I’ve never actually served on a jury until this week. I’ve been selected to pools before, but never even had to go to jury selection. It was an interesting experience, and one that was both heartening, in the end, and depressing. My fellow Americans are hurting. The jury of our peers are, even at best, people living on the edge of bankruptcy and death. In our group, we had five people who had solid jobs with insurance and decent pay. The other nine panelists worked at fast food, retail, or were unemployed. The young people were the worst off. We had four wonderful young people on the jury, and none of them had jobs that paid more than minimum wage. The only African American on the jury was a grandfather (who I knew from kid stuff) who has custody of his three grandkids. He’s the same age as I am, and he works at KFC, and his wife of almost 30 years works at McDonald’s. I gave him a ride back to Carbondale the last couple of days. He’s a good man.
The selection of the jury pools was very interesting. I was sitting about 9th on the first round, and six of the first potential jurors were either convicted felons, mentally ill, or both. As the Judge was doing inquiries, the old white guy two down from me admitted to having been convicted of “burglary, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and attempted murder.” The young woman from a small town sitting next to me–and him—became quite rigid for the remainder of the selection process. She wound up being on the jury, and he did not. Not surprising, since one of his statements was “I hate cops, I don’t trust them.” He would have had his biases confirmed by the evidence in the trial. Given that one of the questions was whether or not you’d been a victim of a crime, I figured I was heading home. After all, I’ve been shot! This was a felon with a gun case! I figured I’d be riding my bike and working on some departmental shit that was due by noon. Nah. By 11am I was sequestered.
The Judge was amping it up to get things done, no complaints there, and we started the trial a bit after 2pm. That’s when things got disturbing. A group of cops and bouncers had an agenda to nail some poor kid on a very serious felony, and they didn’t give a fuck that they were lying–and assumed we would simply take their word—after all, they’re the cops (and rent a cop). The state trooper who beat up the defendant and then railroaded a “confession” out of him without documentation or having Mirandized the kid sat there and lied to our faces about specific details. He could remember the serial number on the gun which was found 50 yards from the “arrest”, but he didn’t remember what the Miranda mantra was. Wow! Nobody ever saw the kid with a gun, except some fat kid who was a bouncer and was 50 yards away (at 1am) and claimed he saw “something shiny” even though the trooper who threw the defendant to the pavement didn’t see shit. I’m fairly certain that if the kid actually had a gun, the skinhead trooper would have shot him. The other cop on the scene also saw no gun, and was 5 feet away. The gun was found in the parking lot of the organized-crime-owned bars on a night when they had a “polar bear” party which started at 10am. Gee, is it a surprise that one might find a cheap-ass gun in the parking lot come closing time? It was kind of funny, a mostly white, mostly racist jury (a fellow juror said to me, “you know, those niggers are always pulling shit like this”) unanimously agreed that the state had no case against this poor kid.
I drove back to Carbondale with my new friend and we talked about how hard young people have it these days. But, also about how young African Americans have it worse. He was much more conservative than I am. He’s never been arrested or convicted of anything, and he doesn’t have much sympathy for felons like the defendant in this case. But, we both could see the weight of racist oppression bearing down on this case. Obviously, the State’s attorney had decided that he was quite comfortable going to a jury trial with no evidence save the flimsy and vague testimony of a bouncer and a forced un-Mirandized “confession” (which was total bullshit from a drunk kid). I almost felt sorry for the young State’s attorney who had to try the case, as she was completely blown out of the water by the defense counsel. Maybe they’d hoped that he’d have less effective defense, and a more racist jury.