On Walter Scott, Michael Slager, Mistrials, and Serving on Jury Duty » VSB

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On Walter Scott, Michael Slager, Mistrials, and Serving on Jury Duty

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I’m one of those people who never wanted to serve on a jury. I live in Washington, DC, and because of the population of this city, I feel like I get called in every two years, like clockwork. I’m never happy about this though I do use it, similar to voting in national elections, as my gauge for changing demographics in the this city. The last time I went to serve my jury duty in August, the racial breakdown was about 75 percent white and 25 percent other. That’s definitely changed since I first moved into DC.

As soon as the notice comes in the mail, I immediately start thinking of ways that I can get out of doing my “civic duty.” Obviously if I’m called to an actual jury, I’ll serve, but I’m always groaning about having to sit in that big room ALL DAY LONG waiting to be called in for what may take up weeks of my life. I dread it. I even come prepared with a “you don’t want me on your jury” kit. I always bring something that implies that I might be too smart to sit on a jury and that if I am called in, they should reconsider because I won’t be easily swayed and I try to wear clothing that implies I have strong Black revolutionary ties. When I was in Atlanta, on the advice of some of my fellow former jury dutiers, I brought in Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and wore a Fred Hampton t-shirt and when I was called to be on a panel, the lawyer asked me what I was reading, where I went to college, and upon answering, he proceeded to ask me how our basketball team did that season. Terrible was the answer, but I wasn’t chosen. It’s been my jurty duty wave ever since.

I’ve never wanted to serve on a jury. Ever.

Yesterday, the judge in the case of Walter Scott, the North Charleston, South Carolina, man who was shot in the back several times fleeing from a police officer declared a mistrial in the case of Michael Slager, the police officer charged in his death. Apparently, there was one lone juror who could not offer a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt in the case. Michael Slager is a free man now, though there is still a federal case against him. After yesterday, I feel guilty for that stance against jury duty since serving on a jury is just as important to seeking justice, either for somebody’s innocence or guilty, as getting charges for police officers killing people.

We all see the same thing: The video is damning. Walter Scott is running away from the officer, heading in the opposite direction when the officer opens fire and kills him. Allegedly, a scuffle occurred prior that wasn’t caught on tape, but honestly, I don’t trust a single police report ever. Ever. All I know is what I saw. Walter Scott running away, clearly not endangering the life of the police officer. It’s cut and dry for me. Yet, for one, single, solitary juror, that wasn’t enough. There was no beyond a reasonable doubt for this person. In their mind, the police officer may have been acting justifiably to save his own life. I don’t know. I don’t know the juror and to my knowledge, so far, nothing has been shared.

What I do know is that it continues to be frustrating that government-issued criminals go unpunished because of the benefit of the doubt they’re given. How that exists in the case of a man running FROM the police is beyond me. He had nothing in his hand when he was shot. He didn’t make attempts to turn around. He wasn’t “lunging.” He was fleeing. He was trying to get away, not engage. Yet, his life ended all the same.

I can’t help but think of the times I didn’t want to serve on a jury and why. I selfishly didn’t want to waste my time on somebody else’s life non-sense. Turns out, it’s not all non-sense. As a matter of fact, sometimes, it’s insanely important. I know that people who look like me, who have lived where I’ve lived face a system and other people who don’t care at all. Sometimes we’re on trial even when we’re not the ones facing the charges. Look, I don’t think that every single person in jail is innocent. I personally know several people who have been in jail who are guilty as sin. But I do know that personal biases and race-based opinions come into play, especially where police are concerned. For many people, what they saw was a video of a white cop, the savior just doing his job, shooting a Black man in the back who MUST have been doing something to warrant it.

Granted, I wasn’t part of any proceedings so maybe a good enough case wasn’t made; that is a possibility. But how all of the jurors managed to come to a conclusion and one hold out couldn’t based on the same evidence is surprising to me. I know it happens. And maybe he just wasn’t convinced. But you do have to wonder if he saw a Black man get shot by a white cop and think, “justified,” no matter what evidence was present.

