The trial that I recalled from #TalkAboutBias
Why I’ll never complain about jury duty notices
Before reading this post, click here (or the video above) to see the Procter & Gamble #TalkAboutBias #TheLook video.
Three people got into a car accident. A car side-swiped them in the left lane. One woman was pregnant. We weren’t informed who had car insurance and who didn’t. We got no reports about why the pregnant woman didn’t go directly to the emergency room. Instead all three parties in the car went to a chiropractor and racked up significant medical bills from what was said to be chronic pain. And they wanted money from the defendant to pay that chiropractor back for their pain and suffering.
I listened to this story from my jury seat and paid close attention to the three people who claimed to have back problems. (The pregnant woman had her baby by this time.) And I listened closely to the report from the chiropractor’s assistant, who spoke on his behalf.
We all went to our designated jury room and sat around the table voicing our opinions. I was the only African-American juror, but there was another woman of color who complained incessantly about needing to use her phone and there being no reception.
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Everybody but me immediately said they were guilty and trying to scam the other driver. And I got an eye roll for wanting to discuss the facts of the case to see if they deserved one of the three rates that they asked for. I pondered about whether they could’ve been too scared to go the doctor because they didn’t have health insurance. I wondered if it took time for physical issues to arise. I considered whether they didn’t want the police to come write a report because their tags were out of date or their license was expired.
I thought about a lot of things before finally agreeing with the rest of the jury panel, and we all agreed on the results of the case. While the trio was the victim of the crash, them going to a chiropractor instead of the emergency room significantly hurt their case.
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While I was watching Procter & Gamble’s #TalkAboutBias commercial, that civil case kept coming to mind. It wasn’t just because of the end of the commercial, when I saw the courtroom and knew what was going to happen next. It wasn’t even the looks this guy got in the elevator or the swimming pool. What popped into my mind was that particular course case, and the way the jurors reacted once we’d made our decision.
The entire time we were discussing the case, they discussed the issues of insurance and chiropractor rates and Rules of the Road. The minute the case was over and we filed back into the courtroom, I was surprised to see the trio who testified had left. It turned out that they’d settled while we were in the jury room talking things over during a (pitiful) lunch break. We were told to go back into the small room to confirm whether we could leave for the day or whether we’d have to go back downstairs to the waiting room.
Before we were dismissed, the judge walked into our jury room and asked us did we all mutually agree on our decision. We nodded. But when the judge left the room momentarily, I heard comments like:
“I’m glad they left already. They probably would have killed us.”
“Yeah, you know they’re probably dangerous anyway.”
“I hope they don’t get any money out of this.”
“I’m sure the lawyers were bored with the lies in their case. You know they weren’t telling the truth.”
“You know they only did it for the money.”
Not one person talked like this during the few hours that we were discussing the case. Them being “dangerous” was never a topic of discussion. The two women in the car couldn’t have been more than an inch or two taller than me. (I’m 5'3.) One of the two may have been a few pounds heavier. And the man was about two-thirds my weight and probably nearing my parents’ age.
And I sat there wondering, “What about these three clearly unthreatening people who got into a car accident would make you think they’re so dangerous that they had to be led out of the courtroom so they wouldn’t kill us for our decision? How did you reach those results from a simple car crash?”
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And I started paying attention to the way everyone sat in the room. The only other woman of color (who looked Asian) tuned out completely and started trying to get reception. The men (one Asian, the rest white) sat altogether, muttering to themselves. And the women (the rest white) sat on the other side, laughing and trying to egg each other on to sing “Happy Birthday” to the foreperson.
I sat in the middle, growing more irritated by the snide comments I’d just heard. I didn’t notice “the look” from any of the jurors during the time that the trio testified. I didn’t see “the look” even when we discussed the trial, only a couple of complaints about being ready to leave and not wanting to spend an off day in court. I commented on their lawyer not doing a very good job of defending their case. And that was the moment when I saw “the look” from a few jurors, who turned to their peers and started mumbling comments under their breath. It hit me at that moment that they would have never sided with this trio no matter what the circumstances were.
Sometimes “the look” doesn’t show up immediately. But when you see it, you know it. I know jury duty isn’t the most fun place to be, but I wholeheartedly believe that a “jury of peers” needs to be people who will “look” at your case without giving you the “look” the minute you step into a courtroom.