Summoned: Thoughts on jury duty
One of the reasons I love traveling is that it takes me out of my daily routine. It offers me something out of the ordinary. There’s a nervous excitement that comes with being somewhere new, surrounded by people you’ve never met before. There are so many unknowns, so many possibilities.
That's probably why I was the tiniest bit excited when I got my jury duty summons over the summer. Yes, I was frustrated by the hassle. Yes, I still complained. But there was a part of me that was curious to experience it.
Now, there was the general weirdness of missing work on a weekday, while also not being on vacation. It was like being dropped into an alternate universe, where suddenly my role and responsibilities had magically shifted.
There was that slightly anxious feeling that comes with a change in my day-to-day, too. How long will it take to get there? What questions will the judge ask me? When will I get to eat lunch? Follow up—will I be able to eat snacks? Aside from realizing how much my mind is usually focused on my next meal, I also learned a few other things about jury duty while being picked for a case that stretched out over four days.
It's a lesson in patience.
Things are constantly in flux, and there is no set plan shared with all potential jurors. You could sit and wait for hours without knowing exactly what’s going on or where you'll be needed next. For those of us who have our weekdays blocked off in neatly scheduled calendars, this took some getting used to. Guess what? There’s nothing you can do about it, so sighing and rolling your eyes won’t help. Accept it, settle in with a good book, and be ready to get up and file into the courtroom when you’re told to.
It's a reminder of our diversity.
People of all backgrounds, and from every profession, are thrown into the same jury pool. The morning I stepped foot into the room, I was surrounded by hundreds of people from all walks of life. I was part of a little cross-section of my community, and we all had the same chance of being selected. We all went through this unfamiliar experience together.
It gives you a new perspective.
The particular case I was chosen to be a juror for left me feeling unsettled. I hadn't expected to witness blatant racism in action. As the trial unfolded, it became clear just how real the issue of racial profiling is, as a direct result of some discriminatory policies that are in place. In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay wrote, “Racial profiling is nothing more than a delusion born of our belief that we can profile danger. We want to believe we can predict who will do the next terrible thing. We want to believe we can keep ourselves safe." Unfortunately, her words rang true. Now, as I keep up with current events, this understanding helps me absorb it through a new lens.
It’s a glimpse into our justice system.
One of the interesting things the experience showed me was how trials actually run. Before this, all I'd known about this was from what I'd seen on TV. I was amazed as the lawyers performed their tough jobs of building their cases for their clients, and as the judge kept order and provided instructions to me and my fellow jurors.
There were inefficiencies and flaws, and yes, the protocol and formality of it all stretched things out to take longer than I’d ever expected. But the actual system of trial by jury—where peers get a chance to apply the law—is pretty incredible. It’s so ingrained in our culture that we complain about the inconvenience of the system when we're selected to take part, but there are many other places in the world where people don’t have the opportunity to perform their civic duty. It certainly gave me a lot to reflect on.