Civic Duty

I had Jury Duty this week.

I wasn’t really too upset about it because my work pays for a few days of it and I’ve never seen the inside of a courtroom outside of binge watching SVU. I got there and was selected for the jury pool for a case. We went in and the judge made a speech about how this is important and why jury duty is what it is and how if you think that the courts let cases off easy then you should WANT to be there making sure things are done justly. The buzzwords were citizenship, duty, fellow man, justice, community, service etc.

It was a remarkable and moving speech.

Then we went on lunch break and I went downstairs to the cafeteria and ordered a salad and some honeydew melon which came in crisp plastic packaging. I ate across from a handsome lawyer who asked if I minded before joining me. We sat and read together, me a novel, him some sort of ledger or file, in comfortable air-conditioned peace.

Then I went back upstairs and seated myself on a bench by the window outside the courtroom’s double doors to wait for role call, and court’s resumption.

I opened my book again (Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend, highly recommend btw) but I’d read well over 100 pages that day already, so I looked out the window instead of reading. Behind the courthouse, there was something going on on the ground. I couldn’t tell at first what I was looking at. It seemed like some sort of farmers market or something, which for my location wasn’t unheard of. The city the courthouse is located in is full of art walks, markets, craft fairs, etc. From 9 stories up, it just looked like a group of tarps.

The more I looked, though, the more clear the picture became and eventually I realized I was looking at a makeshift shanty town of tents and tarps. Homeless people trying to get out of the California heat any way they could. It was like a small city of downtrodden individuals right behind the courthouse in plain view.

The judge’s words about how being here was important came back to me. How giving up a workday, or our normal routine was so important. We had covered the case by that point and it was basically two men arguing over the terms of a contract and whether a fineable breach was made by one party.

Looking at that shanty town, and then turning to watch one of the two hard-faced businessmen stride back into the courtroom with his lawyer, in suits so clearly expensive that the cuff links could have fed all the people below me for a WEEK, I felt a roll of guilt and indignation in my stomach.

How can someone say that deciding if there was a breach in a business contract that didn’t result in losses significant enough to alter the course of a business, or anyone’s day to day wages or way of life be CIVIC DUTY and a SERVICE TO YOUR COMMUNITY while addressing starving citizens WITHIN EYESIGHT isn’t even on the table.

Don’t talk to me about civic duty when in plain view of city officials, lawyers, politicians, judges, POWERFUL men and women, every day people struggle just to avoid exposure to the elements and nothing has been done. In view of people who could ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING about it, people IN OUR COMMUNITY have suffered. They’ve suffered long enough that there’s a veritable VILLAGE of them grown up behind the building.

Like with a lot of my posts lately, there is no good answer. I have no silver lining. This is just an angry cry that something needs to be done, and a comment and observation of just how skewed our priorities are in this country.

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