Summoning Justice

Justice, blind brown and female, centers the mural along the sidewalk fronting the new Multnomah County Courthouse, invoking not the administration of justice but serial “aspirations for justice”, from Equity, through Black Lives Matter, skipping along the now lesser deities of Peace and Hope, on to Feminism only after echoing BLM with “anti racist”–and I can’t help feeling a hierarchy is established–with the newcomer LGBT crowded in at last, and ending with Diversity.

Justice is a journey

Slogans in the white-lettering on black background BLM style greet you as you approach from the south; “Defund Hate” says the last, either a provocative invocation of the familiar call to “defund the police” or a compromise with it.

Queued up outside, reporting for jury duty, the girl behind me seems to be studiously observing six feet of “social” distance. The thick-necked middle aged cop manning the metal detector is too cheerful, offers some self-deprecating humor; I wonder if he’s trying harder in the New Order. He does seem very happy to be there and not, say, on the street.

The turnout responding to the grand jury summons is mostly whites, skewing toward early middle-age, 30 to 40 from whom seven jurors and four alternates would be selected. I wanted to make the cut because it would be enlightening to serve on a grand jury, especially right now, but couldn’t help feeling relieved when I wasn’t picked. I also couldn’t help noticing a very dark black woman standing out in this pale congregation, was chosen. I was not surprised. If she was hoping to escape, she never had a chance.

A middle-aged white woman wearing a limp, too-casual dress and faded tattoos gave us the citizenship spiel and then a judge present to select the jurors, another middle-aged woman, stumbled through it via video link. A canned bit came next featuring the county’s judges featuring the same preponderance of the menopausal, some interviews with actual jurors and brief fictional enactments of trial scenes.

But first came the historical context they still seem compelled to give; a mention of the founders and Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence shown on the screen briefly like a piece of historical flotsam, the white faces and colonial dress an intrusion politely ignored, for the moment. I almost expected someone to gasp at this painting that everyone understood would be an insufferable affront if hanging in the lobby. Likewise the mention of our Anglo legal heritage. And stated so frankly, almost enthusiastically! Seeing these things invoked in a positive light was jarring, it had been so long since I’ve heard the earnest celebration of American civic tradition and its founders. I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder at the others to get their reactions.

We Declare White Supremacy

A short break was followed by a second video, after which we were to line up before an iPad and be asked three questions by the judge who would then anoint the worthy. The second video was a tutorial on “unconscious bias” introduced by a large, dark black woman with a simpleton’s manner obviously selected to challenge your perceptions of large, dark black women with a simpleton’s manner. As opposed to the elegant and well-spoken fictional Black Lady Judge instructing her jurors in one of the re-enactment style scenes from the earlier video–her image of cool competence being the result of countless episodes of Law and Order and a long-developed type for which, they hope, you have developed an implicit bias.

If I was the second black woman, the inelegant one, I might find dubious the honor of being put on display so the audience can later be, pardon the phrase, implicitly hectored for their initial (unconsciously biased) appraisal of her as “tough”, “intimidating” or “out of place”.

Curiously, the phrase “implicit bias” wasn’t used in this implicit bias training. Maybe it didn’t make it past the focus group. Perhaps it’s a damaged phrase–one for which the public has already developed implicit bias through experience and exposure, say, to it’s having been debunked.

The politically bowdlerized “unconscious bias” was used with due repetitiveness, with particular emphasis on the word “unconscious”, as advised by the Third Principle of Propaganda on repetition so as to create bias.

The unconscious mind and its use of experience to create categories and assess probability are wonderful “mental short-cuts” necessary for navigating the “day to day” world but–a judge intones severely–“may come at a price.”

“Remember, we’re looking for instantaneous and instinctive decision making that is influenced by deep seated stereotypes and attitudes in our brains.”

The questionable “blind curtain audition” study was unashamedly brought forward, as well as the Stroop Effect Test, demonstrating unconscious bias’ pernicious nature by showing how much easier it is to read through a word list of colors cast in their corresponding color than when cast in random colors contradicting the word meaning. I don’t think it registered with the tiring audience.

“Be aware to be fair” the participants say, one at a time, each with their particular intonation, before the large, dark black woman with a simpleton’s manner takes her turn and closes the video out, mercifully, with a rainbow motion of the hands. The room was silent and the relief palpable.

After everyone went before the judge, so to speak, the elect were called up and the rest of us sent home. I couldn’t help noticing the jurors were more diverse than the turnout. Damn that unconscious bias!

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