“I can’t tell my kids that it’s important to do your civic duty and then try to get out of jury duty. I don’t want to be here, either, but I have to set an example,” a fellow potential juror told me on our third day of jury selection.
At points, it was clear she was in the minority.
She and I and around 250 of our fellow citizens were called to serve jury duty in my county this July 4th week, as a judge prepared to select fourteen of us (twelve jurors and two alternates) to preside over the trial of two young men accused of attempted murder, gang violence and felony gun possession. Less than 80 of those called showed up (though some were legally excused), and each day the number of those who did but later went AWOL rose. All in all, some of us sat through twelve hours of jury selection over three days until the trial started.
Some true facts: no one wanted to be there, certainly not through three days of jury selection let alone through the trial, which could last another five or six. If you are involved in a jury trial in the summer months, your jury pool is likely to be disproportionately teachers and college kids, who can’t easily serve at any other time. And that whole bring-a-book thing only counts if you aren’t part of a jury selection pool, in which case you have to pay rapt attention to voir dire, or the part where they grill the potential jurors to weed out bias.
As one of the fifteen people who were never called upon to speak to the judge during that process but who, like everyone else, had to sit and listen to it anyway, there was nothing else to do but listen and watch… and judge my fellow citizens.
So, to those jurors who stood up and freely admitted racial animus to get out of serving, let me say: we all judged you. You stood up in a courtroom filled with 100 strangers and admitted to being a racist on the record just to get home earlier than the rest of us. You might have all had advanced degrees, but the ladies who “only” graduated from high school and worked at check-out at the grocery store couldn’t believe that, in this day and age, you couldn’t judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin (actual quote). You know who gets up and without embarrassment admits to racism? Racists.
To the potential juror who stood up and said that she didn’t believe that cops ever did anything wrong and only ever arrested guilty people, that person you heard gasping was the mother of the 16-year-old defendant. Congrats for being able to square your personal interactions with law enforcement as a white lady with the years of reporting on local police corruption and institutional and systemic discrimination. That must’ve been hard. Also, you didn’t hear the judge after you left, but you’d better hope you don’t ever have any business in front of him ever again.
To the potential juror who said that his view of the justice system was irrevocably polluted by discrimination against people of color and news reports about eyewitnesses who had recanted testimony or proven false but who couldn’t quite argue your points with the judge: next time talk about institutional discrimination and the impact of unexamined discretion in a racist society.
And to the fourteen people who answered honestly and will have to spend the next week or so immersed in that trial, you have both my sympathy (at least those chairs are more comfortable than the benches we sat on for the last three days) and my admiration. We all saw how to weasel out, and none of you did. That’s some patriotic shit right there.
[“Trial By Jury” on Shutterstock]