I spent the last two days sitting in a federal courtroom observing the jury selection for the upcoming trial of the former mayor of Detroit and his co-defendants. It has been an interesting experience to say the least, but I have never heard so many people be asked a question about their newspaper reading and television viewing habits and the reply being that they just do not watch TV or read newspapers. I would hate to call them all liars, but I am very skeptical of their truthfulness. But that is another story for another day.
I am trying to get a sense of what the defendants/their lawyers are calling a fair trial. It is my belief that as long as information is being presented by the prosecutors, the defense attorneys have the opportunity to cross and then present their case in chief; that in and of itself makes for a fair trial. I do not believe for one minute that because a juror is made up of people that do not look like you, the chance of having a fair trial is thrown out of the window. The responsibility of a jury is to listen to the evidence presented to them and based on that, decide on the guilt or innocence of the defendants.
What I do find interesting is that between the four of them (Kwame Kilpatrick, Bernard Kilpatrick, Bobby Ferguson and Victor Mercado), there are eleven attorneys that I counted that are representing them, but only one of them is look like the majority of the defendants. So the argument that a fair trial is not a possibility with a jury that is not inclusive of black people seems to be a moot point. One could draw the conclusion that based on the selection of the lawyers by the defendants, they have established who their peers are.
Even with the possibility of getting a face or two that looks like many of the defendants empaneled, the potential jurors of color thus far have made it very clear that they did not want to serve. The sole black male that hase be questioned as a potential juror let it be known in his questionnaire how he felt about the defendants; he referred to them as gangsters, liars and called them….’dumb, dumb, dumb’.
There is this pretense that a fair trial could simply be had by having blacks on the jury. That is a notion that does not stand the smell test. Now as a defendant, you definitely want people on the jury that will have an open mind and are there with no personal agenda. To that extent, the former mayor was right on when ex exclaimed; “finally, honesty”, after one of the potential jurors stated that he could not change the negative viewpoint that he has of Kwame Kilpatrick. That is not someone that should be allowed to serve on the jury and him being excused was appropriate.
All courts have a struggle trying to get more blacks into a jury pool, but it is not for the lack of trying. Sadly, many of us see a jury summons as the plague and choose to ignore them. That is not the courts fault and those that do show up, as evidenced by the three potentials so far in this trial, do not want to serve. So to have a black face just to have one empaneled would not be fair to the defendants or the court system. There needs to be an exercise in the black community to get us to understand the importance of participating in this civic duty.
The justice system may not be perfect, but there is an opportunity to learn how the process works and to participate in it as a spectator is an interesting experience. There also needs to be this change in mindset amongst the black community that oftentimes, there is a reason why someone is a defendant. I bring that up because as I was waiting to enter the courtroom yesterday, an older black woman said to me; “I came down here to make sure that they are treating him okay.” I asked her who was she referring to when she said “him”; though I had a good idea that she was referring to the former mayor of Detroit. She replied, “Mayor Kilpatrick”. I then explained with respect to the woman that it was only jury selection and there was no right or wrong way for him to be treated during this process. I told her that he will be listening and watching just like us once we enter the courtroom.
I am every confident that the former mayor and his co-defendants will get a fair trial and if their feeling that they will not be privy to such is predicated on who is or is not on the jury, then their faith in the justice system is based on race. Additionally, they have some false sense of security that a black face on a jury will not convict a defendant with a black face. That is not what makes a trial fair considering that blacks are convicted by blacks on a regular bases in Detroit’s 36th District Court.
What appears to be happening here is that there is some hope of getting one or two jurors of color on the panel with the chance that they will sympathize with the fate of the defendants because they look like them. Well, as things stand right now, the defendants are not guilty of anything. That is the standard presumption that any defendant is held to. However, once both sides do the opening statements, present their cases in chief, give their closing arguments and the judge gives her instructions to the jury; a decision by the jurors will be made based on the case that was presented to them. That is the bases of a fair trial and the color of the jurors will have nothing to do with whatever verdict is rendered. To be predisposed to thinking otherwise goes back to some notion of what fairness is based on and not what was presented to the jury.
So is the pretense of a fair trial based on what was presented in open court for a verdict to be reached, or is it solely the result of how many people look like you that sit on the jury who will be reaching that verdict?