Yes, I was summoned to jury duty yesterday. No, I am not joking. You can read more about it in another great piece by J.B. Smith of the Waco Trib. Below are some of my thoughts on the experience.
I get so sick of hearing people complain about jury duty. So many people avoid it like the plague and act as if one is being dragged kicking and screaming into a miserable experience. There were quite a few of these people in the room with me yesterday. You hear the mutterings, the sighs, the outright complaints as the process slowly prods along. However, it warmed my spirit to hear several folks actually desire to serve on the jury. I thought, now that’s the kind of citizen I want to be around. Sure, you may laugh and say that these folks have no life so they just want some excitement, but I say to you, Get a life yourself. Find that life by serving your community. Gladly showing up for jury duty and ceasing your disparaging comments about this right we have as free citizens, you might just find the experience worth your while.
Serving on a jury is not just a duty, it is our right. It is our right to ensure that our fellow citizens receive their Constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury, to a jury selected from a “fair cross-section of the community.” It is our right to foster the fair administration of the law and receive an education about the judicial system. It is our right to participate in a deliberative process that increases future civic engagement, both our own and that of others involved. Jury duty is a right that should be celebrated, not simply an obligation that should be bemoaned.
Yet, this is a right that millions of our fellow Americans have stripped away from them. For example, in Texas, people with felony or misdemeanor theft convictions cannot serve on a jury. Their right to participate in their democratic state has been outright prohibited. No looking at the facts or individualized situation or type of criminal offense. Just an outright denial.
Some of you may joke that this actually serves to incentivize crime, but I am beginning to understand how dehumanizing and demoralizing this stripping of rights must really be. This is no joke. It is tearing apart individuals and communities, as well as our civility as a society.
You are not qualified any longer to serve on a jury. We do not value your opinion or feel that you are capable of forming a reasoned opinion on a case. You have been stained. Permanently. You are not worthy…
How demoralizing this message must be. And I am beginning to experience just a small glimpse of how far it reaches into one’s psyche and affects their everyday life.
Today’s blog is the first of several that will highlight the legal discrimination and dehumanizing stigmas that attach themselves to the over 65 million American adults with criminal records. I pray that it will open our eyes to the harsh realities we have created for this underclass , almost always unnecessarily and at great peril to individuals and our society overall.
And finally, here’s something for those of you wondering what you can do about any of this stuff. As I sat in the jury room yesterday, it dawned on me that we never pray for juries or the jury process, yet it can be a crucial battlement in the fight for the freedom and dignity of all persons. So, if you are a praying person, then pray for jurors. Pray for the jury selection process. Pray for the judges and the lawyers and the courthouse staff. Pray that they will have hearts of compassion for those caught up in the system. Pray that they will see people as people. Pray that their spirits will be protected from becoming jaded and disillusioned and cold. Pray for all our fellow citizens that we might see our obligations instead as rights, and celebrate them. Pray for the millions of Americans who hear they aren’t worthy when they are forbidden the right of jury service. Pray.