On the left side of the courtroom, 60 to 70 short, dark-brown men and a few women are seated, handcuffed and shackled from the wrists, waist and ankles. All are silent. They take up about 20 rows, including the two corresponding to the jury box. The scene is surreal. Their chains, their color and height are very pronounced – yet in this courtroom, are hardly noticed by the lawyers and other court officials, including the judge.
This kangaroo court called Operation Streamline is America\’s modern version of Expedited Indian Removal; chase, capture, pseudo-judicial proceeding, incarceration and deport. It convenes daily at 1:30 PM in Tucson, Arizona.
Apparently, the prisoners in this second-floor federal courtroom have been instructed not to converse with each other. But the periodic clanking of their chains betrays the silence. The chains eerily communicate that something is not right here.
In contrast, in the middle of this courtroom are primarily well-dressed and well-heeled lawyers. Some attorneys sit; some stand. Many fiddle with their smartphones. Some of the attorneys are Mexican-American or Hispanic. Others are Anglos or white. All are supposed to be bilingual. And of course, their skin color, regardless of their ethnic origin, is noticeably lighter than that of their \”clients.\” On the right is the smallest section, reserved for 12 to 15 visitors.
None of the prisoners here is being tried for a violent felony or violent misdemeanor. They are being charged with illegal entry or illegal re-entry. Yet the shackles send a chilling message – that these brown men and women are highly dangerous and need to be kept under close watch and tight control at all times.
The courtroom is spectacle. It resembles theater more than trial. Not even Aurora theater massacre suspect James Holmes was shackled and herded into the courtroom in this manner. But the charade continues here because the public must be led to believe that this operation is keeping America safe from the brown hordes.
In this theater of the absurd, five questions are asked of each prisoner (here they are prisoners, not defendants). One of the judge\’s questions, as the prisoners appear in groups of eight to nine, is whether they are uncoerced and making their decisions of their own free will. Handcuffed and shackled, they reply: Si.
While the chains are the ultimate symbol of dehumanization, there is something beyond them that is even more disturbing. What unfolds before the judge is not supposed to be taking place in an American courtroom, just as torture is not supposed to be part of “the American way.” What unfolds in these 90-minute show trials is that the anonymous prisoners are identified, charged, convicted, sentenced and shipped to a private prison.