*Some of the loudest voices complaining about the Casey Anthony verdict belong to Americans who have never served a single day of Jury Duty.
I know from whence I speak. I gave every excuse I could think of to not be a potential juror in the system of the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles: “I’m leaving town”…”Serving would cause me financial hardship”… “I’m in my second trimester of a difficult pregnancy.”
I didn’t want to serve. And I’ve never known a person who wanted to. Maybe one.
Having had enough of my shenanigans, the court issued me a nonnegotiable date to report to duty, along with a warning: if I didn’t show up, they’d fine me and/or issue a warrant for my arrest.
I performed my civic obligation one day last month, languishing for about eight hours in a downtown courthouse jury pool with grocery checkout clerks, construction workers, hip hop housewives, bankers, the unemployed, college students, bartenders, musicians and retirees.
There were forty of us in all, every color under the sun, the well-to-do and well-I-never, most of us worlds apart but suddenly bound by our mutual annoyance at being called down here to do this.
When it was announced there’d be no jury assembled that day and we were free to go, the room actually cheered. Hastily putting away periodicals, closing up lap tops and gathering our belongings, we rushed to the elevators, shamelessly reveling in the uncharitable notion that we’d served jury duty without having to serve on a jury.
This is why Casey Anthony got away with murder. People bemoan the judicial system. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s the people who are broken. It’s us.
Exhibit one: the stark, sad irony of lying and conniving to get out of doing a deed that relies on a clear sense of gravity and willingness to know what is right and true. In my desperation to avoid jury duty, I’m embarrassed to say I consulted others for ways to wiggle out of the responsibility. Most advised one scheme or another. Americans want justice, we just don’t want to do jury duty.
It figures. We’re a culture of contradictions. We don’t want to be held hostage by our addiction to oil, yet we refuse to give up our gas guzzlers. We call on fast food corporations to feed us healthy food, when the window of every drive-thru I’ve ever patronized reeks of the uncanny mélange of food grease and polyethylene. We watch fake “reality” on TV, dance to funk-from-concentrate and expect the government to deliver us from years of economic mismanagement in record time.
To be sure, it was Casey Anthony being tried for killing her two year-old daughter Caylee. But also on trial was our dizzying national dysfunction. We are the victims of a tragic utopia of our own deviant design, where the ridiculous is routinely twisted into the acceptable. Where a Sarah Palin, dumb as a chair, is actually listened to and speculated about. Over generations, we’ve quietly kneaded our assorted madness into a creepy version of normalcy, when the fact is, we’re all a little crazy, some of us more than others.
In that regard, perhaps Casey Anthony, a young woman whose reported peculiar behavior in the wake of her daughter’s disappearance bespoke someone not all there, truly got a jury of her peers. Because that Bizarro verdict they handed down was just plain nuts.
So maybe there wasn’t enough evidence presented to convict with murder one. There are a lot of options between that and not guilty. The girl didn’t report her daughter missing for 31 days. You legal eagles can say what you want, but somewhere along the way this jury should have developed some courage and common sense.
And it’s about to get even crazier. With Bin Laden gone and the economy taking its own sweet time recovering, America needs something or someone to despise (besides Obama and Congress), and Casey offers just the right amount of hatability: we believe she either killed her daughter or knows who did; she shows little or no remorse she’s young, attractive and stands to make money from her notoriety. That’s a combination we can loathe.
But throw your stones now. Because at the height of the nation’s hatred for Casey, there will sprout an underground faction of support for her and it’s going to grow. She’ll be on the covers of magazines and on TV. And like a car wreck, we won’t be able to look away. In a dysfunctional world, sometimes curiosity can be shaped to resemble acceptance. Get ready for the stench.
However, the Casey Anthony case did a good thing. It forever altered my view of serving on a jury. I no longer see it as mere duty, but a privilege and an honor. Next time the court comes calling, I’ll be more than ready to serve with an open mind. It just seems like the sane thing to do.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]