Hall of Justice
by Deborah Klee
I notice the poster’s invitation on my way down the institutional hallway to the latrine. “It’s your turn to make a difference. Be a juror.”
Make a difference? My turn to make a difference?
Had I my “druthers”, I’d ruther not be here for jury selection this week. Or for that matter, performing civic duty for the upcoming month, focusing on heinous violence, helping decide one youth’s future.
I’d ruther be helping my fifty year old friend Matthew who was released from prison a year ago after serving a thirty year sentence. I’d ruther support him practice driving, so that he can get his license before winter. Eventually, he may not have to bicycle five miles on dark nights from his home in the fertile crime-laden crescent (where he finally found a landlord willing to rent to him) to his minimum wage dish-washing job (which he was grateful to land after a six month search).
Had I my “druthers”, I’d ruther not be here at Monroe County Hall of Justice surrounded by white lawyers, a white judge, and a pool of eighty four primarily Caucasian jurors, contemplating 21 year old Jalan Everett’s innocence or guilt in a multiple manslaughter charge.
I can’t help but ponder, Why are most of the people of color I notice mopping floors, emptying garbage, sweeping the sidewalks? Where can I find those twelve smiling black jurists on the flyer, who claim, “We served”? I assume they mean as jurists. Where is the jury of one’s peers? And does skin color really matter when a heart stops beating? I see no reason for anyone to smile.
“To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God”, Goddess and All that is Good, I have a problem acknowledging that we can’t turn back the clock thirteen months, and save those innocent three who died and those four who were injured. I feel anger that as a society, we can’t figure out how to raise our young to respect themselves and each other- to respect life itself. That we can’t figure out how to empower youth. Maybe even instill in them a sense of community and camaraderie beyond their wildest dreams.
As I walk through the vast four columned, high ceilinged foyer, I hear Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, patriot warrior, leader of a cavalry charge in 1779, whisper from his commemorative plaque, “There is such a thing as noble sacrifice, in the cause of freedom.”
I’d ruther not be here considering sacrifice, ritual slaughter, senseless mass killings, for whose freedom? And freedom from what, for what?
I’d ruther not be pondering what sort of compass directed a young person, be it this one, or another, to take someone’s life.
Raekwon Manigault, 19
Jonah Barley, 17
Johnny Johnson, 25
Murdered Aug 19, 2015 in front of the Boys and Girls Club
As we potential jurists are waiting to find out if we will be sworn in or be excused, I wander the vestibule. Susan B. Anthony’s marble lips utter from her bust.”Human dignity. Human rights.” Human dignity. Human rights echoes and reverberates off the cold white marble walls and floor.
That’s right. Human rights. Right to live beyond one’s youth. What kind of courage does a drive by shooting take? How utterly foolish and meaningless.
Shot and injured: Billy Williams, 26, Carey Bradley, 19, Anthony Jones, 24, and Carl Canty, 29.
Why is Christopher Columbus (at least his head) lingering in the atrium behind that pillar? What and whom is he hoping to inspire? What kind of role model is someone who spearheaded the transatlantic slave trade and who may have initiated the genocide of the Hispaniola nation?
John Mastick Esq., the first to practice law in the wilderness village of Rochester two centuries ago, declares from his ornamental tablet, “Men and women faced strange dangers in the forest primeval.”
Primeval? Danger? Urban danger. Gang warriors. Warrior heroes. Initiates. Searching.
Hunting. Hunting what?
Liberty. Latitude. Antidote to impotence.
Reverend Thomas James, busts forth from his pedestal- born a slave, later a teacher and abolitionist in Rochester.
Ironic, that if convicted, servitude, slavery, imprisonment await the suspect. Freedom?
“Protect yourself from jury duty scam.” I am warned by a flyer as we congregate in the central jury room.
This slaughter of innocent youth by youth reeks of scam.
Scammed by false beliefs. Champions, vanquishers, conquistadors….Why? Is it worth it?
Crushed you may be should you end up incarcerated.
Strolling the outside courtyard during lunch recess, the central memorial to “deputies who’ve given their lives in line of duty” beckons. A statue of a bald white man rests an arm on a knee, other hand to his brow. “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
On the opposite side of the base are etched the words,“In valor there is hope.”
And on another, “I continuously watch down in awe as I watch another brother fall to the floor.”
Brothers and sisters are we. All of us. No matter what age, what skin color. How do we choose to move in this world? Pioneers? Conquerors? Allies? Victims? Suspects?
On my last trek to the bathroom before being excused from serving jury duty, an interesting notice posted on a bulletin board draws my attention. Rochester Teen Court is involved in building a vertical garden edible wall at the Public Market, stressing team building and community involvement. First time offender youth are acknowledged as resources and eventual stewards of our earth and are encouraged to work toward giving back to society.
Hope …Turns around …Turn-arounds.
Matthew, Let’s go practice k-turns. After I have a good cry. And a chance to offer up one hundred one personal gratitudes.
Deborah Klee is a member of Wordcrafters weekly writing group (Arnett library) and lover of the written word.