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Fiona Apple Scores PSA for Vital, Underappreciated Service: Court Watching

Fiona Apple sings onstage.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Grammy Award-winning musician Fiona Apple has become a staunch advocate for court watching and accessibility to the practice. Now, she’s teaming up with court transparency advocates to launch Court Watch, a national hub for the few-dozen independent court watch organizations stationed throughout the US.

Court watching denotes the practice of observing court proceedings for transparency and promotion of real criminal justice. Before the pandemic, this practice was only available in-person, but since 2020, virtual court watching has been integral for observing and reporting violations of the system during court proceedings. These could include courts failing to provide language interpreters, defendants remaining in jail because they could not afford their bond, or the system limiting a defendant’s access to life-saving medical care, all of which Apple says she has witnessed since she became a court watcher.

Last year, Prince George’s County in Maryland ended remote access to its courtroom hearings, prompting Court Watch PG—a local organization founded by formally incarcerated Black women in 2020—to call attention to how the state’s legal system was doing so as an attempt to silence court watchers. Apple, who was trained as a court watcher for PG County despite not living in Maryland, used her platform to share a video about the issue, which quickly went viral.

Apple has also been advocating for legislation that would require PG County to reinstate remote access to its hearings, with other big names like Jamie Lee Curtis joining the fight. Through Court Watch, Apple and other advocates including actor Jesse Williams hope to inspire people to become court watchers themselves, join local orgs, and/or create them in communities where they are lacking. The Court Watch website provides resources for all of the above.

“We increasingly today are able to see really intense examples of state brutality and state violence in the streets because of iPhone footage, but the state violence that happens every day inside of courts is blocked by legalese, and inside of prisons and jails it’s blocked by literal prison walls,” Scott Hechinger, co-founder of the advocacy group Zealous, told The Washington Post. Zealous helped launch the Court Wach national network.

“Courtwatch is a way to actually allow folks to observe, not necessarily to record or show iPhone footage, but to be able to actually talk about what they’re seeing in court,” Hechinger added.

The Court Watch website says, “Injustice happens in empty courtrooms. It doesn’t have to be this way anymore.” It also hosts an award-winning short film called “The Court Watchers,” narrated by Williams and scored by Apple, as well as information about existing court watch organizations and a link to add new ones.

(featured image: Gary Miller/Getty Images)

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Samantha Puc (she/they) is a fat, disabled, lesbian writer and streamer whose work focuses primarily on LGBTQ+ and fat representation in pop culture. Their writing has been featured on Refinery29, Bitch Media, them., and elsewhere. Samantha is the co-creator of Fatventure Mag and she contributed to the award-winning Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives. They are an original cast member of Death2Divinity, and they are currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction at The New School. When Samantha is not working or writing, she loves spending time with her cats, reading, and perfecting her grilled cheese recipe.