The first time I was in Jury duty in Queens New York, somebody had told me that if you donate Blood, they might let you leave. At the very least, they might put you to the front of all the thwarting lines. I don’t know why I believed that, but when asked to give, my hand shot up like when I used to answer multiplication questions in fourth grade. I had to be first and correct, the Aries curse. I was on a severe self-created diet at the time, placing me in a precarious position. As I watched my blood get extracted and start to swirl up the tube, I noticed how burgundy it looked. I recall adjusting my focus to a planned indulgence of the Oreo cookies they had out for when you were finished. It was then that the whole world gradually started to spin, suggesting a heavy inebriation. When I woke up, the technician was scrambling a little and looked concerned. A woman donating blood next to me said, “I have never seen a white person turn opaque until today.” I was a little frightened, but I pressed on in my mission. I went right to the judge seeking forbearance. He was more interested in adjusting his robe then engaging in profitable discourse.
“You look fine to me sir. Return to your seat and fulfill your civic duty. Being a United States citizen isn’t free.”
I ended up in what could be the lamest TV court drama of all time. An oil company wouldn’t pay the medical bills for an old woman that had tripped over their delivery hose in the street. There was no warning sign or people nearby. Some lawyer was trying to discredit the morals of the old woman, showing me that justice was clearly no virtue here. All my trepidation about being there was confirmed.
When I ran out of deferments to serve in Manhattan in 2012, I could only wonder what jury duty would be like right near where the World Trade Center used to be. My pilgrimage downtown led me to a line of about two hundred people standing outside. It was frigid and blustery. I had neither gloves nor a scarf, and started to catch an ice burn on my hands and face. I tried to hold onto a hot coffee cup which proved fruitless. I swallowed a big bagel from a food cart whole and tried to troop it out. Forty minutes later I discovered I might as well have been entering airport security area. Belts off, shoes off. I was surprised they didn’t run a gloved hand up my inner thigh like that one time in Germany. The first thing I noticed inside, was that the court system seemed obsessed with not being tagged on diversity. Every staff member was not 100% anything. There was a white guy cop with a big afro; a thugged out street tough white girl cop, an Asian cop, and a Spanish cop. The post offices in NYC are largely staffed by African Americans and Asians, but this was different. All the judges would turn out to be a white woman.
Everyone was led into a room to watch a video about civic duty and to get lectured on the laws of the game. People being herded in groups and not knowing what’s coming next reminded me of Holocaust stories. People just submit to the process and try to ride it out. Eventually, we were led in groups to a courtroom interview process to see if we fit the bill to sit on a jury.
Translation: The lawyers will try to figure out if you’re a person who won’t mind if the truth becomes misconstrued. Just a little. As doctors say before they deliver, a shot, this will only hurt a bit.
I learned through keen observation that the way out of this mess was to become a broken part of the machine. If the court system was a human body, I had to become poison. I most certainly wasn’t trying to suit up as a white blood cell. I could tell people were uncomfortable being there, but were too suppressed to attempt an escape. Language barriers were insurmountable. Attempts at communication with the non-english speaking folks led to deep levels of mutual bewilderment. Eventually, the judge would ascertain that somebody couldn’t speak English.
Or could they?
The first day I wasn’t chosen and never made it to the interview. You spend an entire work day waiting for nothing. My second day adrift in the abyss, I felt I was headed into a direct confrontation between me and civilized society. I tried to pass the time writing music to no avail. I was amazed how much people that didn’t know each other starting talking and finding a repor. Finally, I was led to a case between a rapper and the police. I was shocked and baffled that this insipid drama was playing out in real life and that I was being tasked with a minor role. The musician in me was offended. I would take anything over a farce like this. The rapper in the system seeking street cred. Is my life going on hold for a famous rapper fantasy? Am I juror number three? Bring back the old lady who tripped over that oil delivery cable.
The worst was the judge lecturing us before the interviews about civic duty once again.
“This trial may last up to two months; the Court understands your sacrifice.”
WHAT? REALLY? JACK MY LIFE FOR TWO MONTHS TO PLAY A ROLE IN A FAKE PLAY ABOUT JUSTICE? SO A RAPPER CAN BE LEGIT?
It reminded me of the garbled recorded message you hear from the broken speakers on the Subway when the trains stop. They never make even a shred of sense. I have a newsflash for you: A recorded computer apology is not legitimate.
The judge embarrassed herself, and all of us further:
“Does anybody here know the rapper MC Doo Doo?”
I had no choice at this point but to believe this rapper has coined his name after, yes, human excrement.
As the interviews started up, the question was raised about trusting the word of the police. You had to be able to hear them with one-hundred percent no-bias. It was at that moment that I saw a way possibly evade the darkness. Maybe I could elude them. My light in the dark had appeared. I devised my plan at once.
I Know, we’re all starting to know, that cops have no accountability. They lie to cover up when they abuse power. The system protects them. The recent murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are the latest in a long and unending list of tragedies at their hands, while they hide behind the holy badge of forgiveness.
F L A S H B A C K
I enter the Bodega on forty-eighth street and tenth avenue in New York city. I order a sandwich. I’m ignoring the police van outside and cops inside. That’s when a cop online behind me starts whispering in my ear requesting me to have a problem. He leaned in and pressed into my back.
“Come on you piece of shit. C’mon. Start something with me. Have a problem. Just turn around and look at me.”
I abandoned my Roast Beef and left looking at floor. I slinked out of there like a weasel on crack. I watched the news that night and saw a story on cops being behind on quotas and doing anything to get an arrest. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when cops moonlighting as bouncers murdered my friend Hilton Ruiz, and then had it covered up.
Back in court, I thought of how Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sanctioned the murder of Amadou Diallo. I thought of how the cops sodomized Abner Louima. I knew in my heart that I couldn’t give any cops even one ounce of trust.
During the court interview, I was already a suspect however.
“What do you do Mr.Lavelle?”
“I sell trumpets.”
“Do you sell them on the street? Do you understand English?”
I was already being sized up for having too much street in my soul. Finally, the judge gave me my opening:
“Is anyone here unable to trust the word of Police one-hundred percent?”
My hand shot up just like I was back in fourth grade. I was the only one in the room of almost seventy people with my hand raised. Soft spoken but with a revolutionary fire in my heart, I confirmed that I do not trust any policeman. Not one single pig in the whole world deserves my trust.
I left the courtroom with escape velocity. On my way out a Latina, just excused because she couldn’t speak English, came over to me and said with crisp articulation in clear English:
“I am so glad I got out of that. Being a member of society comes with a price. I wish I at least had health insurance instead of their measly forty dollars a day we get in two months.”
I was then directed back to the jury selection room. I had not yet achieved freedom. I was watching this gay dude attention freak putting on a show for everybody when my name was called. I was released at last. I picked up all my plastic bags with books I thought I might read and my notebooks for composing music and vacated. I caught a few snide glances for looking a little homeless. I had survived Jury Duty once again.
I thought about how next time I’ll show up for Jury Duty as Dracula, drunk on too much blood.
“Isn’t it true Mr.Lavelle that you enjoy biting on necks and sucking the blood from innocent victims?”
“No. Not me sir. Just ask my buddy Frankenstein over there. The guy with the gun and the badge”.
For Cecil Taylor