The prosecutor’s office has to decide if they want to re-try the case. I won’t be surprised if they don’t because nothing surprises me anymore. I’m not even truly surprised by this outcome. Video should help and it is in at least helping to broadcast these videos into everybody’s living room where they’re forced to wrestle with their preconceived notions and what they’re witnessing. Change doesn’t come over night, but it has to be getting harder for anybody who watches the videos and not see that something is amiss. Sure, the visuals are still being justified away, but the court of public opinion has to be turning, even if only somewhat.

Thing is, public opinion and a court of law are two different places. In that court, one person’s decision got one more cop off of a charge of murder or manslaughter. I don’t know if more people who look like me or see what I see or know what I know would make a difference. The lawyers pick who they want and the jury is out of my control. But I know that being on a jury matters for justice too and all perspectives are needed. Too often I’ve not really considered that when thinking of the outcomes. For that reason, I won’t look at jury duty the same way ever again.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • Well said. Changing the system starts at all levels, including jury duty. Often, we go in hoping not to be called, hoping for settlements and we don’t actually take the responsibility seriously. Meanwhile Bob and Margaret are surely doing their part to protect their beloved blue lives.

    • mr. steal your costco samples

      we getting struck immediately anyways. it’s just the way.

      • #jurysowhite

      • LeeLee

        Eh, I’d say it depends on the case. I actually have a MS in Legal Studies that I do not even use, lol. But when the lawyers questioned us for a civil trial to determine who they wanted to sit on the jury, they asked if anyone had been to law school. I told them I had, but just the first year as I do not have a JD. I just knew that I would be excused, but I wasn’t. I ended up being the jury foreman (or should I say forewoman?) too, lol. But this was just a tort case to determine how much damages the plaintiff was owed after sustaining injuries as the result of being hit by the defendant’s car. Certainly not as historically significant as serving on a jury for the Walter Scott case. Had it been, I wonder if I would have been struck? I provide support for a lot of people that served in the military and as first responders (police, ems, fire). But I’m black. And a woman. So there’s that :( I will say, being younger and having served on a jury, the “seasoned” jurors tend to be much more stubborn and set in their ways regarding their “opinions,” even if they are dead wrong. Especially when they are dead wrong, smh.

        • Kas

          Decades ago I sat on a jury. Defendent was a white guy charged with assault with a deadly weapon. When I was done, my dad who was in law enforcement at the time, asked what I thought. My response was hope I never have to sit before a jury of my peers. He laughed and basically said amen to that.

          • I did before…intimidation of a witness (who didn’t exist). Took it to trial, jury of my “peers” found us guilty but the judge turned it over on appeal because there was literally nothing in the testimony. Never want to roll those dice again.

            • Cheech

              Glad you made it. Getting that appeal ruling was like lightning striking. Similar odds.

      • MissusMaxwell

        I have ‘resting nice face’, therefore I always get picked if I make it to a panel. Happened just this past August. I’ve also been on two 11-1 guilty/hung trial juries. It’s infuriating because you realize during deliberations that the person who is the lone holdout knew they’d be a holdout if selected for whatever reason they deem fit.

      • overandout

        Stop with the defeatism. You can only be struck if you’re there in the first place.

      • Cheech

        True. But they cant strike everybody. The more there are in line behind, the more chance of getting on and being heard.

    • “Meanwhile Bob and Margaret are surely doing their part to protect their beloved blue lives.”

      Those blue lives most often act as buffers that keep Bob and Marge’s white lives extra safe. It’s just the armed wing of the #pumpkinspicedrevolution

    • OrigamiBird

      My issue with the legal system is the whole thing. The system isn’t designed for there to be actual change. You see the way our capitalism is set up… Which is why instead we always get “reforms”. If you “reform” a turd you’re still left with a turd however.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Exactly. They could remove the laws that make these cops impossible to punish, but they don’t want to change.

