thursday, July 25, 2013

Court Case Resolved?

Well, that's an optimistic title for this blog post because our court case isn't quite resolved yet. But we were able to close a major chapter yesterday, just 1 day after our 1 year anniversary of the robbery. We gave our sworn testimony to the court! The short story is that it went well, they were respectful to us, we didn't have to surrender our returned items to the court and WE'RE DONE with our part!

However, there's a longer story here somewhere in this mess and I'm not even sure what that story is. As we sat at the courthouse for hours again yesterday, our 12th appearance as my husband kept reminding me, my mind couldn't help going over and over the details and our experiences from the past year. I wouldn't say we're intricately familiar with the Tanzanian court system, but by gum we're definitely more experienced and aware than we were 1 year ago.  I've got nothing to compare it to, really, because I've never been personally involved in a court case in the states. But I've helped victims of crime both in the US and in Tanzania and all throughout this process I kept thinking about them, about the girl who is being raised to believe that her opinion and voice don't count, about the woman who has been beaten and raped and humiliated for months and years on end, about the widow whose in-laws have taken her rightful property and inheritance leaving her penniless and alone. As a person with (real or perceived) money, education, power and prestige, how much better equipped am I to navigate this crazy system? And how much less able are they? In America we are led to believe that victims will be protected and that justice will be done but I know from these women's experiences and from the stories of countless others that that's not always the case. In Tanzania they don't even make that promise. It's openly acknowledged that the system is corrupt and broken. I know how frustrated and dis-empowered I have felt every time I had to take off work, drag myself down to the courthouse, wait to be acknowledged, and told to come back another day.

However, despite all of my frustrations with the court system over the past year, I will say that when we finally testified yesterday I felt respected, I felt like the accused was respected and I felt like the courts wanted to get a conviction. (The kid who is accused of committing our robbery has been sitting in prison for a year. I'd feel bad about this wondering if they got the wrong guy, except for the fact that he admitted doing it, he gave details of the inside of our house and of how he asked neighborhood kids where the white people lived. When (if?) he is finally sentenced, his served time will be subtracted from the total sentence and I think that's fair.) I was not expecting to feel so satisfied with our court experience and I certainly didn't really expect to get a conviction because I know for a fact that petty thieves in our town are working in collaboration with the police and military, that they pay off the police and judges to avoid prosecution and that they usually see very little, if any, jail time*. Yet, throughout our case I've seen a number of times when the court and the police have clearly been wanting to move forward with the case so they can get a conviction and get this kid off the street. A few months ago after appearing at the courthouse so many times, Chris and I asked the investigator if the police would drop the case so we could just move on and not worry about coming back again. He was very upset that we would want to do this and pleaded with us to continue in our efforts. He wanted a conviction, he said. And when the accused tried to ask me triangulating questions during the proceedings** or when he got saucy, the judge put him in his place, saying they'd seen him many times in the court, he knows how court proceedings are handled and his efforts to get his own way were thwarted.

It's made me wonder why they were so bent on justice this time***. The cynic in me wonders if this kid got too big for his britches. Maybe he wasn't collaborating with police or maybe he was giving them a hard time, maybe he crossed another criminal who is more snugly in the polices' pockets and they want him off the streets. Or maybe he'd been caught for another more serious crime in the past and the court didn't have enough evidence to convict him then, but now there's a stronger claim. Certainly there has to be a rational explanation!, I think, and it's scary how my mind can't be content with just having faith in the system and the desires of those in it to seek and carry out justice.

I guess I'll never know the real reason why things unfolded the way that have. And maybe I don't want or need to know. So what I can say is this, there is a system of justice here and in our case (depending on the final outcome, of course) we've seen justice done and its been relatively fair to the accused and the accusing. It make me happy. But on the other hand, it took a lot of help from friends, time, patience, education, flexibility and advocacy. So I still can't help but feel bad for those people people going through a similar process who don't have these "luxuries" in order to see their case through. How can we as a community help them to see justice done?

*I have a friend who is also going through the court system and she has seen first-hand how they work in collaboration. She, a victim, was treated like the accused when she was given the opportunity to testify before court.

**Apparently in Tanzanian courts the accused has a right to question the witnesses. Weird and frustrating when this punk a$$ kid looks you in the eyes and tries to say that we lied in our statements to the police!

***Also, this is a clear reversal of how the case started. When the kid took the stand in a preliminary hearing he completely denied all allegations and the judge (a different one) tried to say that the police coerced a statement out of the kid.

No comments: