by cindy

And what, may I ask, are you doing for fun this summer? Huh? The beach,  you say? Nice.

Ah! The mountains, perhaps! Wow. Lovely.

Europe? So jealous.

Me? Hmmm…

Apparently, part of my summer will be spent on jury duty. Oh yes. Jury. Duty. Again.

Mmm-hmm. I have served once before. And yes, I know it’s my civic duty and I should be am delighted to be called. But, really, has EVERYONE ELSE had their chance? I mean, Dear Dave hasn’t, for one. And I hate to take all the fun away from other fine citizens in this county.

I learned a lot the first time around. Lessons I still remember. Such as…

If you have to go to trial, make sure you have a damn good lawyer.


Racism, sadly, is alive and thriving in this area.


Maybe—and this I’m not proud of—I can be as guilty as the next person in judging folks based on appearances.

The trial itself was brief. At its conclusion, I was one of twelve total strangers who were herded into a small, dingy room to decide the fate of the young man on trial. When the door to that room was closed, leaving us to our work, we all sat quietly for a moment, not quite sure what to do next.

Group dynamics can be quite fascinating. Most of the groups I’ve been part of, however, have had some bit of common ground—a committee of artists or a teacher symposium—something to which everyone could immediately relate. This isn’t true in a jury setting, not this one, not initially.

We selected a foreman (he volunteered) and then assessed what few facts had been presented to us during the trial. We found there were many common-sense questions that neither side had asked, questions that could have made our decision a simple one. As a group, I remember we were surprised and mystified by what seemed to be a complete lack of concern on the part of the attorneys for each side. They didn’t seem to care. The effort to prove guilt or innocence was minimal.

We agreed that more could have and should have been done to bring the truth to light. And that’s pretty much where our agreement ended.

It was curious to observe this group of strangers. The all-white jury appeared to come from every walk of life. Some were dressed as if they had just left church. Others looked like they just left a bar. If the ability to verbally express themselves was any indication, the degree of education varied just as greatly. I admit it: I made some judgements based on these observations. Shortly into our discussion, however, I realized just how wrong I could be.

Seated next to me was an elderly woman, someone who I decided as “a sweet little preacher’s wife.” And as such, I figured she would be as kind and forgiving as anyone in that room. Across from me sat a younger woman who was, well, for lack of better words, “weathered”. She looked rough and tough and, frankly, appeared ready to duke it out with anyone over anything.

After some discussion, we were asked to give our initial impression of guilt or innocence. Guilty. Innocent. Guilty. On around the table, thoughts were shared. And then the “preacher’s wife” gave her opinion. Guilty. Her decision, however, was based solely on the fact that the defendant was a black man. I won’t quote her exact words, although I can remember them to this day. I will say that my head has never whipped around as rapidly as it did when I heard her answer. Stunned doesn’t even quite describe it. Stupified might be closer. Appalled and horrified, too.

I was speechless. Most of us were. There was, however, one juror who was having none of that kind of talk. The young woman sitting across from me—yes, the one who was rough and worn and weathered—was the first to speak. And speak she did. She brought that little old lady to task. Under no circumstances was she going to allow the color of the man’s skin play any role in our decision. This young woman may not have looked like a leader but she was. She was when it really mattered.

Eventually we found the man guilty of a much lesser charge. I doubt that he served any jail time. The offense wasn’t great and his part in it was simply poor judgement if not blatant stupidity. As for me, though, even now, when I find myself thinking less-than-kind thoughts based on solely on appearance, when I find myself making assumptions based on no factual knowledge, well, that’s when I return to that jury room.

Lesson taught.

Lesson learned.

Perhaps there will be other lessons in a jury room this summer. And if not lessons, certainly there’ll be stories. There will have to be stories.