  • I was last summoned to jury duty four years ago. I was in the midst of planning a large project for my school- a $14,000, multi state college tour for our students. I went in, day after day, missing class and planning time for these white lawyers to question me, and hear my Northern accent in a Southern town, and my college affectations (as a civics teacher, I knew the ins and outs of the proceedings and they could tell- I could explain the difference between reasonable doubt and the preponderance of evidence as a legal standard). It ended up being a bunch of civil cases on the docket- poor black folk suing white people.

    The judge was a brother, one of the local boys made good; he passed last year after a quick and frightening bout of leukemia. Finally, after a week of this and the deadline for my trip coming due, I was summoned to chambers. I taught the judge’s cousin. He knew what I had going on. Most importantly, “these white lawyers ain’t never gonna put you on a jury. I’m excusing you so you can get back to work.”

    You would think that an informed citizen such as I would be a boon in a jury, helping to administer fairly justice. But no. Justice is for white people, and sometime more sinister for blacks. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the stand or in the jury pool. Our legal system is set up to make sure it doesn’t matter.

    • mr. steal your costco samples

      “boon in a jury”

      switch a letter there and you got what the lawyers think in a nutshell. you never had a hope

      • This made me laugh.

        • Maestro G

          I laughed sadly at this too, MM, because not a single one of us does not know what that letter is, and what the resulting word connotes or implies to the lawyers picking those juries.

          • blueevey

            It took me a second; I had a simpler word in mind first.

            But then again, I’m not black and I kinda live in a bubble.

            • Maestro G

              But you got there. Exactly my point.

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    • KNeale

      I would serve on a jury and take it seriously but I know I’ll never get picked for the reasons you listed above. I do activism type stuff, I have a degree these two things alone as a black person would disqualify me. Also, go find that quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson about how they talk about the amount of drugs a person has (to make it seem more than it is) and how when he brought that up in jury duty he was asked to leave. Lol.

      • Rastaman

        “A few years later, jury duty again. The judge states that the defendant is charged with possession of 1,700 milligrams of cocaine. It was found on his body, he was arrested, and he is now on trial. This time, after the Q&A is over, the judge asks us whether there are any questions we’d like to ask the court, and I say, “Yes, Your Honor. Why did you say he was in possession of 1,700 milligrams of cocaine? That equals 1.7 grams. The ‘thousand’ cancels with the ‘milli-’ and you get 1.7 grams, which is less than the weight of a dime.” Again I’m out on the street.””

        • Sigma_Since 93

          lol. You were too smart for your own good.

          • Kylroy

            This is a universal issue, on top of the racism. Any juror who seems smart enough to poke holes in a lawyer’s argument will never get anywhere near an important case. My father’s been summoned a half dozen times in his life, and the only time he actually sat was on an open and shut petty theft case.

        • esa

          omg buying or selling coke in milligrams. as if.

    • Blargg (formerly That Guy)

      Prosecutors will find any excuse to dismiss a black juror. There was a good podcast about a case that went to SCOTUS over discrimination in jury selection. http://www.wnyc.org/story/object-anyway

      • Love your avatar and name. Tetris Attack was one of my favorite games growing up.

    • Diego Duarte

      It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally a white lawyer let’s it slip what they think of black people. Doesn’t matter how educated they are. I’ve seen it in some firms. Sure they can me amiable and articulate in trying to handle these “issues” in public. But when the clock hits 9:30 PM, morale is relaxed and half the staff is gone, all of a sudden they feel enough at home to say what they really think of BLM and the like.

      • grownandsexy2

        That’s why I like working where I am. The 4 attorneys are rarely here. They work in the cloud, on cell phones and when they’re here, they’re total professionals (to their credit). We don’t talk about “issues.” They come in (rarely), do what they gotta do and they out.

