As all the reaction from the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict rolled in, the one thought I had was … why would anyone in their right mind want to serve on a jury?
Think about the enormous pressure on the 12 members of the Rittenhouse jury. They were hearing what some people were calling the new “trial of the century,’’ the most nationally captivating courtroom drama since O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
This was a trial about events that were the tail-end of the turmoil of last summer, of heightened tension and threats of violence. These people had seen their own community of Kenosha apparently abandoned by the local police to become the scene of protests, riots, and arson after the shooting of Jacob Blake, coming on the heels of the larger protests of the Black Lives Matter movement.
According to breathless live reports from the courthouse, the chants and calls from the protestors gathered outside the courthouse were audible inside the courtroom and therefore, you have to assume, also in the jury deliberation room.
One major “news” media outlet was even barred from further coverage inside the courtroom after someone claiming to be a producer for the network was stopped by police for following the jurors’ bus, which was interpreted as a potential act of interference, if not intimidation. In fact, the person stopped told police “he had been instructed” to “follow the jury bus” (which the network in question denies).
There were reports of people trying to take pictures of individual jurors, to be able to identify them afterward.
The jury was not sequestered, so they had to know the massive amount of attention the trial was receiving, and had to be aware of the concerns of violence – the National Guard was on standby - if the verdict didn’t go a certain way.
And still these “12 good people and true” (to update the old saying) took the responsibility seriously, as they should have, and carefully deliberated before reaching a unanimous verdict.
Then came the reaction by all those people who, for the most part, were not in the courtroom, who only knew what their choice of media told them, who seem to have already concluded what the correct verdict was even before the evidence was presented.
I heard a commentator on Fox News say of the verdict, “The defense convinced the jury that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense” and I thought, “What? The defense convinced …?” I thought that a person was innocent until proven guilty; that it’s the prosecutions’ job to “convince.’’ The defense only has to show that the prosecution did not succeed in its effort.
But why wait for a trial by a jury of your peers when so many smarter and much wiser experts are ready to pronounce judgment right away? (And if the ratings happen to improve, so much the better).
Even here in Alabama, State Representative Juandalynn Givan – a lawyer – said the verdict proved “White supremacy is America,’’ even though the crime was white-on-white – a white man shot and killed two other white men, wounding a third (although she did include the hashtag “#alllivesmatter,’’ which in popular culture is supposed to be the counter to the Black Lives Matter movement).
There are a few things we should be able to agree on, whatever your political perspective.
Surely those of us on the ‘right’ can agree that an armed teenager is not the best solution when it comes to keeping the peace in any situation, much less one like that in Kenosha. The authorities did not seem to do enough to protect the citizens and their property in downtown Kenosha, but a 17-year-old with a gun hardly seems the best answer.
Surely those of us on the ‘left’ saw enough evidence to understand that those who encountered Rittenhouse acted with threats and aggression, one man even pointing a gun in Rittenhouse’s face. And the people of Kenosha did not deserve to have their businesses and way of life destroyed by an out-of-control racially mixed mob running unhindered through the streets.
And maybe we can agree that serving on that jury, with all that attention and accompanying threats and risk to their own community, required an act of courage that is the essence of citizenship.
I know, I know. We like to say that voting is our highest duty as citizens.
But maybe it’s serving on a jury. After all, serving on a jury is one time that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people’’ actually happens; when “we the people’’ have the power to exercise immediate and unchallenged authority and go against the government (represented by the prosecution and the judge) and even stand up to the activists and commentators in the media.
This is one time “we the people,” represented by those 12 in the jury box, can tell those in power, “No, you’re wrong. We don’t agree with you and won’t let you get away with what you want.”
The jury listened to the testimony, asked questions after being sent to deliberation, reviewed evidence, and spent almost four days deliberating – hardly a rush to judgment - before unanimously agreeing on a verdict.
Could they have been wrong? A 2007 study published by Northwestern University found juries were right somewhere between 77% and 80% of the time. That’s not bad but it's not perfect. And when life and death are on the line, we’d prefer perfect.
Still, I prefer regular people – White, Black, Hispanic, male, female, rich, poor, generational or first generation – sitting in that box, charged with holding the government accountable, ignoring media pundits, deciding whether the government did its job or not.
It is up to the people, in the form of a jury, to say that mob justice is not justice, and media consensus is not due process.
And that, I have come to believe, is what “we the people” really means.
Ray Melick is Editor in Chief of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email and contact information toCommentary@1819News.com