Only 24 months ago, I served on a jury in a civil case in downtown Los Angeles.
So once again, this week, I was back on jury duty, incarcerated downtown at the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts Building, a block long concrete columned behemoth, entered into, below-grade, through metal detection and guard inspection, where jurors, law enforcement, lawyers and defendants pour into packed and aging elevators lifted up to wait in assigned rooms and airless lobbies.
Disinterested, lazy, unschooled, unaware, constitutionally illiterate, heads and eyes sunk into ipads and mobile phones, we potential jurors and dispensers of justice sat in a large room as loud speakers called off our names and turned us loose into lines for jury selection.
Duty and obligation, law and punishment, boredom and frustration, the mind of the jurist is guilty of all these thoughts, guilty upon entrance into the court building, in fear of punishment for violating orders, controlled and commanded by authority.
Rules, numbers, badges, deputies, bailiffs, witnesses; the mind reels as the minute hand on the clock, slowly, ticks and tocks, and then, mercifully, lunch time, an hour and a half to eat and walk around Grand Park and downtown, and then, at 1:30, you are back in the courtroom.
This is the only job left in America with an hour and a half lunch break.
Do people lie under oath? As the judge questioned 35 potential jurors in my group, it seemed that every one of us was gainfully employed and heterosexual, with children in college, unbiased, open-minded, without prejudice. Does that sound true?
The judge, white-haired, kindly, articulate and Anglo-Saxon was cast in MGM studio munificence. In his world, all men have wives, they work, their children grow up and get educated and get jobs.
With great relief, I was rejected as a juror, and released into the daylight of downtown Los Angeles.
Outside a new wind blew, clearing the clammy air and fetid particles away. The great classical spire of City Hall stood over the new green park and I reached into my backpack and pulled out my camera.
And I walked down to Pershing Square, just enjoying the walk, that feeling of freedom, a photographer on foot.
And I thought of my family friend, for just a second, sitting in prison in Cancun, accused of murder. How must it feel to lose your liberty and be turned over to the state, under the indifferent machinery of “justice”?
And I walked more, down to the area near Skid Row, where the streets are packed with indigent and beat up black men, ravaged by misfortune, soaked in alcohol and sadness, hanging on in the sun and pleading for mercy.
What made them different from me? Nothing but luck, the luck of being born into better conditions.
This was yesterday. This was downtown Los Angeles in 2012. But it could have been any year.
And then I came back on the train and the bus to Van Nuys where reality is the home computer in front of me.