        The one black guy among them, I don’t know what to say about him. He probably thinks racism doesn’t exist. Now they may be racist AF and it wouldn’t surprise me to find out they are. When I worked on the other side, it was different. And it was no slip either. In fact, at any other place I’ve worked, it wasn’t in the form of a slip what they think of black people. It was in your face, but I appreciate that. I know where you coming from. I hate people who pretend they’re not racist but every other thing out of their mouths and actions is racist. I’ve learned not to put anything past anyone so I’m never surprised.

      • If they aren’t constitutional law, lawyers tend to lean conservative.

        • Diego Duarte

          Labor attorneys tend to lean liberal too. Corporate and tax attorneys mostly lean conservative or libertarian.

  • cakes_and_pies

    I love jury duty and wish I had it more often. I’d take the place of anyone who didn’t want it or couldn’t afford to serve.

    • LeeLee

      Same here. Jury duty is more important than we all think. I’m into community service, at the organization (my sorority) and individual level. People need to see more black and brown people involved in local civic life. Great post, Panama!

      • Cheech

        At my last trial, after the jury acquitted, the judge gave a history lesson in which he reminded that at the time of the founding, serving on juries was viewed as a more important form of civic participation and a more important check on the government than voting. Of course at that time it wasn’t for black people, but people marched and were beaten and fought and died to change that. It’s still every person’s chance to be a voice in the system when called.

        Like voting, it’s also a numbers game. Going in, your one voice may not change anything, and they will fight like heII to keep you out. But collectively, they can’t keep everyone out. When they strike one juror they move on to the next, and they have to take someone. The more black panel members there are, the more black representation there is going to be on the final jury. It takes a wave of numbers to get that voice in there and make it heard.

    • Ive been picked 6 times. Six!

      • cakes_and_pies

        I’d be fine with that. The only thing I’m not fine with is being sequestered. I ain’t about that life.

    • stmije

      Same, but I get that it’s a hardship for many. When I was in DC, it was pretty much guaranteed you’d be at least summoned every two years like clockwork.

      • cakes_and_pies

        I’m fortunate enough that I still get paid and I don’t have to use my own hours to serve.

    • I get more work done sitting around in the pen all day than sitting at home with too many distractions. It’s really interesting seeing how the process works outside of Law & Order. Last jury duty I took all kinds of notes. Never know when it’ll come in handy for a story.

      • cakes_and_pies

        I work in one of the three branches of government, so to be involved with another branch is exciting to me.

  • Knowing Charleston county like I know Charleston county I was expecting Slager to get an acquittal. I knew it would happen from the moment I saw the composition of the jury. I knew there would not be anything like justice.

    The mistrial or notion of a mistrial crept into my head near the end of last week when the jury came back and asked for definitions of “fear” and “passion” in relations to a lesser manslaughter charge. I even said to Moneypenny “He’s getting off.” but yesterday changed the narrative sightly.

    Scarlett Wilson, our prosecutor made the comment ““I wish y’all could be the one,” and “But there will be another day.” when addressing the jury after the declaration of a mistrial.

    I’m just sitting here thinking with no hope of another trial and certainly no hope of an actual acquittal that this will have a positive ending for the people because America and because there will always be a juror number whatever who cannot be swayed or refuses to be logical in lieu of actual humanity and facts.

    Cause humanity and facts have no place in a courtroom when a law enforcement officer back-shoots, beats, or displays some form of malfeasance towards a civilian much less a black man.

    You can’t rely on a jury and you can’t rely on not getting murdered by the law. You just may be f***ed.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      “Cause humanity and facts have no place in a courtroom when a law
      enforcement officer back-shoots, beats, or displays some form of
      malfeasance towards a civilian much less a black man.”

      This right here!

    • miss t-lee

      “You can’t rely on a jury and you can’t rely on not getting murdered by the law. You just may be f***ed.”

      Sad, but true.

  • Yeah man. My homegirl has been on a couple of juries in DC and she said these white people really be trying it – mainly cause so many of them are from other places and have all these preconceived notions. She’s had to talk quite a few off the ledge who were like Black man – he’s guilty – let’s go home.

