Wheel! Of! People getting screwed by New York’s legal system!
Today the New York Civil Liberties Union put up a colorful wheel in Washington Square Park, inviting passersby to spin it and hear true stories of their clients that have been chewed up and spit out by our convoluted legal system. “We developed a justice game as another way of saying, justice isn’t a game. It shouldn’t just be a crapshoot," said Donna Leiberman, NYCLU’s Executive Director.
Each segment of the wheel holds a real-life Kafkaesque fate: lawyers who have full voicemail inboxes and can’t be reached, clients who have had their cases dropped but are forgotten in prison, and a lack of competent legal assistance that leads to losing custody of a child.
A sample, if you land on "Silenced."
You're in court after a fight that left you beaten so badly your jaw is wired shut. The prosecutor mischaracterizes your criminal history, but your attorney doesn't speak up. So you address the court - with your jaw still wired shut! You end up in jail for up to three years for a crime you are innocent of.
Based on the true story of New Yorker Donald T. (Suffolk County, NY)
The one segment that gets you a prize is the green one with dollar signs on it. The back reads, “You are lucky enough to have money for private legal help and can spend thousands on a misdemeanor trial.”
We spoke to a few of the "lucky" spinners.
Alex Marks // What she spun: “Death”
“I have a friend majoring in criminal justice, so I know a little about the system and that it doesn’t always work. My teacher said that our government was designed to be slow and inefficient so that everyone has their say. Well, I think that justice should be faster because individual lives are on the line.”
Carl Yin // What he spun: “Go to Jail”
“I don’t really feel affected. I don’t think you can describe social problems with a wheel.”
Christine Chei // What she spun: “Ignored”
“People put a lot of trust into the legal system, but now I think there’s a trend of asking more questions with everything that’s been going on. [The wheel] is fun. It’s better than a lecture or someone coming at you with a clipboard. It’s eye-catching.”
Eric Jones // What he spun: “Child Taken”
“I worked at Riker’s Island before, and saw inmates who weren’t represented properly have their children taken away. It brings awareness for people who don’t know about what’s going on. It’s something different, it definitely got my attention."
The NYCLU will be going to court this October for a lawsuit filed seven years ago, alleging that New Yorkers aren't getting sufficient legal representation from their public defenders.
“Our trial shouldn’t be necessary,” Lieberman said. “Governor Cuomo has demonstrated he can be a progressive leader. The time is now for him to ensure that all New Yorkers get the representation they deserve.”
In the meantime, you can help the cause and spin the wheel yourself online WheelOfJusticeNY.org