Dream of:24 May 1998 "True Heroes"
A jury panel had been assembled in a dull gray room. As one of the 30-40 people on the panel, I was seated, like the others, on a metal folding chair in the middle of the room. In front of us, somewhat elevated above us, were several desks. Sitting behind the desks were some people who were facing us. It seemed as if we were in a school and as if the jury would be judging students who had been accused of various crimes. In fact, one student had already been brought out and convicted for a petty offense. Not all the people on the jury panel were actually voting as members of the jury only six of us were presently voting, including myself. I was unsure how it worked, but it seemed as if some of the other members of the jury would vote in later cases.
The next student (probably 16-17 years old) was led out for us to judge. He had black hair and was wearing glasses and a checkered button-down shirt. After he sat down at a desk in front of us, a stout forceful woman who was also sitting at the desk read the charges against him. He was accused of possession of two different kinds of drugs. It sounded as if one of the drugs was probably marijuana, but I was uncertain because I didn't hear clearly what the woman said. It sounded as if no one thought it made much different what the jury heard, because the boy immediately plead guilty. Apparently everyone thought it was a foregone conclusion that the boy would be found guilty, and the woman who had read the charges proceeded to talk about what kind of punishment should be levied.
However, I raised my hand to get the woman's attention. At first she didn't pay any attention to me, but finally she acknowledged me. I quickly stated that I voted "not guilty." The tension in the room was palpable. The woman starred disbelievingly at me, as if she couldn't trust her ears. Finally she asked me to explain. I simply said I couldn't vote guilty because possession of drugs shouldn't be against the law in the first place.
The reaction in the room was immediate. People all over the room jumped to their feet and began shouting their disapproval of what I had said. I hadn't expected such an outburst. Obviously I knew most people thought drugs should be illegal, but I hadn't realized the sentiment against drugs was so strong. It appeared part of the reason in this case was due to the fact that we were dealing with a juvenile. It seemed the people thought there was no question that possession of drugs by juveniles should be illegal. Added to this was the fact that the boy in this case had already pled guilty, and seemed willing to accept his punishment. If I now said possession of drugs should be legal, I was viewed as undermining the whole system. The pressure was intense for me to change my vote. All the good citizens staring at me and voicing their condemnation clearly weren't going to change their minds.
I wasn't going to change my mind either. I didn't think it would help to explain my belief that society didn't have the right to dictate to the individual what a person could put inside his or her own body. This was a belief I held near and dear. It didn't matter to me whether the boy had admitted he had possessed drugs. In my mind that wasn't the issue. The issues was whether society could convict him for the possession of the drugs. However overwhelming the pressure was for me to change my vote, I simply wouldn't do it.
Another frumpy woman sitting at the desks in front of us was now frantically searching through a book, ostensibly trying to determine what the punishment should be. Finally she somewhat elatedly announced that the boy would only have to spend one day in confinement. She looked at me and plaintively said "please," begging me to change my vote. Obviously she didn't get the point. It didn't matter to me what the punishment was, I was simply not going to vote guilty.
I couldn't tell whether any members of the jury panel might agree with me. Not everyone had jumped to his feet in protest, but nobody voiced any agreement with me either. I was somewhat surprised by this. I would have thought at least somebody believed the way I did, but it looked as if I were alone.
However I could tell the boy being tried was interested in what I was saying. He didn't say anything, but I could tell from his expression that he was pleased with the turn of events.
The woman who had initially read the charges stood to her feet and began walking in front of the desk. She seemed uncertain what to do. I debated whether I should tell her how she could solve the problem. I didn't want to help her convict the boy. Clearly she would ultimately realize what she had to do, so I thought I would go ahead and tell her. So I spoke up and told her she simply needed to declare a mistrial. Obviously when all the jurors couldn't agree on a verdict, a declaration of mistrial was appropriate. Then she would select six other jurors to judge the cases, and she would be able to obtain her guilty verdict.
The woman looked as me disdainfully. I couldn't tell what she was thinking, but clearly she didn't want to declare a mistrial. Instead she marched up in front of me and began talking to the rest of the jury panel. She was a very tall, strongly built person. She imposingly began disparaging "northerners." Since I was probably the only northerner in this room of southerners, she was clearly directing her javelin words at me. Everyone in the room seemed to listen approvingly as the woman talked of how northerners had come to the south and tried to ruin the culture. She even spoke of an actor named "Alan Ladd." I thought I had heard the name before, but I couldn't place him. However, from the way she talked, I inferred that Ladd had been a popular actor who portrayed southern heroes. Obviously I was pictured as being just the opposite of him.
The woman had moved so close to me, her leg was actually touching my shoulder. I felt uncomfortable being so near her. I thought of saying something in defense of my position, but I saw little point in doing so. I would have liked to point out that sometimes the true heroes are those who stand up to the crowd, but it seemed clear that no one there was going to listen to me. All I could do was hold to my position.
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