I arrive at 500 Pearl Street, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Southern District Court of New York, at 8:20 a.m. As I enter the courthouse I’m met with a long line of prospective jurors all packed neatly into narrow cordoned off rows that snake around several times. They’re all patiently waiting to submit to unconstitutional search and seizure policies put into place after 9/11 to save us from terrorists, but actually is just a way to destroy our civil liberties.
On the phone recording we called the night before, as well as on the printed summons we received, and now on the signs inside the courthouse, we’re informed, “No cell phones, no computers, iPads, etc. No electrical devices of any kind.” As per the instructions, I left my phone at home, but once inside realize many had brought theirs. The guard repeatedly scolds us, “Turn off your cell phones. Turn off all phones.”
As I make the first turn in line I find myself face to face with Lady Justice in all her glory. Her majestic bronze presence literally takes my breath away. She looms before us blindfolded to represent her impartiality in matters of justice and the law that she administers without corruption, avarice, prejudice, or favor. She stands on one leg with the other one raised behind her as if she’s running. Her expansive arms are outstretched holding the scales of justice in perfect balance. Her presence in profound stark contrast to all of us lined up like docile sheep in front of her.
“It’s a good thing she’s blindfolded,” I say, “’cause she’d sure as hell be pissed if she could see what’s going on here.” People around me either don’t hear me or pretend they don’t. However, the guy in front of me turns around, “Well, I brought a blue pen instead of a black one. That’s my civil disobedience for the day.” “Exactly,” I respond. Knowing that statement is all too true of most Americans. Especially white Americans still complacent, living in comfort and denial, pretending not to notice what’s going on in this country and around the world.
A guard motions me to step forward. I’m instructed to place my bag, watch, bracelet, belt, jacket, into the plastic tub on the conveyor belt. I ask, “Would you be so kind as to hold my water bottle so it doesn’t get x-rayed?” He retorts, “How do I know it’s not gasoline?” “Would you like me to drink it?” He sort of chuckles, “No.” I go through the metal detector, which beeps. “Please remove your shoes and place them on the conveyor belt.” This time I pass through in silence. I retrieve my belongings and head to the jury room to put myself back together again.
This is exactly why I don’t fly anymore. I refuse to submit to this illegal search and seizure. It’s infuriating, humiliating, and unconstitutional. But that’s the point isn’t it. To put us in our place, keep us complacent and silent, and make sure we understand, “You have no power here.”
I call this the politics of fear. The politicians realize they have no real power anymore, so they must use fear to keep us in line and afraid. When people are afraid they’ll do anything to stay safe, including giving up their civil liberties. And what better way to keep us afraid then with a permanent enemy that can never be destroyed, terrorism, which is a tactic by the way. Be afraid. Be very afraid is their battle cry. The terrorists are coming! The terrorists are coming!
This federal courthouse is imposing and stately. It’s the second largest courthouse in the US, and stands 27 stories of granite, marble and oak. Unbeknownst to me, at the same time I’m here, a federal appeals court will rule the NSA’s bulk collection of American’s phone records is unlawful and was never authorized by Congress. Thank you Edward Snowden. Now let’s see how long it takes the Obama Administration to swoop in and overturn that decision just like they overturned the ruling in Hedges v. Obama.
In Hedges v. Obama Judge Forest ruled section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) was unconstitutional. This section allows for detention of US citizens and permanent residents taken into custody in the US on “suspicion of providing substantial support” to groups engaged in hostilities against the US such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban respectively that the NDAA arms the US military with the ability to imprison indefinitely journalists, activists and human-rights workers on vague allegations. But the Obama Administration swiftly brought in a team of attorney’s to appeal and overturn her ruling saying none of the challengers had a right to pursue their claim because they could not show they were harmed by the NDAA.
The jury waiting room appears to have about 500 very large comfortable chairs. They’re several gigantic windows along the entire length of the left wall that let in lots of sunlight, a small room off to the right with a TV and snack bar. The snack bar has a few vending machines filled with junk food no one in their right mind should eat plus soft drinks and coffee.
We’re asked to take a couple of forms from the front and fill them out. People continue to straggle in until almost 10 a.m. Then anyone who needs to be dismissed, which is about half of the people in the room, are asked to line up, hand in their summons, and given permission to leave. In New York you’re allowed to postpone your jury service 3 times. I’ve already postponed twice so I have no intention of postponing again. Let’s face it; the hardest part is just getting there.
After these folks are excused the large cream-colored shades over the enormous windows are remotely lowered and we’re shown a film about jury service. Sandra Day O’Connor (retired), Associate Justice and John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court are both interviewed along with a few past jurors who explain to us what a privilege it is to sit on a jury, and how the founding fathers were adamant about having a fair trial for every citizen.
We turn in our paperwork and they begin calling names to be interviewed for possible selection on a jury. My name isn’t called until much later in the day, but no worries as I’ve brought plenty of sensational reading material including Glenn Greenwald’s book: “And Liberty and Justice for Some, How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.”
