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Damn! Corey quietly cursed himself as he sat on the hard wooden holding-cell benches, awaiting his fate. As he stared off into space, his mind was in another world. Or at least he wished he were. Presently, he was confined to a trash-littered bull pen beneath the Bronx Supreme Court that strongly reeked of urine from an unflushed toilet in the back corner. Combine that with the musky mixture of body odor that still lingered from the countless prisoners that had passed through the bowels of the justice system this day and the stench was damn near unbearable.
Just a few short hours ago, this very bull pen had been bursting at the seams with blacks and Hispanics. Some were going to arraignments and preliminary hearings, while others were here for more serious matters, such as sentencing and bail-reduction hearings. Their crimes varied from shoplifting to murder. Corey watched closely with his face pressed between the thick steel bars as the court officers marched defendant after defendant into courtrooms, like cattle being led to the slaughterhouse. Silently he wished each and every man good luck, knowing that whatever their fortune or misfortune was, it could easily be his, when it was his turn to face the judge.
His hopes soared like an eagle whenever a man caught a break or got released. Then they'd plunge faster than the stock market whenever a man received what Corey perceived as a travesty of justice from the court. He was on a never-ending emotional roller-coaster ride.
Naive to the ways of the system, Corey would learn the hard way, over time, that it would take more than just luck or well-wishing for a minority to get a fair shake in any courtroom in America. Contrary to popular belief, the system of justice isn't blind; it sees very well the color of a man's skin. As morning slowly turned to afternoon, one by one the majority of the prisoners returned to the bull pen with all hopes of freedom dashed. Each man returned to the holding cell with his own personal horror story.
"Mmmaann, them crackers is playin' hardball in dat courtroom!" one black man said. "I came here for a bail reduction and dem bastards raised my bail. They gave me a ransom. Dat bitch-ass D.A. Miller told the judge that I was a habitual offender, a menace to society. Then they started talkin' 'bout dat three strikes shit..." His high-pitched voice bounced off the cell walls. This was center stage and he was holding court. He had the undivided attention of every prisoner in the cell. Every man wanted to know just exactly what he was up against.
The skinny black man continued, "All I did was pick a few pockets and snatch a few chains on the train. I'm a smoker. I ain't kill nobody."
After Corey and a few other serious criminals heard the man's reason for his crime spree, they lost what little respect they had for him. He was just another crackhead -- someone who was looked down upon in the criminal realm. At the bottom of the street food chain, he was nothing but a customer, a consumer -- chasing a high -- whereas Corey was a drug dealer -- chasing a dollar. People like this man were messing the drug game up. A crackhead like him had gotten Corey into his current predicament.
"Hope y'all got paid lawyers, cuz dem faggot-ass public defenders ain't worth shit!" the man said with anger in his voice. "Mine just sat there looking stupid while the D.A. assinated my character." Then as quickly as he started running his mouth, volunteering information, he stopped and started begging. "Ay, yo, papi, lemme getta short on dat cigarette," he appealed to the old Hispanic man he was talking to, who never said a word, just handed him the cigarette butt that had been passed around and smoked by practically every man in the bull pen. But that didn't stop the man from wrapping his own lips around it. He wanted a pull on the cancer stick bad. He wanted to fill his lungs with some nicotine, to calm his nerves now that he realized he was going back to jail.
When other prisoners, from different cells, were shuttled past, those in the bull pen hollered loudly to find out how they had fared. "Yo, money, how you make out?" someone yelled out. Escorted by two sizable court officers, the man had a dejected look as he said, "Dat muthafucka Judge Brown jus knocked me out da box. He gave me twenty-five ta life."
"Be strong, baby boy!" the man suggested. "Hold ya head. Go up north, hit the law library hard. And you'll be back in court on appeal."
Corey's heart began to pound against his chest at the mere mention of that kind of time. Judge Lawrence B. Brown was his judge too -- Corey's judge, jury, and executioner. Under the youthful offender act, Corey had initially accepted a plea bargain for five years probation on the advice of his public defender. But he caught another drug charge while out on bail, and that blew the deal that he'd agreed to. He was now at the mercy of the court. And the court didn't have any mercy.
Trouble was nothing new for Corey. All through his turbulent adolescent years, he was running afoul of the law. Now at sixteen, all the dirt he'd done had finally caught up with him. He had succeeded in getting into major trouble. His sudden departure from home, subsequent arrests, and imminent jail time that hung over his head signaled his arrival into the big time. According to New York State law, he was an adult, though he was still very much a child. Nonetheless, he would be held accountable for his actions. He was moving closer and closer toward the self-destruction that his parents had predicted for him, if he kept doing what he was doing, living the street life.
Having already posted bond for one direct sale to an undercover cop, a few months later he was arrested on a humble possession with intent. His cab had been pulled over by police for a minor traffic violation and the vehicle searched. The police found four ounces of crack cocaine on him. The first arrest had been a blatant setup, retribution for some foolish act Corey had committed in the streets. He had lost his temper and made a stupid move that had caused his world to come crashing in. But when his man caught up with that crackhead Kelly, she'd regret the day she ever laid eyes on him. But today was Corey's Judgment Day. Hers would come soon enough, only it would be in the court of law. Her trial would be held in the streets.
