A Stunning Surprise At Jury Duty

I did my civic duty recently by serving on jury duty.

After waiting half a day in a holding room, all of us John Q. Citizens were called to the courtroom for jury selection. There was a case and our numbers were called. We had forms to fill out with very basic vital information like education, occupation, family, community and the like.

The judge and lawyers in the courtroom where all women. Women were in charge. The case involved a young Black woman who was accused of stabbing her boyfriend. Police were involved as witnesses, the judge told us as she talked about how the court system functions.

The judge explained that the American court system is the greatest in the world. She told us to speak honestly if we were questioned by her or the lawyers. She repeated constantly that the accused is innocent until proven guilty without a shadow of a doubt. Then she simply summarized the case and the rules of the court.

As we rose to profile ourselves, I was astounded by the “honest” responses given by some of the potential jurors. I was convinced that I would not be selected because the courts generally don’t like media types.

truancy_courtOne 30-something Black man told the judge he did not think he would be impartial in a case involving policemen. The judge asked why and he said, given what’s going on in America right now with police, particularly in Chicago, he would probably not be objective. The judge said, you haven’t heard the case. He said, I know. Sometimes when policemen pull you over, they haven’t heard your case either.

Then a retired truck driver, a 60-something Black man, said he would be partial to the young woman accused of stabbing her friend. The judge said, but you don’t know the case, you cannot pre-judge. He said, ma’am, I am a truck driver. I don’t know this case, but I know the case.

He said usually when young women resort to violence, the male has abused her to the limit. He said he would not be objective because he had seen this kind of case too much. And then he said, I would not be guilty of putting a young Black woman in jail.

An older Black woman said she would not be objective either and would favor the woman in the case because she volunteered in a woman’s shelter. She said, I have seen what some of these women go through and a stabbing probably means it was in self-defense.

The judge kept saying, you cannot pre-judge; you have to hear the case before you judge. The lady insisted, though, that she would be partial to the young woman. The judge was becoming visibly frustrated.

And then the bombshell came. An older White man, 65-plus, stood up. The judge asked if he would follow her instructions in terms of court protocol and the law. The gentlemen said no.

She said, what? Did you say no? He replied yes. She asked why. He explained, I don’t know what you would say. I might not agree with you. So, I could not possibly blindly follow you.

The lady judge said, this is the greatest justice system in the world. This is the American court system.

Gavel and american flag, symbol for jurisdiction
Gavel and american flag, symbol for jurisdiction
The White man replied, this is the system that has given us slavery. This is the system, he said, that legally said Black people were not human. This is the system that has more people jailed than any other country. This is the system that makes mistakes and jails the innocent.

Sometimes, he said, the jurors should not have followed the judge’s instructions. He was absolutely adamant. The courtroom was stunned and silent.

The judge said, we are not here to discuss slavery. He said, I was responding to your remarks about America having the greatest judicial system. He told the judge, I mean no disrespect madam, but I’ve been here for a while and the system is not always right. I repeat, I could not blindly follow the judge.

Needless to say, none of these folk were selected jurors. Neither was I.  But after we were dismissed, I kissed the older White gentlemen for being honest and right. Right on, sir.Hello to reality jurors  

Hermene Hartman

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