Serial - A Bar Fight Walks into the Justice Center

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Jun 19, 2019 01:21
Recently I have been listening to “Serial” and I really enjoy it. “Serial” is an investigative journalism podcast narrating real-life law cases over multiple episodes. I’ve never lived in the US, so I’m not quite familiar with America’s legal system. But I think it is an important part of the America’s social fabric, and always find it interesting and fascinating.

In this podcast, there are some expressions and American cultural connotations I don’t quite get, so I want to consult you guys.

1) What does the author emphasize by saying “from the bowels up” and “the elevator really runs the place?”

2) What do these images mean? “With our sensible heels, and Timberland boots, and American flag lapel pins, and fake eyelashes, and Axe cologne, and orthopedic inserts, and teardrop tattoos, and to-go coffees.” I don’t think they clash with each other. Why does the author say “no one is bloodied or even in tears?”

3) “But if the elevators were calibrated to detect a power imbalance in the load, like a socially conscious clothes dryer, they'd be perpetually on the fritz.” I don’t quite get the “clothes-dryer” joke, would you mind explaining it to me?

Thanks in advance!
https://serialpodcast.org/season-three/1/a-bar-fight-walks-into-the-justice-center

I've labeled the related paragraphs with 1), 2), and 3).

1) Roughly speaking, the building functions like most hierarchies—vertically. In this case, from the bowels up. The main court tower is 26 stories high, so the elevator really runs the place. If a person's arrested in Cleveland, they're coming into the Justice Center from the basement. Weary cops escort suspects from the underground parking garage. They get booked, go up a few floors to the jail.

Once they get a court date they're riding up to one of the courtroom floors. The lower floors are for lesser crimes, less hallowed proceedings—misdemeanors, housing court. And the higher floors, starting about halfway up the building, are for felonies. Detectives wearing lanyards often get off on the ninth floor where the prosecutor's office is. The court stenographers, always courteous, drag their squat wheelie cases on and off the elevator. Maybe they chat for a few floors with the officers from the sheriff's department, in search of a coffee and a muffin.

Defense attorneys are riding up and down all morning, muttering to each other, can you believe?, griping about judges who have their own judge elevators, so they're not overhearing. The elevator mainstays, of course, are crime victims and their families, and defendants and their families. Sometimes, those families are one in the same.

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2) When I'm feeling optimistic I appreciate that an elevator car in a government building is one of the few places left in our country where different kinds of people are forced into proximity. I like to think that we can all stand so close to one another, with our sensible heels, and Timberland boots, and American flag lapel pins, and fake eyelashes, and Axe cologne, and orthopedic inserts, and teardrop tattoos, and to-go coffees. And when the elevator doors open up, spilling us out onto our floor, the fact that no one is bloodied or even in tears, it's a small, pleasing reminder that we're all in this together.

Other times, the shoulder-to-shoulder closeness only magnifies the obvious—we're not the same, not at all. Coming up from the lobby one morning a young black woman is holding a little portable speaker.

[HIP HOP MUSIC PLAYING]

The white people in the elevator give each other looks. I don't want to reciprocate their looks. Instead, I decide it's my duty to break the tension by saying the lamest thing I possibly can. To be clear, that wasn't my plan. That's just what came naturally to me, apparently.

It's not like your Muzak you usually get.

She doesn't even bother with a "mm-hmm" this time. Now I keep my head down to avoid the looks the black people are probably giving each other. This place is primarily black and white. The majority of the courthouse staff is black. Clerks are mostly black. Most of their managers are white. In the sheriff's department, most of the security guards are black. Most of the deputies are white. Most of the attorneys are white.

3) Almost all the county judges are white, and their bailiffs are white. Most of the defendants and crime victims are black. In the cocoon of the elevator everyone's polite to each other, pretends nothing is weird about this. But if the elevators were calibrated to detect a power imbalance in the load, like a socially conscious clothes dryer, they'd be perpetually on the fritz.