A young Black man, who said he overslept and missed his assigned jury duty, learned the hard way the truth of comedian Richard Pryor’s description of the U.S. legal system. If you go to the courthouses and especially the jails “looking for justice,” Pryor said, “that’s just what you’ll find: just us.”
A judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., threw the book of law at Deandre Somerville, sentencing him to 10 days in jail, plus one year of probation, and 150 hours of community service after Somerville failed to show up for a trial in August.
Somerville, 21, had never been arrested. He had hoped to one day be a firefighter. He works for the West Palm Beach Parks and Recreation Department’s after-school programs, and he was cited for criminal contempt of court for oversleeping.
“When a juror is selected and sworn, the administration of justice in this courthouse depends on you following the orders of the court,” Judge John Kastrenakes told Somerville at sentencing, according to court records, adding that the trial was delayed for almost an hour while the court waited for the young man.
After Somerville served his time in the slammer, he said his sentence was “a little overdone” and even read a letter of apology aloud to the court.
“I am extremely sorry for my actions. I also sincerely apologize for delaying the trial by 45 minutes and not being considerate of other people’s time,” the letter read, according to NBC News.
Around the same time Somerville’s case made national headlines, I myself received an ominous notice from the D.C. Superior Court addressed to me as: “Juror # 100604657. This is a reminder that you did not report for service as a Superior Court juror as scheduled” in early September.
Accordingly, I was told, my service is now scheduled for mid-November: “Failure to report as directed in response to this notice may result in a Show Cause hearing, a fine of not more than $300 or imprisonment for not more than (7) days or both.”
In Somerville’s case he felt a little “outdone” as the old folks used to say. “I feel like I didn’t need any rehabilitation,” he told NBC News, “I just made a mistake.” In my case, I wrote the court back when I first got my summons, promising that I would not be appearing because I object to the very existence of the “criminal injustice system,” and would be an unfit juror if forced to do so, because I would view all police testimony as lies, and would find any and all Black defendants innocent if I served on a jury.
I’ve been called, and appeared, for jury duty several times before. On the one time I went for a possible trial, that’s precisely what I told the judge during the voir dire and was subsequently dismissed. My views about the unfairness of the legal system and the uselessness of my participation in it have not mollified since then. They, in fact, have been hardened by case after case of injustice meted out to people, simply because of the color of their skin.
Routinely, police lie to suspects. The Supreme Court has justified cops lying to suspects during interrogations. I know. In the one time I was arrested — for talking back to a rich white man outside the bank he chaired in downtown D.C. — the cops lied to me when friends came to bail me out, tricking me into signing a “no contest” confession to a crime I did not commit, by promising “it would all be over” if I signed for my release.
In Greenwood, Miss., the most infamous case of the Just Us Legal System took place in 1955, when the murderers of 14-year-old Emmett Till were acquitted after a two-hour trial. Just two weeks later, the men confessed in an interview with “Look” magazine that they had in fact maimed and killed the boy, knowing that they could never be tried again for the crime, because of the protection against “double jeopardy” in the Constitution.
Well recently, Carol Bryant — the white woman who was the object of young Till’s inappropriate “wolf whistle,” his “reckless eyeballing,” his “eyeball rape” — Bryant has now confessed that her allegation was untrue all along. She lied! The boy died!
The Justice Department decided that investigating the decades-old case would be drastic, and that nothing would be gained by prosecuting the 80-plus-year-old Bryant. Well, that not what they said to 80-plus-year-old Bill Cosby about sexual misconduct charges against him that were decades-old, and once even dismissed by a prosecutor as lacking evidence. Now The Cos sits up in The Big House, serving what could amount to a life sentence at his age.
In Florida again — where vigilante George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, using the “stand your ground” legal defense to justify his stalking and killing the young man inside a gated community where the boy’s father lived — Marissa Alexander was convicted and sentenced to jail time after she injured no one when she fired a warning shot at her husband whom she said regularly abused her.
It happens in case after case, after case, and I refuse to again be tricked into validating the crooked system which punishes people simply for being Black. I’ll show up in court in November, but I ain’t gonna serve.
I almost wish my name wasn’t on the voter registration rolls, so my name would not appear on the sucker-jury-duty rolls.