Why Diversity of ALL Kinds Matters
By Dan Singer, Board Member – League of Women in Government
Going to Jury duty can be a varied experience. In some regards, it is a day away from the routine – a chance to catch up on some reading if you’re not impaneled. Yet for many it is a distraction with little reward, plus the possibility you may be spending days, if not weeks, on a Jury. However, universally, it is also an opportunity to learn about our court system and do your civic duty by contributing to a unique and proven justice system.
Last week I was summoned to serve…and, reluctantly, serve I did. During the morning orientation and again by the welcoming judge, participants were reminded of the importance and value of a “jury of your peers.” It is part of the American core; written into our Constitution and Bill of Rights; practiced around the nation, and demonstrated to be the best process of justice known around the world.
Late in the morning I thought I had escaped the call to a jury room when suddenly my name came up. Fifty of us worked our way into a small courtroom on the 4th floor of the San Diego Superior Court building; an old and tired structure, made even less comfortable by the worn out seats that looked and felt like they were borrowed from an old high school auditorium. The clerk randomly called the first dozen names to be seated in the jury box. I was grateful not to be one of them because this was going to be a 5-6 day criminal case and I had an upcoming trip at the end of the week.
The judge then interviewed all of the proposed jurists to get a feel for their background, household circumstance, work experience, interaction with law enforcement, etc. It was a long and detailed interview meant to provide the defense and plaintiff attorneys with a clear assessment of the prospective jurors. Despite a few chuckles it would have otherwise been an uneventful experience. But here is the thing. Of the twelve jurists interviewed only four were Caucasian.
As each jurist was handed the microphone a new, remarkable, story unfolded. A Chinese man was a Plasma Physicist working on some type of nuclear space research; his accent thick. A local man, who identified as Pakistani American, ran a successful landscape equipment company with numerous employees. His foreign-born wife was an accountant and his native-born daughter a Registered Nurse. A young woman was doing DNA sequencing for a medical research company, her parents both immigrated from the Philippines to this Country some 22 years ago.
On the prospective jury, there was also a young man who was holding down a few jobs while he finished school and prepared to propose to his girlfriend. I believe he said he was from Brazil or Argentina. A married Korean American man, with three daughters he was clearly proud of, was a researcher with UCSD’s medical school. A Latina mother of four was a barista at Starbucks and having lost her husband during his military service, was clearly struggling to keep her family fed, yet maintained a beautiful disposition and attitude – even joking that she would bring the jury good coffee every morning. And finally a young American whose Japanese parents migrated to Hawaii some 40 years ago; his occupation a high-school teacher.
Among the four Caucasians these twelve prospective jurists looked more like a meeting at the United Nations than a jury from fifty years – even twenty years ago – which most likely would have been primarily Caucasian. Yet here we were. A random drawing of eligible residents to serve our courts and our country in this uniquely American way — Caucasian from east and west Europe, African American, Korean American, and so forth. Granted, San Diego is a region surrounded by universities, medical institutions and high-tech businesses which economically draws people from around the world. It is a desirable international destination and sits on the border with Mexico. It may not be typical of every metropolitan area in our nation, certainly not of many rural communities across our country. But this is America today. These are “our peers.”
We read on a daily basis the importance of work equality and diversity in the workforce. Here in this corner of the world at least, diversity thrives. This IS us; this is our America.
Dan Singer is the former City Manager of the cities of Poway, Goleta and Ojai, California. Dan has over 25 years of experience in municipal management and has a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse University. Dan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via website: www.dansinger.net.