Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This week's question comes from a woman who was repeatedly harassed by a court officer during jury duty.
Hey Native NYer,
I recently finished a two-week stint as a Grand Juror at the Kings County Supreme Courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn. During my service, I regularly encountered a court officer at the security checkpoint who made a number of (what I felt were) inappropriate comments toward me. He asked if I had a boyfriend, if I had "freckles everywhere, or just on [my] face," told me I was his favorite juror, and on one occasion remarked "Yeah, nice" when I had to step aside and receive a metal-detection wand. He also called me by my first name, despite the fact that he never asked for it and I never offered. My guess is that he read my badge which was, conveniently, pinned to my chest.
My question is, should I report this guy? If so, how? I didn't get his badge number or name—I don't think he was wearing a name tag—and I doubt a physical description would be much help.
I don't want a dedicated civil servant to lose his job, but at the same time his behavior made my service at the courthouse rather uncomfortable. I'd queue in the security clearance line on my way to/from lunch or smoke breaks and hope I didn't land at his station.
What should I do? Calling the courthouse led me down a phone tree with no real answers. Should I take it to 311? Tweet scathingly about it? Any advice would be much appreciated.
A native New Yorker responds:
Dear Urban Juror,
You should definitely report this courthouse lothario! If you can't be free from harassment and gender-based discrimination in a COURT OF LAW, where can you be safe from it? And if you do not speak up, how many more Grand Jurors, just trying to do their civic duty, will be subject to this annoyance in the future?
Of course, as a nondescript pale-skinned man, I've never personally experienced sexual harassment; I'm just giving you my opinion as someone who believes in every New Yorker's God-given right to be left alone. So I turned to my female colleagues at Gothamist to verify the correctness of my opinion. Here's what they said:
She was totally harassed! She probably could have gotten out of jury duty early, so I really salute her commitment. I don't think this is appropriate behavior, so she should report him. - Jen Chung
Definitely report him. The freckle comment made my skin crawl, I can only imagine how she felt. - Lauren Evans
As far as your worries about "a dedicated civil servant losing his job," this guy sounds like a misogynist who oppresses women on a daily basis. The only way to stop oppression is to call it out, and while I doubt he'd lose his job, I wouldn't let your concern about his future employment stop you. As a public employee, he should be held to high standard. - Gothamist Lawyer 1
So that sounds like yes, yes, and yes, report him. How should you do that?
If this woman feels that she was harassed, then she should report it. She can go back to 360 Adams Street and speak to one of the officers wearing a white shirt in the security booth and the main floor (which is the 2nd floor in that building). She can inquire about filing a formal complaint there or be directed to the appropriate room. Calling on the telephone will get her nowhere. - Gothamist Lawyer 2
I also had Gothamist Reporting Fellow Ben Jay contact the court officer's union and the courthouse administration for comment. Patrick O'Malley, the NYSSCOA Union Chief, verified that you should "find a court officer supervisor and inform them", and Dan Alessandrino, Chief Clerk Criminal Term Kings County Supreme Court, said you can contact him or Nancy Sunshine, the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Commissioner of Jurors. We're told that even without a badge number "we have logs, and ways of narrowing down who it could possibly be."
If they can figure out who it is, an internal investigation could be launched with the Inspector General for the Judiciary, or if needed, the Attorney General. If that turns up anything conclusive, disciplinary action could be taken. That need not be dismissal; the officer will have the protection of his union contract, and if you indicate that all you want is for him to get a refresher course in not sexually harassing strangers, that would probably influence the proceedings.
Only one of the women I spoke to suggested talking to the officer directly. That seems like a bad idea to me: getting real with an armed court officer seems like a volatile situation. Unless you're Rosie Perez, and you can really carry off the full "EXCUSE ME? WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU SAY?" route, it seems better to go through the official channels.
Hollaback, the organization dedicated to ending street harassment, says "your response is a matter of personal choice", but also "before we launched Hollaback, we tried every strategy in the book to confront harassers directly—we yelled at them, scolded them, and educated them—but it never seemed to work."
What does work is organizing people, and Hollaback has a whole list of ways to do that. True empowerment is knowing you did your part to change cultural norms. I get the sense that this is already happening: none of the people I spoke to for this column, inside or outside of the courthouse, dismissed the harassment complaint or the victim's right to respond.
Remember: New York might have a reputation as a street harassers paradise, with our busy streets, fondness for vulgarity, and well-staffed construction industry. But this is a relic of historical sexism that can change and should change. Do not suffer in silence!
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