After a late-afternoon court recess, all that remained on the docket was the sentencing of Corey and two other co-defendants in the next cell. All the other occupants of these various holding cells had been transported back to the Bronx House of Corrections, Rikers Island, or whatever other institution they'd been imprisoned at. The lucky ones were released on their own recognizance, ROR bail. Corey's stomach growled. He was hungry as hell but he was unable to eat. Something about going to court ruined his appetite. Plus, the state-issued carton of milk and slab of cheese between two stale pieces of bread, masquerading as a sandwich, that was provided for his lunch wasn't appealing. Something else was making him feel queasy, though. Maybe his body sensed what his mind couldn't comprehend, that something was wrong inside the halls of justice. Corey scanned the graffiti covering the walls, reading every legible message to help pass the time, trying to decipher them for some hidden meaning.
"Plead guilty!" someone had written.
"Rather be judged by twelve than carried by six."
Another sign read, "Next time hold court in the streets!"
Vulgar messages addressed to Judge Brown caused Corey to chuckle to himself. "Judge Brown can suck my big black dick. You racist son of a bitch!" "Judge Brown is givin' niggas 4ever and a day."
These degrading statements from the present and not so distant past were testimonials of the judge's abuse of power. These harsh sentiments were drawn with matches, ink pens, or whatever other instruments that would record them, by some of the many minority men who had stood before the judge. Their words of warning were recorded on the ceilings and every wall for posterity. For those who were about to enter the belly of the beast, it gave you fair warning to beware.
"Yo, shorty!" a deep-voiced man in the next cell called out, interrupting Corey's train of thought. "Yo, shorty!" he called again before Corey could respond.
"Yo, whut up?" Corey replied.
"Ay, yo, you got any stogies over there? A nigga need something ta smoke, bad!"
"Naw, money," Corey quickly answered. "I don't smoke." Corey fell silent again.
Next door, the two codefendants began talking in hushed tones. "...fuck that! I ain't goin' out like that," one man promised. "We gonna give 'em a reason ta give us all dat time. Know what I'm sayin'?"
"Word!" the other man strongly agreed. "Let's do this -- "
Suddenly, the loud squeaky sound of the door that led to the courtroom ended the conversation. The footsteps of the court officers could be heard getting closer and closer. Soon they were upon them; walking past Corey's cell, they stopped in front of the next. As they passed, Corey's heart skipped a beat. For a second he thought, This is it. He was scared to death of that white man dressed in a black robe. The fear that he was experiencing was unlike any he'd ever known in his life.
"Damon Moore, Tashaun Griffin, the judge will see you now," the black court officer announced as he inserted the gigantic key into the lock, opening up the cell. Looking to avoid any potential problems, the court officer handled these two with kid gloves, careful not to rile them up. One glimpse at these two hulks and you'd know why.
At six foot three and six foot six respectively, each man weighed close to 250 pounds; they were huge. Just by the looks of their thickly muscled physiques that rippled through their T-shirts, one would have thought they were born with dumbbells in their hands. But in truth, these were two hardened criminals, who'd done time in some of the toughest jails in New York State. While incarcerated upstate, they ate and worked out like madmen, developing their physiques into that which would rival a professional bodybuilder's. Now this two-man crime wave was about to receive its punishment: two twenty-five-to-life sentences for their parts in a botched armed robbery turned double homicide -- of a Jewish jeweler and his son, at their jewelry store on Fordham Road in the Bronx.
These codefendants were never going to walk the streets of New York City again. They were being sentenced to rot and die in jail. With an extensive record like theirs, neither would ever make parole, so they'd concocted a plan to strike a blow at the system, to go down in criminal folklore for decades to come.
"Step out of the cell and place both your hands behind your back," the court officer commanded.
Passively, the two giants obeyed the orders of their captors, not wanting to give any hint of their next move. Just fastening the handcuffs around their big wrists was a problem for the officers. But, once they were cuffed, they were led away to the courtroom. As they passed Corey's cell, one man nodded his head in his direction, as if to say, "What's up?" Corey nodded his head in response.
All eyes were on them as they entered the half-empty courtroom. A hush fell over the court employees and the small group of spectators present. The victims' family was seated in the front row, directly behind the prosecutor. The weeping widow and the jeweler's elderly father anxiously awaited justice.
Through his horn-rimmed spectacles, and from the safety of his ivory tower, the Honorable Judge Lawrence B. Brown looked down at these two monsters and called them to the bench. He eyeballed these two black codefendants, who had had the audacity to kill a white man, and his pale white face began to turn beet red with rage. Judge Brown, a racist, worked with a hang-'em-high attitude. But now instead of using rope to hang the black man, he used a more conventional method: he slowly strangled the life out of them with time. He used the judicial system better than any Klu Klux Klansmen used his rope. This was just another tool, a legal form of lynching. It was okay to him when a nigger killed another nigger. When minorities committed genocide against their own race, they were doing the world a favor, in his mind. But the minute one of these black bastards, as he saw them, crossed the line and took the life of a white man, he was vexed.
