Saturday, April 26, 2014

I Spent Good Friday at a Trial

For many years Good Friday has been a special part of the Holy Days for me. I live in the privilege of the Western world which is deeply resistant to discomfort. And Good Friday seems like the only day in the liturgical calendar where we acknowledge suffering and do prayerful actions in solidarity. I’m often with some of my favorite people on this day. 

This year, however was very different.
On this Good Friday, I had several choices of observances. In particular, there was the Pax Christi Metro New York Good Friday Way of the Cross. Always a moving experience as a crowd proceeds prayerfully along 42nd St. beginning at the United Nations and ending at Port Authority, stopping at relevant sites of corporate and militaristic injustice. Many of the sisters in my community make this an annual event. Many of my faith based activist friends were at The New Sanctuary Coalition’s event, Stations of Deportation- An Immigrant Crucifixion. Considering the stalling on immigration reform legislation that has frustrated so many of us in the Catholic community this would have been a very intentional way of commemorating Good Friday. But instead I chose to go to a trial along with two other clergy friends, both women priests in the Episcopal tradition. It seemed like a really original way to observe Good Friday. But I wasn’t prepared for how dissimilar it would be. 

It was the trial of Cecily McMillan who is being accused of felony assault of a police officer. Cecily does not deny injuring the police officer when he grabbed her breast from behind and she flung her elbow back as a reaction. The prosecution argues it was intentional, so this is the point of dispute. Doing an online search of Cecily McMillan will garner you pages of sources of details of the trial including many pictures of her injuries from that night. I had attended previous days of the trial and even brought students from our Criminal Justice major. It had always been quite interesting, but this day was different. It was the end of the questioning of the officer. It was hours long, remaining seated on wooden benches; no electronics allowed; listening and listening to deconstruction of the events of March 17, 2012 in excruciating detail. Each piece of evidence having a memory and emotion tied to it. Some in the court room had documented evidence of being beaten by NYPD on that same night although the ADA clearly stated in pre-trail motions that, “what other officers were doing on that night has no bearing in this case”.

So here’s the part that was different. All those other wonderful events have always left me with a sense of self-satisfaction. They have a cleansing effect, in a strange way absolving me of my complicity as US citizen. This did not. It was actually traumatizing in itself. This was going over and over the violence of the night with those who experienced it first hand in the room. And here’s where I think choosing the trial was really different. Most of our Good Friday events rarely include those who are actually suffering from state sponsored injustice even remotely akin to Jesus. This did and it felt terrible, all day. It has me asking myself, should I really feel good on Good Friday?
--Susan Wilcox

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