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Doctor recommended for optimal cerebral hygiene 

Justice on a Sliding Scale

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Recently, I paid one of my many debts to society. Pray for my soul. I served jury duty.

Growing up on the mean streets of Mercer Island, Washington (an affluent, white, white suburban Seattle community) my thoughts on justice ran parallel to my thoughts on teenage sex. It was to be swift; if you delayed, it may be denied; if you wanted (a) piece/peace you must seek it first.

So much has changed. I now live in Bellaire, Texas (an affluent, white, white, suburban Houston community). Last month on my birthday, amongst the cards, bills, and offers of drowning at 0% interest, I received an unwrapped jury summons. Having served a few years previously I felt, as I had with the birth of my second child, twice blessed. This was due in no small part to the anticipated windfall coming in the form of the $6 juror pay I would receive.

On the appointed day, I arrived at the courthouse shackled by my feelings of civic duty. Without so much as a phone booth, I took on the identity of juror number two in a six member jury paneled to hear a case in which a young, black , male, unemployed, substitute teacher was accused of running a red light in our well known to racial profile suspected traffic violators little town. After trudging through the muck and the mire of the judge’s instructions, prosecutorial hubris and the arresting officer’s droopy eyed testimony, we were shown a video clearly capturing the defendant’s little car running through a red, red light.

Next the defendant took the stand (actually a raised seat). His disjointed testimony was not so much a defense against the charges as it was a plea of no lo have any money. After more yada, yada from the prosecutor and judge, we the jury were herded into a tiny, boxed filled room. Here we were to be sequestered until such time as we could determine whether or not we believed our own eyes and a video that was undisputed.

The rub here was that we actually had some thinking to do. We would be required to access a fine ranging from one dollar up to two hundred dollars. This fine would replace the $125 ticket the defendant was having his day in court to dispute before a jury of his lesser pigmented peers. As a jury we sifted through the reamlessness of evidence and debated the complex legal complexities while searching fellow juror’s prima facias. Finally, we handed down our verdict as solemnly as justices deciding a presidential election outcome.

The solitary figure of a black man rising in an otherwise all white occupied courtroom to hear his punishment stuck with me as I stood in line behind the defendant at the cashier’s window. I watched him hand over an array of five, five dollar bills to pay his fine. Moments later I exchanged my juror slip with the cashier. She handed me a crumpled five and a green, green one.