Skateboarder in the court

It’s never fun spending a morning in court. The drab Hall of Justice that sits in the heart of downtown Winston-Salem is both an eyesore and a stressor. One can even conclude the reason for doing so is to deter people from ever being in the situation of having to enter the premises, but given America’s obsession with incarcerating the populace, that is obviously not the case.

A few weeks ago I was skateboarding in downtown Winston-Salem.

I am not ignorant to the fact that you can’t skateboard in downtown Winston-Salem, which is why I was stuck carrying a very reliable form of transportation in my hand as I walked down the open sidewalks. The reason for the laws that prohibit skateboarding in downtown – it’s a misdemeanor offense if caught by an incredibly bored police officer who has no grasp on what it’s like to simply enjoy yourself while also moving from one location to the next – probably has something to do with destruction of property. People who oppose skateboarding argue that it’s not safe for people walking on sidewalks and other pedestrian areas, but that’s not backed up with any evidence beyond some old guy shaking his cane at “kids and their damn scooter boards.”

I entered the courtroom at 9 a.m. and listened as the assistant district attorney read the names off the docket. There were 250 items on this morning’s docket, and mine was somewhere toward the top because it was alphabetical. The assistant DA would read a name and a voice saying “Not guilty,” “guilty with explanation,” “guilty,” “continuance,” or “court-appointed attorney” would respond.

Mine was “not guilty.” I figured the officer who supposedly busted me for skateboarding would not show up so I was a shoe-in for a dismissal. Such is not the case.

The order in which they begin to tackle the day’s load is first by starting with the people who push for continuance. Once those are out of the way (by now it’s 10 a.m.) they move onto the people who are pleading guilty or guilty with an explanation. With 250 items on the docket, the deputy in the courtroom tells me that the trials for not guilty pleas won’t be heard until well after lunch.

It’s deadline day for us at YES! Weekly newspaper. This means that our Tuesday is filled with error corrections, editing, ad placement, and sometimes fitting in the final remnants of stories. I do not have time to sit in a courtroom all day just to prove to someone that I wasn’t actually skateboarding.

I’m all for proving people wrong on principle, which ironically is the reason I got the ticket for skateboarding in the first place. The cop who gave me the ticket said that I had a bad attitude and he wasn’t sure where cops did me wrong in the past but that I had better fall in line. I recorded my whole interaction with him, well, him and the other four cops that showed up to flex on me. I don’t get scared of cops. They are not scary people. In the same light that I have no idea if I’m standing in the grocery line next to a convicted murderer or someone that might become a convicted murderer, I don’t know if a cop is going to shoot me for no reason and lie about it, or just arrest me and plant cocaine on me so that he can hit quota.

What bothered me about court this morning was that I, someone who lives in America and pays taxes for that right to “innocent until proven guilty” had to sit behind all the people who were just going to bend over and admit guilt. Or at least not fight their way to freedom.

Why is the system set up this way?

Why is it that the state makes it so difficult to prove a cop wrong when we are bombarded with so many cops in the wrong before court even begins? We have enough evidence to prove that police officers are just as corrupt as the criminals they put behind bars, so why does the state trust them so much over the people who pay for them?

It’s not a debate I can really entertain beyond “it’s the way it’s always been and the way it will always be,” but damn do I hate that.

I have a clean record thanks to abiding by the laws over the years, which was something the judge recognized when she didn’t get a response as to what was listed on my criminal record. I have zero priors. I feel lucky to be in this situation given the amount of hell I have raised over the years, but I also know that it’s because I don’t want to go to jail. I went to jail once… for skateboarding. I was 27 and the judge laughed a bit harder at my case then than the one who saw my case this morning.

In the end, I plead guilty. I didn’t have time to entertain the court as to why I was innocent for skateboarding, and realistically, it was cheaper for me both professionally and personally to just pay the ticket and get back to work. But the system doesn’t care about work – they care about charging you a fee to show up to a room where they can get you to admit guilt as quickly as possible so they can continue taking more money out of your pocket.

We skateboarders don’t have much money, which is why we skateboard instead of playing something like hockey. You aren’t scared of football players, which are professional athletes, but instead you ask them for their autographs. I’m sure if you put the line of the top professional skateboarders next to the line of professional football players and meticulously research their criminal backgrounds you’ll find that skateboarders generally respect the law more than football players.

We also don’t make millions. (Well, save for a handful.) !