Justice for Whom?

Imagine you are the victim of assault in your own home.

Imagine that after calling the police, you are told there is nothing they can do right now as the alleged assailant is holed up in his own apartment located in the same building as your own home as they do not have a warrant to arrest him. If you wish to press charges, you must pursue the issuance of a summons or warrant yourself. It’s nerve-wracking, and you are told to keep calling 911 if there are continuing problems.

Imagine that you are completely shaken and dissociating as the police officers give you a photocopied victims’ rights notice crammed with text in English and Spanish with very little white space and directions for various case types combined all in one page.

Imagine that you need to have all the vital stats on this assailant and that you had to do some sleuthing because he was a recent tenant and no name is on the mailbox. You need height, weight, etc. Imagine figuring out how to find all this out when no one in the building knows who he is.

Imagine there are further incidents later that night and, again, there is nothing the officers can do because there is no warrant and the assailant is back in his apartment refusing to answer the door.

Imagine studying this page and looking at what you must do to obtain this warrant or summons. The officer crossed off the location closest to you, about 5 miles away near Lane Tech High School, because the city closed it down on January 7th due to lack of funding. This is too bad because you see that the closest location to you is in Galewood eight miles away, about one-and-a-half hours on public transit one way. The other locations are: Fuller Park/Englewood, about fifteen miles from your home and about one hour and forty-five minutes away; Pullman, about twenty-two miles away and nearly two hours on public transit; and Homan/Garfield Park about eleven miles away and another hour-and-forty-five-minute trip. What a hassle, right? Even if you had a car, the trip is fifty minutes to the closest location.

Imagine that the warrant officer is available Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. only and no appointments — first come, first serve.

Imagine entering the facility and finding the warrant officer with a tiny office, no room with a desk, no place for people to sit down in private. The woman ahead of you is in tears because she has been there four times after repeated assaults and not yet received a response from the overwhelmed states attorney’s office. She keeps saying she is afraid for her life, and she is repeatedly told to keep calling 911.

Imagine feeling less than confident that you will be successful in obtaining a warrant because whatever this woman has experienced is worse than what you experienced, and she is still in danger.

Imagine the officer meeting with you in the open in front of others who are there for adult probation hearings or for warrants themselves as you sit in a chair connected to a line of chairs pressed up against a brick wall with “Keep feet off the walls” signs marked every few feet.

Imagine people looking at you openly as you tell your story, trying hard to maintain a businesslike demeanor and not sob uncontrollably.

Imagine staring at the officer’s sign handwritten in marker on a piece of computer paper and taped over the existing office plaque as he explains that the states attorney is completely overwhelmed and either expect a call in a week — maybe two — or a letter in the mail approving or denying the issuance of said warrant or summons.

Imagine the officer advising you to, “Keep calling 911. Keep making reports. Keep this piece of paper with your police report number on you at all times. Tell the 911 operator you have a pending case and this individual is threatening you or has hurt you and the police should arrive faster.”

Imagine wondering if this is true because it took a long time the last two times you called, the longest being fifteen minutes.

Imagine waiting for the bus in gloomy Galewood outside this oppressive building wondering what will happen next, how you will get home and enter your home safely.

Now, take all of this and imagine you are from a low-income background and you have a job you absolutely depend on with no protection from being fired for missing work, yet the only time this officer is available is for three hours in the morning.

Imagine you work eight hours a day and cannot get the time off you need to pursue this matter, but the issue is very much outstanding because this perpetrator has been threatening and hurting others in the building.

Now, imagine that you may be able to take time off and perhaps have a little vacation pay coming, but instead you have a low literacy level and a learning disability, and when you are given a page crammed with small print and no white space you cannot understand what it is you need to do. There is a phone number there with people to help you, but having a disability, you don’t quite understand the directions and lack a facility with note-taking and recall.

Imagine you are elderly and have trouble getting around town.

Now, imagine you have a low-income background and a learning disability or other literacy issues.

It was hard enough for an educated person with resources and a standard or above literacy level with an understanding boss to follow procedures and try to get the ball rolling on the judicial process. What about everyone else?

There must be some way to make sure that the rights of people who are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law are balanced with the rights of alleged victims who live in terror as the wheels of the justice system inch along. At the very least, there must be a way to make the process more accessible to more people. How many victims choose not to report or cannot report because of the limitations of their job?

I don’t pretend to have all the solutions, but I know the way procedures stand now, something has to be done. Yet will it? The warrant officer informed me that the city barely gave him an office and couldn’t afford to keep the courthouse near Lane Tech open. It takes money and dedication to remedy these situations. I wonder if the next mayor might make this a priority in reforming Chicago policies and practices.

Originally published at on January 16, 2019.

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