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Accused of a crime, a Rwandan refugee has her day in court

A faulty subway fare card lands her in handcuffs and court. But all is forgiven when a white reporter shows up.

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Facing a judge: Dawami Lenguyanga (center) had help in court from her co-worker, Felicia Jackson (right), as a witness and from her friend, Felix Mulamba, who translated.

Mary Wiltenburg

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Atlanta

Tuesday afternoon, Rwandan Dawami Lenguyanga stood before an annoyed Judge Catherine Malicki of the Municipal Court of Atlanta for her arraignment on a charge of disorderly conduct. As Dawami’s friend Felix Mulamba translated, and her co-worker Felicia Jackson tried to testify on Dawami’s behalf, the judge frowned over her glasses.

“I don’t have time [for this],” she snapped.

Dawami’s latest encounter with the American legal system (earlier, an arrest warrant had been issued after she misunderstood a traffic court summons, costing her $340) began late one night last month when she tried to catch the subway home from work. She and Felicia, a Liberian refugee who came to Atlanta three years ago and has been doing housekeeping at Georgia State University two months longer than Dawami, bought fare cards and swiped them at the entrance of MARTA, the local transit system. A man stood on the platform, watching them.

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