Today was a day spent in court.
Boring, you might think. And you’d be right most of the time.
But today was a little bit different. I was there helping to cover the David Pietz trial–a huge murder mystery story around my neck of the woods. So naturally, I was super excited. It takes someone a little wacky in the head to think it’s exciting sitting close to an alleged murderer, your heavy camera your only defense *Oh, and those big guards of course*. But that’s me. I kind of live for that.
But this trial was different than the ones I’m used to. I’m used to covering DUI cases, vehicular assault trials, or domestic abuse. But this was murder, set right smack in the middle of downtown Seattle. Nothing screams, “You might be murdered too!” like downtown at the courthouse does.
As soon as our news van drove up the photographer who came with me told me to stick by him because it’s a “sketchy” part of town. And wasn’t that the truth.
We weaved through a park that was the scene of a stabbing just day ago. It was littered with pigeons that pecked at old garbage bags and we had to step around people sleeping in dirty blankets. As we passed, several people seemed to think out loud, their words not necessarily warranting any response.
“Oh, it’s a lady from the news” one said. “She’s pretty. But I don’t want her to film me!” another one said after that.
The photographer told me to just keep my eyes forward and keep walking. He made a comment to me about how he wonders about everyone’s stories here. I wondered the same thing. How did they end up here? How would they get out?
I got settled right outside of the courtroom inside, tapping out notes and keeping an eye on the monitor that streamed the live feed from our cameras propped up at the back of the courtroom. People approached me often, asking questions, wandering the halls like they were lost. Some of the people just came there, I think, to have a warm place to sit for awhile. But I kept my eyes down, focusing on the trial.
And then David, the suspect, came out. Handcuffed and wearing a dapper gray suit and sporting gelled hair, his eyes found me at once and it chilled me to look back. But it was also kind of one of those things where you’re so curious what you’ll find there so you can’t look away. And oddly enough, the thing that chilled me the most is the fact that I thought I’d see this sneering, ugly monster. But I didn’t. I finally tore my gaze away and looked back at my notes.
Finally they called a recess and I found myself at the nearest McDonald’s *I know, such a healthy choice* and while I was in line I right away noticed a homeless man right in front of me. His skin was dark gray from dirt and days of sleeping outside, and his hands trembled when he fumbled for the few loose dollar bills he pulled out from his jacket pocket. In front of him, there was a little girl. A cute little Chinese girl with concerned eyes, black hair drawn into two little pony-tails, Dora smiling on her pink shirt. She held her mother’s hand but her eyes were focused intently on the man.
I watched her, suddenly interested in how this little girl had no fear. No judgment. She just looked like she was worried. Finally, interrupting my thoughts, she said quietly, “Are you okay?”
The man nodded. He even smiled. And she smiled back. Then, turning back to her mom, as if satisfied, the scene ended just like that.
I thought back to everyone I’d seen today. An alleged murderer flanked by police officers, homeless people resting against a broken fountain in the park– even a few wanderers in the courthouse who paced back and forth past my workstation curiously.
Many of us don’t focus on the people in these situations in life. We sometimes keep our eyes forward when someone begs on the street corner, pretending not to see the sign they’re holding. We often act like we don’t hear beggars because we’re scared, disgusted, embarrassed, or just don’t want to start anything.
It’s good to take those precautions to stay safe. I know very well, from a close call earlier this year, that the first thing you should always consider is your immediate well-being.
But that little girl at McDonald’s had something right. She didn’t have any pre-conceived notions about that man with a dirty beard and trembling hands. She wouldn’t have had any pre-conceived notions about anybody I saw that day. She was filled with compassion and tender concern. She wondered out loud about his story, in a sense.
I’m going to remember that little girl with the Dora shirt forever probably. And I wanted to share what she did today.
Because it’s a lesson for all of us.
Everyone deserves to be seen.