Welcome to Brooklyn Criminal Court

BY: Chris Butters| October 26, 2018
Welcome to Brooklyn Criminal Court


Chris Butter’s poem, Welcome to Brooklyn Criminal Court” can be read here.  The poem can be listened to as well.









welcome to

Brooklyn Criminal Court


busiest court in the world,

last stop before Rikers,

home of shoplift and murders,

home of drinking beer in  public view


where  in AR1 the attorneys can’t  agree

and have  to adjourn the case


to February 17

but then the defense attorney

will be  out of town

so it is adjourned to February 22


home of the best

and the worst,

where nothing and everything



where  you sit with your stenotype machine

in your chair

and it is like taking a walk

around the block of the world


where Martin had a dream

and Malcolm had a nightmare


where Whitman, if he worked here,

(actually a few  blocks away)

might  have said strangely

the fate of mankind  is forged


where you missed the sign over

the metal detector

abandon your theories and weapons

ye who enter here


at least no theories that cannot stand up

to the tears of mothers  and the prison industrial complex

no theories that cannot stand up to the screams  in the cells

to the hush of the plea bargains in the halls


where the old cannot continue

and the new is not yet born


the system they call it

the system they say


where the clock in Jury 1

always says 7:30


where the urinals back up

and there is gang graffiti

on the bathroom   wall


where a lawyer may cost you

but you are always welcome

to come through the

revolving door


where the clerk

bellows  order in the court

where the judge wields

a brutal gavel


and the DA wields bail

like a sword


against the forces of darkness

in Brooklyn where everyone is

a minority and yet

the white people rule


where the court officers

scowl at  the congregation

and mothers sit in the front row

trying  to make sense

of it all


how one minute her son

is walking down the street

and the next minute he is dead

her baby boy


where the heart longs for a pickaxe

where the Latino kid  longs

for a human being interpreter


what does mandatory surcharge waived

mean anyway


if walls could talk

what would they say


welcome to Brooklyn Criminal Court

home of shoplift and murders,

last stop before Rikers ,

home of drinking beer in  public view


where the commissioner blames the mayor

and the mayor blames the governor

the Post blames liberals coddling criminals

and  the demonstrators chant No Justice, No Peace


where if you think police are your friends

you have another thing coming


if you think the poor are always noble and good

you haven’t been to AP  2


where cops have a hard job

to serve and protect

breaking into houses

chasing down suspects


but so do the families

of the people shoved around

waiting until hell freezes over

or the CCRB  report


and why so many black lives destroyed

to get the numbers up

and the police walk around

like an occupying army


and shoot first

and ask questions later

and when does  the coverup

become worse than the crime


but as we interrogate

the  endless  crusade

the code words of law and order



freedom is not just

freedom from poverty and want

but freedom from being  mugged and burglarized

to send  your kids to school


and not die

from the bullets of a drive by shooting

and not be recruited

by  the pusher man


and don’t forget

the sign at a demonstration

I saw once outside the courtroom window,

I will never forget


we want safe streets

and  we want civil liberties  too


where racism is

an ailing  air conditioner

people don’t hear in the courtroom

but runs in the background


where sexism is a wink

in the courtroom

and a  joke

in the station house


but if you are a single Latina mother

who are you going to call

when every night is

an epidemic of gunshots


if you are a father

who are you going to call

on a block when even the five  year olds

can tell you

where the drugs are sold


welcome to

Brooklyn Criminal Court


where in god we trust

but all others pay cash


where everyone is here to help you

but the offers only go so far


where numbers are important

because they stand for laws






and the only unwritten law is

you don’t bite the hand

that feeds you


where at the candy stand awaits

the army  recruiter for the next poor boy

where lady liberty stands tall in the hall

but seems oblivious to it all


and outside  the courthouse

freedom’s inscriptions

are worse for wear

but still there


despite the pigeon shit

and the sun and the rain


and the headlines

at the candy stand  as you pass

through the metal detector

that tear this city apart


Brooklyn Criminal Court


where your case in arraignments

will be  over before you know it

where your case in arraignments

will take you a long time  to decode it


just hope you don’t have a warrant

just hope  you don’t get sent to Judge Gold

in AP 2


where you can touch the hand

of one who has come back

to  the land of the living

in drug treatment court


or, watch your tax dollars

at work at $100,000 a year,

not Harvard

but the moldering lockup


which is what we choose

with  Rikers U.


