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“In the Interest of Justice”: The Importance of Courtroom Support

Sophia Gurule showing up for courtroom support

Sophia Gurule showing up for courtroom support


Armani Teighlor, a beloved and well-known trans-rights community activist in NYC, was recently badly injured in a brutal attack. Shortly thereafter, Armani was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury against her attackers. However, due to post-plea open warrants for classic “walking-while-trans” charges, this subpoena put Armani in danger of being taken into custody. On July 29, 2015,  Armani made the brave decision to resolve the warrants by going to Brooklyn Criminal Court with her defense attorney and New York City Anti-Violence Project staff.

Armani Teighlor, a trans right activist in NYC

Armani Teighlor, a trans right activist in NYC

After being contacted about Armani’s impending court appearance by Dale Melchert from  the  New York City Anti-Violence Project, Armani’s close friends and supporters from Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Audre Lorde Project, and other legal advocates and community activists gathered at Brooklyn Criminal Court on Wednesday. Twelve (!) community members came out on behalf of Armani, encouraging the judge to personally meet Armani and learn her story. According to Armani, “The majority of folks that were there I knew […] but I had seen those folks that I didn’t know around in the community either doing the work, walking pass each other, having conversations with a friend of mine, or attending community events. For the ones I did know it’s because I’ve worked with them in the past and have a close relationship both personally and professionally and currently still am working with them.”

Armani and her courtroom support demonstrated to the judge that Armani is a brave and incredible individual, activist, and community member who dedicates her time, energy, and heart to supporting LGBTQ communities and fighting for trans-justice. In response to Armani’s story and her overwhelming courtroom support, the prosecution conceded to Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal, and Armani’s charges were dismissed and sealed.

Courtroom support is a highly effective, important tool in combatting an oppressive criminal justice system. At the hearing, the judge weighs numerous factors in their final judicial determination, including the individual’s role in their community. The presence of community members, friends, and family at the hearing demonstrates to the judge that the individual is valuable and deserves leniency. Because a criminal record can be a life-long burden for those already riddled with systemic barriers to self-determination and opportunity, courtroom support serves as an opportunity for the judge to contextualize and appreciate the individual’s story.

As a community dedicated to trans-justice, social justice, and ending oppression, we must seek out and participate in courtroom support. Too often individuals face criminal charges because of limited access to community or institutional support. At the hearing, these individuals are then put into the difficult position to both self-advocate and to organize. For Armani, “having the support from friends and community members that both I knew and didn’t know was really touching […] often times with our community there’s a lack of support unless you’re really close to that individual sometimes even if you are close to that person you still don’t get that support.”  As a community, we must continue to create meaningful relationships with other activists as well as show up when one of our members needs us.

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