    • Cheech

      My wife was on such a DC jury, and said it was a real lesson the way the black jurors educated the white jurors. It started out all blacks for acquittal, all whites (including my non black poc wife) for conviction. After 2 days of education, it was 11 for acquittal, one angry white man holding out for conviction. They finally pushed him over and acquitted but he was still angry about it.

      • Exactly!! My friend was like, “I had to wear them down!!”

        • Cheech

          Yuuuupp.

  • DCFem

    Change happens at a glacial pace but this morning I did witness two television journalists use the words “jury nullification” to describe what happened because that is exactly what happened. One juror decided that under no circumstances could he convict a cop of murdering an unarmed black man so the judge declared a mistrial. The reporter who was in the courtroom also described the hold out juror as “most likely” being the individual who did not look the judge, the lawyers or the family in the eye when the jury was seated in their box yesterday. Why bigots don’t have the courage of their convictions is a topic for another discussion.

    I am old enough to remember Rodney King and how excited I (and many other young people) was that there was a video of his beating taken by a white man. Somehow I thought that that was the evidence we needed to prove what had been going on for over a century. We all know what happened next. This summer I realized that I am now one of the “older” folks who kept lecturing younger folks about how a video won’t change anything, the cops will still keep killing folks and keep getting away with it. All I have to offer younger brothers and sisters is to remember that the fight they’re waging is for posterity (their grandkids) and they have a tiny bit of power to square things up a bit. Our parents couldn’t put these officers on blast on social media the way kids today can and do. They can get acquitted, but they can’t hide.

    • Blueberry01

      #JuryLash?

  • miss t-lee

    I’ve gotten called for jury duty 3 times. 3 times I’ve been dismissed.
    Definitely gotta do your civic duty, because ours faces definitely need to be in the place.

    • OSHH

      I’ve gotten called more times than I can remember, but never had to serve on an actual jury.
      One time in particular one of my first cousins, and I, same last name, were picked for a panel for a Grand jury drug case but because they had two first cousins on the panel we were dismissed, the case was delayed anyway.

      • miss t-lee

        Wow.
        Yeah, I’ve always gotten dismissed pretty early in the process too.

    • I’ve been called twice. Once for back home while I was in college so that wasn’t happening and the other was for municipal court but I didn’t get picked. Usually when they find out that I work at a law firm I get flushed.

      • miss t-lee

        Yeah, I could see how the law firm thing would get you dismissed.

      • Cleojonz

        Oh I didn’t know you were in legal. Me too. I love jury duty but the second they find out where I work I get dismissed.

        • grownandsexy2

          I work in legal too, hate jury duty, but they always want to choose me.

      • grownandsexy2

        “Usually when they find out that I work at a law firm I get flushed.”

        Just the opposite with me.

        • Cheech

          My wife was a new lawyer working for a judge and she still got picked.

          • grownandsexy2

            I can see that.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    I’ve never shied away from my civic duty. This is my observation of what I see when I’m in the bullpen:

    F(Being selected to the jury) = white + male – education

    Educated black folk need not apply

    • IDareYou

      Outside of the obvious racial factors, what’s the rationale for dismissing educated jurors?

      • Cheech

        Lawyers want to control the narrative, and want followers. They fear a leader in the jury room because that leader could sway others, and is outside their control–they don’t know what side he will come down on.

        There are exceptions where understanding one side of the case requires some smarts based on the facts. But otherwise, this is the general rule in almost all cases.

        PS. Disqus won’t let you type the contraction for “he will.” Meanwhile, you can type “fuck” all day long. Smgdh.

        • Kas

          Disqus be on that shid!

      • Negro Libre

        Lawyers like dummies.

        • Cheech

          See, you were more succinct than I.

          Ever thought of being a lawyer?

          • Negro Libre

            Lol I’m good.

            Seems to be common sense: the dumber people are, the more lawyers make and the more control they have in cases.

            • Sigma_Since 93

              You can move them with emotion vs having to use logic. Every lawyer wants to use The Time to Kill jury persuasion method if they can.

    • grownandsexy2

      “Educated black folk need not apply.”