but  if you believe the war against drugs

is not  also a  war

against black and brown people

in the hands of police brought to you


by the same people who bring  us

the war to end all wars


and that the answer is

more police more prisons

and not jobs and schools


I have a bridge to sell you


welcome to Brooklyn Criminal Court



East New York,


Sunset Park,


all around the town


where there are two sides

to every story

and the journey is long to where

democracy is

and  so few people get there


a trial and to be judged

by a jury of your peers


and  what is that about


where you are the court reporter

trained to be  a cog in a machine

and take down every word

however ungolden


amazed it is there,

when they ask  you

to read it,

but you do


where you get a pass for a while

because you look like

you came to the country

before they did


but that ends pretty fast

once they see  you

pushing  the envelope

of  a politics


where the  governor arrives every year

speaking  of liberty and justice,

when he is not ordering

cutbacks and layoffs,


where we are the support staff,

and arrive  every day

to hold up  half the sky,

and the city makes our day

by not falling apart


and just when you think

you have another trial  coming

you get ready for it

until it doesn’t


and just when you think

nothing will ever happen

the judge says People call your first witness

and the People do


and  maybe a part of you looks down

upon the never ending cavalcade of people

that trudge  through these hallowed halls

that are presumed innocent until proven guilty


and maybe you think it is a charity

we are running here for the poor and unfortunate

and it doesn’t matter about the constitution

until maybe the same thing happens to you


a  guy who saw it all

but did not come forward

a woman who was raped


and you have to read it back

and the lawyer says he didn’t say that

and the judge says   counselor

the record the record speaks for itself


or else the witness for the prosecution

is  caught in the web of his own

contradictions, everything comes

together in the Legal Aid lawyer’s

summation  one year out of Cardoza Law School,


and just when you think you are going

to have a quiet jury trial

a demonstration outside the courtroom window

the people again shouting, No Justice ,No Peace


welcome to

Brooklyn Criminal Court


where there was a theory going around

police would start with the broken windows

and the dragnet  would trickle up

to the highest drug king pin


there was a theory going round

the economy start with mansions to the wealthy

and housing would trickle down

to  the streets of the homeless


there were a lot of theories going down

and a lot of protests

and a lot of police driving around

in militarized squad cars on behalf of the state


the DAs Holtzman Hynes

Thompson Gonzalez


the defense attorneys

Mason Warren

Kuby Wareham

I took them all


where I listened as I typed

and as I typed I thought


someday  a change is gonna come

black lives will matter

because all lives matter

and all lives matter because

black lives matter


and the record will speak  for itself


welcome to

Brooklyn Criminal Court


where one man’s law and order

is another man’s occupying army


where one man’s ceiling

is another man’s floor


where  a house is raided

without a warrant

by street narcotics enforcement


as if it was not the cause

of the American revolution


where black men are led

in chains through

the halls of the courthouse


as if it was  not the cause

of the Civil War


welcome to

Brooklyn Criminal Court


where the perp walks are staged

for  the evening news


the faces of the accused

like  deer in the headlights


but the face

of structural racism

is always well hidden


where the new attorney thinks

he is the first

to have thought

of  it,


and  the  ancient court watcher smiles

with the  grief of someone

who has seen it all



welcome to

Brooklyn Criminal Court


where judges  are nominated

by the Brooklyn Democratic Committee,

and  everything

is as transparent as a brick wall,


where prisoners make the chair

a court reporter sits upon,

so  prison  labor

at 65 cents an hour becomes

a trade union issue,


where the foreperson rises

to render the verdict of the jury

and the defendant waits

with baited breath


where Judge Gubbay asks

what would you change ,

after all you  have been through together,

and you say, the prison  industrial complex


and just when you think

you finally have a theory about the place,

someone throws a new argument  intended

to bamboozle you


but something tells you,

you are on the right track


welcome to

Brooklyn Criminal Court,


busiest courthouse in the world,

last stop before Rikers,

home of shoplifts and murders,

home of drinking beer in public view,


where you can

get warm  in winter

if you come through  the system


where in summer

you can get cool ,


where the rich

grow richer

and the poor

grow poorer


where justice is  a crapshoot

and the  struggle  is a hard slog


where Frederick Douglas said

no one is free

until everyone is free,


and the conveyor belt

does not stop

for even a moment,


and through the windows

of the courthouse

the sun breaks out

from behind a cloud


and shines down suddenly

upon the walnut table tops

like the blinding blazing radiance

of the truth


–Chris Butters










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