Addressing Bias While on Jury Duty
I got called to jury duty this week. Although I went almost 15 years as an adult and never been called, I have been called now twice in 4 years (the legal limit). Last jury duty I did not even get impaneled and went home before lunch. I love jury duty, I think, like voting, it is civic duty that helps set precedents against the war on drugs or the institutional racism in the criminal justice system.
However, when impaneled today I realized I am much to sensitive about our “criminal justice system and have very little belief in the courts ability to get it right. I even started questioning a jury of peers…is that the best way to get justice, other Americans? 68% who believe in ghosts, a larger number who believe in the miracle of immaculate conception? Then I started thinking about Dan Conley, Suffolk County DA and a man who has not shown any ability to walk back from bad convictions.
When I walked into the court room I felt anxiety but I did not realize the anger. Seeing a young white woman ADA, an old Bernie looking defense attorney and an old white man judge I could feel the chants of freedom coming to my throat. I felt antsy and wanted to call out optics of this stereotypical scene of all white leads deciding the fate of criminal, then I saw the defendant. A young black man dressed in a suit, glasses and seeming to be ready for church.
As I looked at this defendant I thought of war on drugs and its only success to be school to prison pipeline. The words “indictment” felt like a slap to my face and I started to pray for all the black men who are forced into the criminal system based on a capitalist economy that will keep them poor and a justice system aimed at keeping private prisons good on the stock market.
Looking around at the jury of his peers. Out of 20 or so, there were maybe 4 under the age of 20, 6 black people (men and women). The irony about choice or democracy or the promise of peers is that it is impossible to reach. But what really stuck with me, was the question, should this man be here in the first place.
I was excused from this trial. Walking back into the jury pool, I realized we need more jurors of color absolutely, but we need a redefining our role as jurors. There is no reason for people to believe they are being impartial. Short training on implicit bias, or the structural and institutional nature of policing must also be included in on boarding video we were shown. We should also include questions in the juror questionnaire aimed to identify people who may have little experience with the communities they are being asked to judge. Let’s find out how many people of color have these cops and attorneys locked up in their career. Is the defendant being charged with a crime known to be bias towards whites like the crack vs cocaine legal laws? ADA’s should be held responsible for the racism in their office and it should affect their ability to get convictions. Let jurors think on these things when being impaneled for a jury.
I think we all need to do jury duty, but we don’t have to be complicit while doing it. Institutionalized and implicit racism affects our criminal justice system and should be recognized throughout the process. Let’s stop pretending justice is blind.