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Liberty and Justice

Go into the judicial system on any day of the week and you will find America. If you are called for jury duty you will discover that America’s finger is on the pulse of crime and punishment, not do-gooding. Not exemplary citizenship, mind you, just the aftermath of bad behavior, cause and effect, action and reaction. Damage control. And when the judicial system summons you, it states that “jury service is one of the highest duties of citizenship and it is an essential element of our democratic society.” In the jurors’ waiting room, your first taste of America is of the melting pot, a stew of multi-cultural, -national, -lingual, -ethnic people thrown together in ways in which they would not ordinarily be in contact. The bond that holds this chemical stew together is boredom and inconvenience. Names are called and the evidence of the incredible range of cultural backgrounds rings out like freedom from Asia, the British Isles, Africa, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and places which you don’t quite know exist: Pin Po Pan – did I hear this name right? And so we all sit, stewing.

Apparently, crime is so prevalent that it is categorized, into criminal and civil cases. Which is worse, and what is the difference? The thing is, we Americans seem to commit both with gusto since there are so many trials to choose from. And this is just one day, and right before Independence Day. No independence from crime, it seems. More names are called, at least six groups of thirty to sixty members each while I am still in this holding room. It is like a factory, churning out jurors as fast as the wrong-doers can do wrong. Though it is a backlog, a stutter of time like a tape delay, with the resulting action of juror-gathering way behind the actual perpetration. We potential jurors have no say in the matter but we are randomly selected to help determine the yea or nay status of our fellow citizens. Thumbs up or down? Jury of our peers? Hmm, I don’t know anyone who does these sorts of things.

I have fallen into a group for a civil case, a potentially heart-wrenching (actually quite literally) monetary duel between a pharma-industrial giant and a small victim of scientific paternalism. It is potentially a hot case, but one of so many other similar ones that have involved oodles of money and irreparable harm. The law, it seems, is not there to protect the innocent – the law is retrograde; the law is not preventative, it is, rather, there only to fight for reparations. After the fact. Pay to play.

But back to America on its birthday. Oh, that’s right, this is America. Sadly, this is what America has become, or maybe has always been: an irascible, angry mob of malcontents and the powerful targets of our collective rage who are quite adept at duck and cover techniques. In a way, it’s just like our assembled juror group awaiting its fate in the courtroom. We are angry about the careless way we are cattle-chuted into this place, left standing in hallways, sitting unmoving for hours in a room that is either too hot or too cold, left uninformed and, in a punishing way, treated like the perpetrators of crimes rather than the arbitrators of innocence or guilt. What high duty exactly?

What has happened here? What happened to the promise of America? It is and always has been about money. The placeness of money. But there is no placeness of money, in fact it totally lacks placeness. Money is withdrawn or rewarded, depending on the jurors’ decision, or time is the payment if you have no money. Jurisprudence is a kind of banking system.

So I sit in this disgruntled place of those caught in a web, or caught with their pants down, or just caught, or caught up in some bizarre or hellish nightmare of desperation. We are all caught in this system today; many of us avoid the nets, some swim right into them. This is not the America I want to celebrate today, in this way. But here it is. There is nothing so appropriate as this for finding America. I and all my fellow Americans have washed up on this shore of the judicial stage. Law makers and law enforcers. Laws are made, laws are broken, lives are made, lives are broken. It’s the system of balances, weights and measures. Just like the weighing of gold. Nothing of value really is measurable.

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