I was already pissed off because I had to take a day off from work and lose 8 hours’ worth of wages for the week. Coming off the heels of a fabulous birthday and birthday weekend, the news that I had been selected for jury duty did much to dampen the spirit of levity I had been enjoying 3 consecutive days prior.
I was scheduled to be downtown at 8 am. I left my house at 8:15. There was no way I was going to hurry up and wait to be somewhere I really didn’t want to be anyways. The summons said I was to park at the Orange Lot at Turner Field if I wanted free parking. From there, a shuttle would ferry me to the courthouse. Upon my arrival, I was pleased to discover that at least 30 other jurors were as late as I was. As we shivered in the gray January drizzle, I heard varying excuses for tardiness.
“Oh traffic was horrendous coming down 400!”
“I sat in my lane for 30 whole minutes without moving.”
“I had to come 2 hours away from North Fulton!”
I was watching yesterday’s episode of Oprah on Tivo, I muttered to myself.
After what seemed like an eternity, the shuttle finally arrived. We crowded on and sat silently for the duration of the ride. When we got into the courthouse, I unloaded my coat and purse onto the scanning machine. A woman came from the back of the line and thought she was going to start her own check in lane.
“What are you doing ma’am?!?!” asked one of the guards furiously.
She mumbled something unintelligible.
“Well we got a line here,” the female guard interrupted. “You can get back in where you started from.”
Welcome to Atlanta, playa!
When I walked into the jury assembly room, and obvious stay-at-home mom had brought her cub in to show the clerk that she had a child under 6 to care for. Clad in light khakis and a cargo coat, she nodded her bob-cut head to make sure the clerk knew that she was not trying to escape duty…she just had a child to care for. Without 2 more words, she was dismissed and sent away free. Jeez. Is that all I had to do? Show up with one, any one, of my four kids and I too could have experienced sweet freedom? No. I couldn’t do that to poor Liya. It was far too cold outside to expose her to 30 degree temperatures and the damp elements just so I could eschew my civic ‘duty’.
I looked around the expansive assembly room at the other poor saps that had been called into duty. Like me, none of them looked pleased. Some of them were obviously pros at this process. They had laptops and snacks at the ready. Every type of person was in the room: gays, gang bangers, construction workers, restaurateurs, businessmen…even a homeless looking person or two. There was one girl who looked like she had just rolled out of bed. She had on pajama pants, her hair was piled on top of her head, and she wore a scowl – it was a sure bet that she would not be selected for duty. She looked cuh-razy. 3 hours after we had been waiting in the room, the clerk called out names.
“Mike Perkins! You’re number 1. Gina Reed! You’re number 2…” and so on. By the time she got to 40, I had not been called. An elderly Chinese man in an argyle sweater looked gleefully at me and gave me a thumbs up.
“Whew!” he said, wiping his brow. “We didn’t make it!”
I smiled at him. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad…but we were not clear yet. 30 minutes later the clerk repeated the same process.
oh God! She’s going to call me!
“You’re number 12.”
A slender blond woman dressed in brown and beige walked around the room looking for an IPhone charger.
“Excuse me,” she whispered, “do you have an IPhone charger?”
She asked every third person in the room. Finally, she asked a massive, goofy looking brown haired man in khakis and a bright plaid shirt. He was reading a book called “The Juror’s Notebook.”
“No,” he said. “But my wife does at home!”
Yeah…that’ll do her a lot of good here. And you’re so goofy, none of us believes you really have a wife, so you can knock it off.
At this point, I’d been there 4 hours. Finally, Jackson Bedford, a superior court judge walked into the room to introduce himself and explain how jury selection works. He thanked us for coming in, and assured us our presence was not a waste of time at all. He droned on enthusiastically about American history and how the system of trial by your peers was conceived.
“So don’t think of this as jury ‘duty’ or ‘service’,” he implored. “Think of it as a ‘right’. This is your chance to participate with your community.”
Yeah. Sure. It’s a ‘right’. Then how come I can’t choose to refuse to exercise said ‘right’? The summons I got clearly says if I don’t show, I can be held in contempt or forced to pay a fine. ‘Right’ my….
