We are going to take a break from art to discuss a topic that has deeply effected me. Here we go…
Let me express that these are just my thoughts on the matter and I am not trying to upset anyone or cause problems here. I am writing this to sort out my own thoughts on the situation. Please keep that in mind as you read along…
I recently finished serving as a juror on a criminal case in my county in Texas. It was my first time serving and it was quite memorable. Before I was chosen, we went through the screening process to see who would be suitable for this case. The accused man was black. Most of the potential jurors were white, except a handful of Hispanics and one black man. While we were going through the selection process, a Hispanic woman got up and said there is only one peer for this man who is accused. She said this is not going to be a fair trial.
At first, I was upset at her words. I was thinking in my head, you are the one separating us. She looked at the room full of white people and assumed we were all going to condemn him because he was black. That was far from the truth. As I see it, and I believe, most of the white people in the room wanted to hear the facts of the case and decide his fate based on the facts and not his racial status. I can’t speak for others, but I can definitely speak for myself. I was there to do my civic duty and I swore an oath to uphold the truth in this situation. It was about facts, not race. I kept my mouth shut and let the process continue.
I was chosen with 11 other white people and one Hispanic woman. (She was not the one who made the above comment). One was an alternate juror. Here are the basic facts of the case:
The man accused was speeding on one of our county roads. The Hispanic police officer was going in the opposite direction and turned around to give the driver a ticket.
The man accused had turned on his hazards and slowed down to let the officer know he saw him.
The accused passed several places where he could have stopped and waited to turn into a grocery store where he was to pick up his wife from work.
The road he was traveling on was very dark.
He stopped at the grocery store because it is a well lit area and where many people would be. He felt safe there.
It took him about 4 minutes or more to stop, from the time the police officer had turned on his lights to the grocery store.
The police officer did everything to protect himself, because he did not know who was in the car or if there were weapons that could harm him.
He made the accused man get out of the car and asked him to get on the ground. The man was compliant until this moment and another police officer had to help him to the ground.
The accused man was arrested and then taken to jail. He said the police officer was a racist and that is why he was treating him like this, but later recanted that statement.
The officer did everything by the book and did not do anything wrong. We saw the video evidence to prove it.
The man was accused of evading the police officer. The prosecutors had to prove that to us. They did prove it on many of the claims, but one…
When it was time for us to deliberate, all twelve of us agreed that he was guilty of many of the charges that were delivered, but there was one we were struggling with. I am not going to state what the others expressed, but I will explain my thoughts:
By the fact that he turned on his hazards and slowed down, he appeared to be acknowledging that the police officer was there. If he was trying to get away, I would think he would speed up and try to run for it. He showed no signs of that.
I did consider that he was a black man in a predominantly white county. He wanted to stop where he felt safe. (This took place in 2016, which was a turbulent time for police officers and black Americans.)
The road was very dark most of the way. There are not many places open in this small town where he stopped. The grocery store was about the only thing open on that stretch, but there were other well lit areas. So, I can see why the police officer was starting to get concerned.
I could not stop thinking about the hazard lights and the slowing down of the accused man’s vehicle. Many of my fellow jurors felt the same way and most of us were leaning in the direction of Not Guilty. It took time, but we all agreed to go the Not Guilty route.
We did not come to that conclusion because of his race. We do believe that was why he was looking for a safe place to stop, but his racial status was not the factor that decided our vote. It was because of the hazard lights, slowing down and the appearance of acknowledgment of the police officer that was the deciding factors in this case. We do not believe that he was evading and we chose Not Guilty.
Back to the woman I discussed at the beginning of this post. She thought that we would be unfair to him because most of us were white. I saw him as a fellow human being seeking justice and needing our help. Color was never a factor for me and it had no place here. I think I can speak for my fellow jurors and say that we were all on the same page. We were there to do our civic duty and speak truthfully through our deliberation and decision. I believe we did what was right in the sight of the law. My fellow jurors were a great group of people to serve with and am thankful for the respect we all showed each other even when we did not agree.
I hope we can learn to get along with each other and stop singling each other out about race. America is supposed to be one big melting pot and we keep forgetting that we are all in this crazy world together. It’s hard enough maneuvering through life as it is, can’t we all learn to embrace our cultural differences and accept each other? I think it is great that we are different and I want to learn. Imagine what we could do together if we stopped separating ourselves from each other? I can see a big and beautiful picture with so many wonderful colors and characters. It’s so vibrant. If you walked into a gallery, it would be the one that left the biggest impression. All we have to do is look up and see it and let it inspire us.
Matt. 22: 35-40