      Not necessarily. Speaking from experience.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        How did you make it through the jury pool gauntlet??

        • grownandsexy2

          I wish I knew. There was another woman, educated, worked in law and when she was chosen, I just knew I’d be next. It was in federal court where a guy was robbing old ladies at the bus stop in the early morning hours. He had a sawed off shotgun jammed down his cut off shorts. And the funny thing was the cops weren’t checking for him. They were just making their usual rounds when he attracted their attention by running and throwing the sawed off shotgun under a car.

  • Gibbous

    I was the foreperson on a grand jury a couple of years ago (3 days a month for 18 months). While at times mindnumbingly ridiculous, the grand jury serves to felony prosecute only those with enough evidence against them that it is likely that he or she committed the crime. It also serves as an investigative body where investigators can question folks under oath.

    I learned two things while serving:

    1) All these grand juries that choose NOT to indict police officers do so because the prosecutor presents evidence that leads them in that direction. Our GJ was bare bones. This is what the person did, this is the statute we think they violated. And they always came with evidence to prove their case.

    2) Jurors let their emotions get in the way of the law. There was a case where a man shook a woman (federal worker) by the head. The law says that touching/ assaulting a federal employee while in the performance of her duties is a felony. There was many a man in my GJ that felt that it shouldn’t be that servere of a penalty since she was not seriously injured. The question of “Did he lay hands on her while she was working, yes or no?” seemed to have flown out the window in favor of ‘fairness’ – it’s not fair that it’s a felony if he didn’t really hurt her.

    Lucky for them, there were enough votes to indict, or I would have had to come out of my chair!

    Serving on a regular or grand jury is your only tangible way to help ensure that justice gets served. I have to do my part.

    • miss t-lee

      Your #2–I definitely see how emotions could get in the way.

    • Val

      Like they say, a good prosecutor could get an indictment for a ham sandwich if they wanted to. And I guess that works the other way too, if they don’t want an indictment there won’t be one.

      • Negro Libre

        Prosecutor’s weren’t always that powerful.

        I remember reading once that a lot of the expansion in the powers of prosecutors and the weakening of Posse Comitatus was affected by the OJ Trial and the LA. Riots; basically they both fit into the Right-leaning narrative that criminals were getting off, for all sorts of crimes, because of all these legal protections that suspected criminals had.

        So all these states and local governments started passing laws that gave more power to prosecutors as well as weakening the ability to defend the accused, based off known acts of police brutality or misconduct on the side of the prosecution.

        In a sense, prosecutors and police officers have gained massively from the police state, and they aren’t going to give up their power lightly.

        • Kas

          Why would they, rhetorical.

        • Hugh Akston

          Pretty much

          Not many folks like to give up their powers

      • Cheech

        True true true.
        If you hear the prosecutor say “it’s up to the grand jury to decide,” the fix is in. That prosecutor doesn’t want an indictment and is using the grand jury to cover his/her azz. The prosecutor is not required to give both sides to the grand jury, only the side seeking indictment. If the prosecutor wants an indictment he or she will get it and you’ll never even hear about the grand jury.

        • Gibbous

          And an indictment is not really a bad thing. The grand jury is just to see if there is enough evidence to go to trial. A trial is where we can see if there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that a person did or did not do the deed.

          Since a grand jury doesn’t care about a reasonable doubt or whether or not you think you can win your case, (just whether or not it’s likely that you have the right person) I don’t see why there is this avoidance of indictment by prosecutors unless they don’t want the truth (or a truth) to come out.

          • Cheech

            Like, say, in a cop case, that they’re going to have go after one of the “brotherhood” that they depend on every day in every other case.

            • Gibbous

              If you don’t remove the ‘bad apples’ the whole barrel rots!

    • ThatChickCool

      I feel like America realized what would happen if they had a majority black jury pool. See OJ Trial.

  • I hate jury duty. I live in Kansas and the probability of there being one self righteous jerk on a jury is about a million percent.

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