“Thank you all for your time!”
One woman held up both her hands in preparation to applaud. Idiot.
By the time the third round of jurors was being called, the goofy guy reading ‘The Juror’s Notebook’ was getting antsy. He anxiously looked around the corner to the clerk’s desk, as if willing her to call his name. Finally, they did. He was number 32. He eagerly gathered up his things and raced off in the direction of the elevator. Now there was a model citizen.
By this time, my Chinese compatriot was long gone, having been called some time before. I was famished. After being told I could not leave the premises for lunch because they had a new list coming up, I sat in my chair with my shoes off, legs akimbo. They would get no more polite behavior from ME! 5 minutes later a voice said:
“Remaining jurors. You are all free to go – “
We can go home!
“Please. Be back here at 1:00 sharp.”
Because the cafeteria takes cash only, I was forced to leave the premises, trudging down the one way street in the freezing rain and ill-fitting heels. Lunch was uneventful. I got hit on by the guy who puts the bourbon chicken on a toothpick and hands it to you. I smiled and said I have 6 years of marriage and 4 kids attached to the wedding ring he noticed.
“I can respect that,” he said.
I wolfed down my food and returned to wait in the assembly room, bitching to Marshall the entire time. Finally, after more than half a day wasted, we had a judge that need a jury. Judge Hicks.
“Malaka Grant! You’re number 5.”
40 of us entered the judge’s courtroom and took our seat in number sequence. The case we would potentially hear was on that of a young (Black) man who had been arrested with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
I was ready to play the race card if I got needled into serving. Guilty. He’s Black; he’s male; he’s what? 27? He did it. Guilty. I would say.
The prosecution and defense asked us all a series of qualifying questions.
Will serving on this jury result in a hardship for you? Have you ever been at the wrong place at the wrong time? Do you view all drugs as drugs? Do you have friends/family who are addicted to drugs? Have you ever been in law enforcement? Do you believe the police would never lie? Blah, blah, blah.
We were asked to answer honestly, so that’s what we did. Now, looking at this young man, I know he probably got caught up in some stuff he had no business being a party to. He looked way too scared to be a criminal mastermind, and was probably just the fall guy for his cousin Smokey who will be serving a lighter sentence for implicating Mr. Banks. Nah. The real guy they’re after is a wealthy White/Philippine dude with a loads of clout. Cocaine is a designer drug. It’s special – not like weed which all Black people have access to.
After the round of questioning was over, the Judge Hicks called the lawyers up to the bench. They mumbled, he frowned, and addressed everyone in the room in a condescending Southern drawl.
“Y’know, our judicial system requires us to have a jury to try cases. What has happened here is disappointing. A jury is supposed to be able to look at the evidence presented before you BEFORE you come to a conclusion. It’s a hardship for ALL of us to come down here, not just you guys. Of course it’s not disappointing for you all, because you get to go home. It’s disappointing for us because we have to go through this same process again tomorrow to select a (hopefully) qualified jury! You all are dismissed.”
Nigga what? A hardship for YOU? You get paid really (really) well to endure your hardship Judge Hicks. What did I get today? I wanted $20 in gas to get here, a day’s wages, $7 for a crappy lunch and 2 hours in the rain!
Needless to say, that did not go over well with many people in the room. They railed on the judge (in his absence of course) for scolding us for doing what we were asked to do: Answer the lawyers’ little fonky questions. One elderly White lady was particularly vexed.
“How dare he scold us,” she raged. “How dare he paint us all with a broad brush and call us unbiased! He gave us NO EVIDENCE to make a decision with!” Her eyes flashed and her head began twitch in that pulsing manner that all old White do when they are enraged beyond containment. I love it. “Just remember ladies, he’ll be up for re-election. Judge Hicks will be up for re-election. Tell your friends!”
I don’t vote for judges anyhow, but I’ll tell you one thing: If I ever get another jury summons, I’m putting on my Huck Finn hunting hat, catching the first squirrel I see and I using the state issued paper to wipe its little furry bum.