Just got home from my first day of jury duty in New York criminal court, just a few blocks north of my apartment. I realized again how jury duty puts you into contact with people from all sorts of subcultures and strata of the city that don’t often come into close proximity of each other. Only on jury duty do you get an Upper East Side lady-who-lunches sitting beside a Latina immigrant from the Bronx next to an artist / professor in DUMBO. And they all have to deliberate and cooperate together.
The jury selection process informs you about all sorts of interesting, and sometimes tragic, things about people’s lives — who has been the victim of a crime, who is a racist, who has a child in prison, etc. The judge and attorneys can be merciless in drilling down to exactly why you can’t serve on a trial — "I just don’t like cops." "He just looks guilty to me." It’s both stressful and voyeuristically fascinating.
I have never been selected for a jury. Not many people know that being a Quaker is an almost sure-fire "Get Out of Jury Duty" card. I have not firm evidence, but I I’ve been told that it has to do with our longstanding political work on penal reform, alternatives to criminal justice, and opposition to the death penalty. I personally have no ethical qualms about serving, but as soon as I mention that I’m a Quaker I get dismissed.
Being on jury duty has the added advantage of putting you within a stone’s throw of Chinatown. I had some delicious summer rolls and a grilled pork chop from my favorite Vietnamese place for lunch today. Tomorrow it’s Malaysian! Gotta love Chinatown.