[Our apple-cheeked Friend rests on a Bible; beside him are a couple of others: Tim Wise’s White Like Me,Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound, Cornel West’s Race Matters.]
I had jury duty today, the first time I’ve been asked to serve in the thirty-four years I’ve lived in Massachusetts.
In the deliciously long silence of meeting for worship this past Sunday, I had plenty of time to reflect on this lofty, civic duty. I was already pretty clear that, unlike some Quakers, the raising of my right hand and swearing to uphold—whatever—was not going to be an issue. (I already knew that the “Place your hand on the Bible” thing doesn’t happen any more.)
More deeply, however, I realized that, in truth, (or as my mother used to say, “deep down inside”) I’d prefer not to put my life on hold, thank you very much. And realized that I’d been imagining that my Quaker principles would somehow automatically exclude me from selection. But realized that, really, short of magic-markering “I am a Quaker” on my forehead, there wasn’t any real way, no space on the “Juror’s Confidential Questionnaire” form to declare my religious affiliation. (Which is as it should be, right?) Further, I realized—with alarm and embarrassment—that actually, I’d been planning to use my principles to get out of jury duty!
An interesting challenge: How can I be a person of integrity and truth-seeking without using those principles to avoid something inconvenient?
I prayed over this for a long time. And it came to me: Trust the process. Two weeks ago, for example, as I watched the jury selection process for another case [see “Seeking That of God”], one of the questions those jurors were asked to respond to was, basically, Do you trust the testimony of the police over the testimony of someone else?
Hmm, I thought, anticipating today. Now there’s a question I’d have a hard, hard time simply acquiescing to.
So on Sunday, I decided that I would simply trust that were questions such as this raised, I would answer truthfully.
And they were and I did and was promptly dismissed.
Driving home, I had second thoughts. Maybe I should have kept quiet so that someone with lots of experience cheering and supporting defendants could have served.
But that’s not exactly “fair and impartial,” is it?
So I think I did the right thing. Do you?
I’m up for the months of May and June–in little rural Iowa, we serve for a long time. I’m a first-timer, too; but hey, $35 per day. And it’s across the street.
Dear Patricia: hmmm, indeed. I’m called to serve June 14th. I’ll look over the Questionnaire again. And think deeply about the questions and my duty.
Wow, Patricia, I’ve lived in Boston 21 years now, and I’ve been called at least four times, served on two juries for two cases. In one case I ended up being the alternate, and not taking part in the deliberations. But in the second, one of the other jurors (whom I’d bonded with a little while waiting in the jury pool pool over our bicycle helmets) turned out to be appallingly racist and classist. Someone else jumped in while I was pulling my thoughts together and called him on it, but if he hadn’t been there, I would have had to speak up. Like yeast, we need to be there, even in the heart of the empire.
I am, of course, grateful to hear this perspective, Judy. And will pray over it. Really. If I wasn’t clear: I am NOT 100% easy with my act.
Meanwhile, am also grateful for the recent New Yorker article re stop and frisk that give horrendous after horrendous example of NYC police just plain lying.
Hi. Loving reading all your contacts with the prison system. Can we meet before snow flies?
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