Today I watched a guilty man walk free. Five hours after closing statements 10 confident jurors descended from the deliberating room trailing the final 2 jurors, young men battered into consensus. Those 10 jurors offered up a charge of not-guilty to assault in the second degree as the remaining 2 watched on and said nothing. I sat as one of those 2 broken juror souls. Today my own principles and patience were tried by a jury while they should have been trying an accused man. My patience broke, the defendant did not. As a result I am a far more discouraged, disheartened young man than I was when I registered for jury duty yesterday morning. The system we live in is not always fair and as a result of my own submission to the majority a battered woman must live in fear.
As far as I am concerned the facts were clear. I had been called to this case as a juror the day before and was told it would last the majority of two days, June 21 and 22. A woman was beaten out in front of her boyfriends Baltimore City townhouse, a cop witnessed it and proceeded to arrest her boyfriend, a man 26 years older than her slim 19 years of age. They had been out that night drinking and partying when the young, mentally handicapped woman, got in a verbal fight with her boyfriend that ended with her on the ground being repeatedly stomped by her partner. The before and after are a bit hazy, the testimony incomplete, the stories full of mismatched facts and errors. Yet an officer testified to having witnessed the brutal beating and photo’s were taken of her bruised arms and legs at the hospital two days later. More details exist but enough have already been presented to put a man away for some time.
Yet from the minute deliberations began I sat in a slim majority to convict in a jury room that buzzed with racial and class tension. 6 men and 6 women. 5 whites, 6 blacks, 1 Indian. A fair jury by most standards. Yet, to understand the climate in the room one must understand a bit about Baltimore City. In Baltimore distrust of the police is a deep scar continuously opened by police brutality and rampant city crime. Most officers conduct their business if a honorable and brave manner but those who don’t, those who unjustly assault and arrest individuals have damaged the perception of the entire force. As a result, the low-income majority in Baltimore has unfairly deemed the Baltimore Police Department an unreliable source and everyone seems to have a story of police mistreatment. Police are not to be trusted under most circumstances.
No matter how I pleaded and pushed the Jury was not accepting any of the officers testimony. I was repeatedly told that the officer’s witnessing of the event was a conspiracy conducted by the state to put a poor man behind bars, “another black man thrown in jail,” as one juror put it. I have no doubt that the last thing this city needs is another man thrown in jail yet when that man has beaten his girlfriend he more than likely deserves the time. After 3 hours of deliberation we were let out for lunch, only 3 of the 12 jurors clinging to a guilty verdict. I ate my lunch alone, slowly planning my approach to persuading 9 members of the jury that this man could not walk free. When I returned from lunch I found out just how impossible this task would come to be.