Recently I performed a civic act and showed up, early, for jury duty.
In this particular instance of a ritual everyone has to go through, sooner or later, everything went right. Our summons time changed from 8:30am to 1pm because no cases were on the docket for the morning. Almost everyone showed up early. We had a nice lady for our point of contact. We sat through a not-horrible ten minute video explaining the process. We patiently waited for a case to arise. Not three hours later, we were all informed we could go; no cases would be held that day. It should have been an almost enjoyable experience.
But the moment that has stuck in my craw, the instance that continues to nag me in my side…
At the end of our instructional video, the judges “thanked us” by showing a picture of each and every one of themselves. And as judge after judge passed on the screen, I got angrier and angrier. The video had spoken about how just and fair our legal system was. It spoke about our laws and equal rights. And yet, as I counted, picture after picture, there was a sea of whiteness.
The final total, when the video ended, was one black man, one black woman, six white women, and fourteen white men. Fourteen. As in more than the sum of the rest of the judges. As in double the number of women. Yeah, fair and balanced my ass.
I don’t know if I was the only person who noticed this. I don’t know if anyone else cared. But it pissed me off something big.
When people of my race are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to die under the death penalty, how can anyone deign to say our judicial system is fair and balanced?
Don’t get me wrong; I have no desire to have been born anywhere else. I know good and well, in many other countries, I would not even be allowed to drive a car, let alone receive the education I worked for, and live the open life I have. But the rights I do so enjoy are marred by how far our country still has to go.
Occasionally I have moments when I regret my decision to have gone into theatre, regret using my intelligence on my writing, regret not pushing myself into a profession that could help people of my race in this country. Waiting in that jury lounge was one of them.
When I visited my mother today, in the home where I spent half my life, I was reminded of how poor my family is. I actively forget how old her house is, how hard it was for her to raise me, how much money she still owes me that she borrowed ages ago. I actively forget how my extended family struggles, how my home city, behind its veneer, is splintered and broken.
But when I sat there in the jury lounge, ready to start writing and zone out for a few hours, reality slapped me in the face. Because our country’s legal system is not fair and balanced. My future children have the deck stacked against them. And if anyone wants to argue with me, go look to see what the makeup of your local judgeships are.
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