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Missed Jury Duty Shouldn't Result in Missed Freedom, Opportunities

by Todd A. Smith

 

Missed Jury Duty=Jail Time?


If Judge John S. Kastrenakes wanted to teach a standup Black male citizen like Deandre Somerville the importance of having Black Americans on juries, he should have suggested some recommended books or documentaries.


While a lack of Black Americans on juries has led to excessive sentencing for Black Americans, sending another Black man to jail for nonsense only adds to the problem and not the solution.


Furthermore, the judge should probably educate himself about why some Black Americans miss jury duty like working by the hour, not being able to afford long-term childcare, transportation issues and an overall battle with poverty.


Therefore, sometimes jury duty does not appear on someone’s priority list, especially if it’s a single parent struggling to take care of his or her children on pennies.


It is not as if all Black people miss jury duty for the hell of it.


Most people I know would welcome a few days off of work if it were financially feasible.


Furthermore, for the young man to have the possibility of having job opportunities disappear because a judge wanted to send a stupid message by giving him a criminal record is one of the reasons why the wealth gap is so great between Black and White Americans.


Black men with criminal records often find it harder to get jobs.


As a matter of fact, Black men without a criminal record catch hell getting a job even with multiple degrees and a blemish free work record.


Additionally, Black men throughout American history got incarcerated so that the system could re-enslave them even after the Emancipation Proclamation, which helped many American corporations and family businesses get wealthy off of free Black labor.


Marc Mauer, executive director of the nonprofit organization The Sentencing Project said that this case appears to be “one of the many ripple effects of mass incarceration.”


Mauer initially said, “If you consider what the judge is trying to accomplish here, it’s hard to see why 10 days in jail would be more effective than just 10 hours of community service. Ten days in jail interrupts his work life, his home life, and all for something that he is now clearly remorseful about.”


Mauer added, “anecdotally, I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”


Black Americans already have enough burdens to bear than to have a White man, who has never walked in a Black man’s shoes, condescendingly try to teach him a lesson he obviously already understood as evident of him showing up to jury duty in the first place.


Luckily, the judge reversed that error and got the 10-day jail sentence expunged from Somerville’s record.


The only problem with the judge expunging Somerville’s record is the comment he made about that decision.


He said that Somerville, 21, was “totally rehabilitated.”


He skipped out on jury duty and he was wrong.


But that does not equal an addiction that he needs rehabilitation from.


Somerville initially said that he overslept.

 

However, the judge said that Somerville refused to show up throughout the trial.


When the story broke, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said, “This judge put a young Black man with no prior arrests in the system for…oversleeping. We must reform our criminal justice system, which is designed to criminalize people of color.”

 

The judge seemed to care so much about Black Americans going to jail because of a lack of their peers on juries, but he added to the problem by sentencing a Black man to a harsh jail sentence.


Race card notwithstanding, I seriously doubt that a White American would have received 10 days in jail and one year of probation for skipping out on jury duty.


The judge probably would have just called in an alternate juror and kept the party going.


Black Americans constantly receive much harsher sentences than their White counterparts even if they have a similar criminal record and committed a similar crime.


Even in public schools, Black kids often get harsher punishment than their White counterparts with similar school reputations for similar disciplinary infractions.


The problem can be corrected with a more diverse jury.


The school problem can be corrected with more Black males and females as teachers and in school administration positions.


We saw the impact in criminal court cases with the recent Amber Guyger decision in the murder of Botham Jean in Dallas.


Former Dallas police officer Guyger received 10 years in prison by a diverse jury for killing Jean in his home.


But if the judge is serious about reducing the number of Black men in prison, he should not send another nonviolent Black man to prison.


Maybe he should work with his colleagues on the bench and in the state legislature to get convictions overturned for marijuana offenses since marijuana will soon be legal throughout the country.


Maybe the judge can give Black men the same sentences that White men get if all of the circumstances are similar.


Maybe, the judge can hire a Black man with a criminal record to work for him in some capacity.


And maybe he can give to organizations that help overturn wrongful convictions if that is allowed for a person in his profession.


There are many things that he can do to change the system because he is a part of that system.


But you do not change the system by placing another non-violent Black man in the prison system.


Comedian and talk show host Trevor Noah summed up Somerville’s predicament perfectly.

 

“You know racism is bad in America when a Black man can get thrown in jail at someone else’s trial,” said Noah. “What’s even worse is the reason the judge gave…In other words, he got sent to jail because he was the only Black juror. So why not put him on another jury? Because that’s where you say you need the Black people. You know where you don’t need more Black people? In jail.”

This article was published on Friday 11 October, 2019.
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