Organizing for “Open the Courts”
In this week’s blog, McCarthy Fellow in San Francisco Kacie Williams ’22, shares her experience working alongside San Francisco Public Defender’s Office to uplift the voices of incarcerated individuals and their families and the challenges of remaining too long in our county jail system. Read on to learn more about the issue of court backlogs and trial delays and the work Kacie has done in rallying justice for the people.
This past semester I had the opportunity to be apart of the McCarthy Fellows in San Francisco fall cohort. I was lucky to be placed with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office working under my supervisor Policy Director, Carolyn Goossen. This past semester I drafted legislation, attended meetings of the Board of Supervisors, the Rules Committee, and the Government Audit and Oversight Commission, and most impactful to my participation and experience, the “Open the Courts” action conducted with the Public Defender’s Office.
While all of these experiences were immeasurably impactful on my life, the “Open the Courts” action was by far my favorite. This action took place on the steps of the Hall of Justice in San Francisco and attempted to voice the many ongoing concerns and violations of constitutional rights of people whom are residing in our local jail system. Many of these people are facing extremely delayed trials, which is obstructing their constitutional rights to a fair and speedy trial. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on resources to conduct trials, that time has passed and many court rooms sit empty with these individuals having to wait preposterous times before they are able to have their trials in court.
My participation for this action was to help with organizational aspects as well as putting the word out about this event. I was able to aid in posting signage to get the maximum amount of support from our office. Having a larger turnout for our action was crucial in being able to stress the significance of how these trial delays are affecting people, their loved ones, and additionally individuals whose health has been further compromised by being held for longer than necessary amounts of time.
This action had the largest impact on me due to the fact that I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of the issue at hand. I also think that this action was one that aligned most significantly with the mission of the Leo T. McCarthy Center — working for the common good of the people. Within this mission not only were we able to receive an outstanding amount support from our office, but from the San Francisco community as well. We had many community members come out with signs, but we were also able to have community members whose family members and loved ones were being subjected to these harsh conditions, come out and speak on behalf of them and how their situation has also been affecting them. I was moved by all of the speakers and hearing secondhand their experiences and it further emphasized the reasons why we were all there fighting for these rights in the first place.
I was able to build many skills including time management, my knowledge of the court system, note taking skills, and my knowledge of legal jargon. Being able to intern at the Public Defenders Office was one of the greatest experiences that I could have asked for in my undergraduate career.
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