Judge Brown was an undercover racist only because he couldn't be out in the open in this day and age. The rules of society had changed. He missed the good old days when you could call a nigger, a nigger. And, he was upset when New York State had abolished the death penalty. He had personally sentenced more blacks and Hispanics to the hard time than he cared to remember.
Rumors still swirled, like ghosts, around the courthouse whenever any minority came before him for trial or sentencing. He always threw the book at him, imposing the hardest sentences he could.
"Look out the window," he commanded one felon. "Count out loud the number of pigeons there are on the ledge." Having taken his own tally, he already had a rough estimate. Give or take the few that flew away or landed.
The man did as he was told. "One, two, three...eight," the man counted.
"That's how much time I hereby sentence you to, eight to sixteen years in a state correctional institution," the judge cold-bloodedly replied.
Dumbfounded, the man screamed, "Eight muthafuckin' years fa whut? I'm a fuckin' shoplifter, notta killer! I only stole to feed my family." That was all he managed to say before being dragged away by the court officers.
Another black convicted felon was told to do the same thing. He got slick and said, "There ain't no pigeon out there."
Not to be outdone, the judge had another trick up his sleeve. He wasn't about to let him get off the hook that easily. "Don't you see that small plot of soil where that tree is?" the judge asked.
Falling for the trick, the man answered, "Ain't no tree out there!"
The judge retorted, "There will be one when you get out! I here by sentence you to ten to twenty years."
"Your Honor, I can't do all dat time!" the despondent man told the judge.
"Well, give me what you can," the judge sarcastically remarked, making a mockery of the man.
That was a different time, a different era. Standing before him now were two more black men whom he planned to send to prison till their dying days.
Following courtroom procedure, the two codefendants were uncuffed before their sentence was pronounced. As they were freed from their restraints, they scanned the courtroom, sizing up the puny, undermanned staff of court officers, strategically positioned around the courtroom. And though they were outnumbered and outgunned, it didn't even matter. They were bold enough or stupid enough to believe their plan would work. A few feet away, at the prosecutor's table, the Bronx district attorney, J. Phillip Tyler, had a satisfied look. He had quickly secured a conviction for the state. This was an open-and-shut case. The jury had deliberated for less than an hour before returning a guilty verdict. This high-profile case would advance his career for sure. Not to mention all the brownie points it would earn him within the powerful Jewish community.
"Do either of you have anything to say before the court pronounces sentence on you?" the judge bellowed. This was his favorite part of sentencing. This was his chance to publicly humiliate the defendants.
"Yes, may I address the court?" Moore asked.
"Go right ahead," the judge replied.
Moore growled, "Fuck all y'all racist mutherfuckas!"
The two public defenders who represented each man looked at them in shock. Then they began to move away from the two stone-cold killers, fearing for their safety.
Griffin turned and spat at the victim's wife, "Fuck you, bitch!"
The court officers converged in a desperate attempt to subdue Griffin and Moore, who began knocking the officers out with powerful blows from their fists, shedding them like fleas.
The courtroom exploded in pure pandemonium; spectators began running for their lives. Judge Brown began to pound his gavel. "Order in the court! Order in the court!" he yelled repeatedly at the top of his lungs.
After demolishing every unarmed court officer within arm's reach, Moore spat out two sharp single-edge razors that were cleverly hidden underneath his tongue. Then he charged the prosecutor.
Everyone was caught off guard; help was slow in coming. It was Friday, the end of a long workweek and workday. Getting home to his or her family was on everyone's mind. After dealing with an overcrowded court docket all day, no one ever expected this. Following his partner's lead, Griffin flipped over the defense table and made a beeline for the bench. The court stenographer scurried to get out of the way as the giant rapidly approached.
This was a nightmare. The district attorney stood in disbelief. Horrified, he'd watched in slow motion as the razors had suddenly appeared, his mouth agape from pure terror.
Weakly, he threw up his right arm in self-defense to try to ward off the razor attack and succeeded in avoiding one potentially fatal slash, taking the blow on his forearm instead of his neck. But the D.A. wasn't strong enough or quick enough to dodge the second strike. This one found its mark: the most vital and vulnerable part of his body, the carotid artery. Blood began to gush out of the side of his neck, like water from an open fire hydrant, drenching him and his assailant. Despite the blood, Moore kept on pounding and slicing him, pummeling him to the floor -- even after it was evident that he was dead.
Meanwhile, Griffin was scaling the witness stand in an all-out attempt to reach the judge. Using reflexes he hadn't seen in years, Judge Brown bolted out of his chair to the side door that led to the safety of his chambers and his gun. He slammed the door shut behind him. As Griffin advanced in his direction, court officers not immediately involved in the melee sprang into action. With guns drawn, they took aim at Griffin. A hail of bullets stopped him in his tracks. The shots rang out with an earsplitting noise that drowned out all the cries and screams for help.
After killing his codefendant, the court officers turned their guns on the bloodthirsty Moore. His life was cut short by four bullets to the head and chest.
They died as they had lived, going all out together, taking the law into their own hands.
Copyright © 2004 by Shannon Holmes