Updated: May 11, 2022
"Built pyramids, period, we masters No caterpillars, it was just a lot of niggas A lot of great thinkers and a lot of great inventors." - Rick Ross
I’ve never thought about creating sketches until I saw A Black Lady Sketch Show. Have you watched it? If not, it’s a show about a group of black women surviving the end of the world and a whole lot of craziness in between. The sketches are relatable, funny and actually give you something to think about. My favorite sketch can be summed up into three words “Black. Lady. Courtroom!”
The sketch is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a sketch about black ladies in a courtroom. I believe it’s based on the iconic photo that shows a group of black lady judges in Texas. But it got me thinking about real life and the time that I got to be on a jury. Being a writer and crime junkie, I am sure I was the only black person in Detroit excited when I received my notice in the mail. And the jury selection process proved so. Black people, especially black men, would do anything to get out of jury duty. Like this one old man who told the judge that he couldn't be on the jury because he couldn't sit for an extended period of time. Of course, he didn't have any medical proof of this, and when she asked him what he did for a living, he said- he was a security guard.
It was so ridiculous and only got worse as time went on. It got so bad that the judge had to openly check the courtroom and remind everyone that it was our civic duty to sit on a jury. She was, of course, a black woman, but I had to agree with her. It was applauding how many people would say anything to not be on a jury. With all the injustice in the world, you would think that black people would want to be a part of the process. But nope, as more black people talked themselves out of the position. Our white counterparts eagerly answered the questions, excited to do their part. Nonetheless, the writer in me couldn't have dreamed of a better scenario. As luck would have it- I was selected to be on a murder trial.
After hours of listening to true-crime podcasts and documentaries, I would finally get to sit on an actual trail. I was beyond excited. But as the trail started, the excitement quickly wore off. This wasn't some podcast episode; this was real life, and a real woman had died. In the blink of an eye, the gravity of the situation hit me, and I took my role seriously. I took notes as I listened to the attorney present their cases. A woman was beaten to death and dumped in the middle of the road naked. Our job was to decide was this a case of domestic violence or a drug party gone wrong?
The Persecutor kept dropping keywords about "drugs," "thug," and “unemployment." His only Defense was making sure that we, the jury, knew that Defendant was on "lean." Now let me tell you who made up the jury. It was about more than half white, an older black woman, me, and one other black girl around my age. The trial lasted about a week and a half. In that time, we saw crime scenes photos and the actual chair that committed the crime. After listening to testimonies and learning in very vivid details how the victim died, I could visually picture it all. It made me sick to my stomach and also kept me up at night.
The Defense, well, the guy on trial, was not the boyfriend of the woman. He was just a friend that was there that night. He was short, thin, and a little ratty-looking. I had seen this guy, well, guys like him, in the neighborhood a thousand times. I had heard and even witness scenarios just like this, all of them just shy of bloodshed. It was not far-fetched for me to imagine that this guy was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. I know you’re going to judge me, but he just didn’t look like a murderer.
But I digress. One of the number one rules of jury duty is not to look up the case. That includes no Googling, reading articles, or going to the Defendant Facebook page- and I never did. My sole conclusion came from what I felt, saw, and heard in that courtroom. And honestly, it wasn’t that hard. After hours of listening to all those details, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was to learn more. Little did I know, I was in the minority with this thinking. But I didn't find that out until after the trial.
Like the movies, there were closing arguments. The Prosecutor’s stated that the Defendant was drugged up on "lean" and went into a murderess rage. While the Defense painted the picture that the woman was in an abusive relationship and has been for some time. The Defense clearly explained what happened that night and how his client ended up in this situation. While the Prosecutor stuck to dropping keywords to trigger a response from the jury. He was more focused on the character of the Defendant than actually proving his case. And if I’m being honest, The Prosecutor gave the impression that we should just believe that this man would commit the crime because he did drugs and was black. At the end of the trial, we were given instruction, and then we were released to the jury room to come up with a verdict.
We barely sat down before the oversize white man declared to the room, “He’s clearly guilty. He was high on drugs and did it.” The other black girl and l locked eyes. We disagreed. Immediately Sis and I declared, “something isn’t adding up.” We explained to the room that "lean" is not some hyperactive drug. People could barely keep their eyes open, let alone go into a murderous rage. We both explained that he was more likely upstairs sleep (or fucking) and missed the whole thing. But the white man was not having it. By the end of the day, he had bullied the older black woman to his side of the room. But Sis and I refuse to back down. That night I went home feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. Being in that room allowed me to see how so many of our black men are sent to jail without a second thought with little to no evidence.It all came down to the fucking jury selection process. The one thing that black people do not want to do.
On day two, we went back into the room. Sis and I remained strong. We continue to poke holes through the white man and Prosecutor’s logic. The white man, let's call him Tom, pointed out how the Defendant treated the other woman (some random white girl) that night. He said he was rude to her. In which we said proved he was an asshole, not a murderer. We went a step further to explain it actually proved that he wasn’t even in the room when the assault started. This went on for another six to seven hours. In the end, we declared a locked jury, forcing a mistrial.
At the end of the trial, the Prosecutor asks what he did wrong. We said he didn't prove his case and there were just too many unanswered questions, As we walked out of the courtroom, everyone on the jury talked about whether or not they looked up the case. All of the white girls eagerly said, 'yeah, of course,' making me feel silly for not doing the same. That night when I got home, I looked up the case, and I felt conflicted. The news painted the Defendant in whole other light. For a moment, I didn't know if I did the right thing. I remembered the smile that the Defendant flashed me as he walked out of the courtroom, and I couldn't help but think: did I help a man get away with murder?
The truth is it bothered me for a while. But what gave me peace was thinking about how the Prosecutor conducted himself. He didn’t even do the bare minimum, and for that alone, I was happy with my choice. But you know what bothers me more than the Prosecutor’s behavior? Thinking about being in that room alone. Would I have been able to stand firm in my choice if I didn’t have Sis backing me up? Or would I have easily folded like the older black woman in the room? I like to think I would have been stronger, but you never know. I’m glad that I would never know because I got to experience something beautiful inside of that room. I didn’t know that girl from a can of paint, but we instantly understood the gravity of the situation, and we held each other down. I am so thankful to experience that unspoken bond of protecting your own.
The guy was granted another trial, and at this point, I don't know his name to see how it all turned out. But I was relieved to know that the boyfriend (who I believe committed the crime) was rightly behind bars. But did the guy on trial have anything to do with it? That part, I guess, I will never know. But I do know that if I had read those articles before going into the room, I wouldn't have been able to stand so firmly in the not guilty corner. While the media is clearly a problem and equally responsible for the injustice in the world. I see how we are contributing and actively participating in this toxic cycle.
While there is nothing sexy about jury duty. We must be in those rooms to dispel myths and break down stereotypes. I know it's exhausting to think about everything that needs to change in the world, and it feels impossible to dismantle the justice system. But ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away is not the solution. What if every one of us decided to sit on these juries? It would force the prosecutors to do their jobs and not rely on the media to do it for them.
We always think about change in these big leaps of faiths, but we can do it in small but effective baby steps. Baby steps in this instance will be for you to eagerly show up for jury duty and fight to be inside those courtrooms. We can no longer afford to make excuses. So the next time you get your notice in the mail and want to think of an excuse- don’t- suck it up, buy a book and show the fuck up to do your part.