Finally, I’m called to report to Judge X’s courtroom. Once inside we’re told about the case. Next, we’re introduced to the defendant and his attorney. Then to the prosecution (government’s) side comprised of 3 attorneys, 1 paralegal, 1 Homeland Security guy and 1 police officer. The Judge gives us a series of guidelines and we’re asked a series of questions. If we have any issues regarding these questions we’re to approach the bench.
One by one people make their way to the Judge. One woman tells the Judge she’s a Christian and can’t judge others. She’s excused. Another woman says she doesn’t believe in drugs, as she has children. The Judge responds, “If I let every parent go who didn’t want drugs around their children there’d be no one left to sit on a jury.”
I’m not sure if I want to speak up or not. But as I sit there I know if I don’t then I’m just another spineless hypocrite going along with a system I no longer believe in. I take a deep breath and raise my hand. The Judge asks me to approach the bench. This is intimidating as hell. The farging bench is so high you have to look up at the Judge who’s looking down on you, and I’m tall. All the attorney’s are also standing there and everything you say is repeated into a microphone so the stenographer can record your comments. As I walk to the bench I tell myself, “Whatever you do, don’t cry. Just state your truth and leave it at that.”
I’m nervous but I’m carrying Glenn Greenwald’s book to give me courage. I calmly explain to the Judge, “Your Honor, I have a problem with our justice system, as it no longer serves ordinary citizens. We now have a two-tier system of justice in this country. One for the rich and one for the rest of us. Wall Street bankers can collapse the global economy, the Bush/Obama administrations can start illegal wars of aggression and not one person is held accountable for their actions. But you have a black man thrown in jail for smoking a joint.” She listens very intently and says, “I understand what you’re saying, but do you think you can be impartial in this case?” I say, “I think so.” She asks me to take a seat in the jury box to mull it over, and she’ll call me back to the stand in a few moments.
A couple of other prospective jurors approach the bench and are either excused or asked to take a seat to contemplate their comments as well before I’m called back to the bench. The Judge again asks, “Do you think you can be an impartial juror in this case?” “Yes, I feel I can.” She says, “I’m not talking about your feelings. I need to know if you can be impartial.” I say, “Well, I do have a question. Is the defendant’s lawyer a public defender?” The judge looks taken aback but says, “He has a good attorney.” “Well, I’m looking at the set up here,” I continue, “and I see the defendant has one attorney and the government has 3 attorneys, a paralegal, Homeland Security and a police officer. The government also has unlimited resources at their disposal, so is this considered a fair trial?” “Ms. Dalton,” the judge replies, “Please stand over there.” I step aside while the lawyers and judge discuss my comments. I hear the judge say, “I don’t think so.” The judge then says, “Ms. Dalton you may return to the first floor.”
At the end of the day I’m released for a couple of days but I make a mistake and show up on Wednesday anyway. As I’m leaving the courthouse I retrieve my phone, and ask the guard if I may take a photo of Lady Justice. “No photos,” he says. “May I go look at her?” I ask. “Oh, that’s fine.” I circle her to see if I can find a plaque or some info on the artist but there’s nothing there except the word JUSTICE inscribed on the base of the statue. I ask the guards if they know who the sculptor is, but no one does. I’d already tried to locate her image on the Internet, but no luck there either.
Thursday I return to the courthouse and discover the Chambers Street subway station is filled with mosaics of eyes. How appropriate as I head to jury duty where they’ll strip us of our civil liberties before entering the courthouse.
Once inside I’m determined to get a photo of Lady Justice with all of us lined up like subservient subjects to be illegally searched, our property x-rayed, our personal items put on conveyor belts, and our phones confiscated. The land of the free, as it turns out, isn’t so free after all. Just a bunch of empty rhetoric posing as truth. We’re no longer a democracy. Oligarchs rule us. Money buys our politicians and their fraudulent elections. Greed is their God. We have the largest incarceration rate in the world. Our prison system is big business. The New Jim Crow where we warehouse blacks and other minorities for slave labor. Justice? What justice? “Turn off all cell phones. Turn off all cell phones.” The guard’s voice pierces through the rant in my head. With my back to him I lift up my phone making sure not to be seen by the two guards in front of me or the three by the conveyer belt. I take a couple of shots. I have no idea if I’ve gotten anything, but I’ve gotten what I can get.
Once in the juror waiting room we’re shown another film. This time about the grand jury and what it means to serve on one. Then the entire morning is spent selecting 23 citizens for this jury, which will meet 5 days a week for 30 days. Quite a commitment, but I resign myself to the fact if my name is called I’ll just have to deal with it. Luckily, my name is never called and around 1:30 they have their jurors.
The guy who’s been in charge of us during this entire process asks those of us who were not selected or rejected for the grand jury to go out into the hallway. Once outside he informs us, “You have completed your jury service. Thank you for your participation.” But by the time he says the word completed the entire hallway erupts into loud cheers and thunderous applause.
As I step outside the courthouse I feel such a sense of relief. The sun is shining, I’m free, and don’t have to return for another four years. Once on the subway I check my phone to see my photos. Well, it’s not the best, but you’ll get the gist.