Recalling Victor Hugo ‘A Citizen’s Duty and Responsibility’ AUSTIN “Jury ServiceA Citizen’s Privilege and Responsibility,” said the little pamphlet enclosed with the green summons which added, “9 a.m. or else.” By various strategems I became too busy to serve for the specified week, winning, however, only postponement. After three of these postponements, there passed through my mind a sigh and the whisper, “Submit.” Monday morning last the courtroom was filled with 200 of my fellow good-citizens. Some of the women wore furs and some the plain coats one might buy at Penney’s or Sears. The men came, one guessed by their wearings, from business offices and farms and the cabs of trucks. We were Mexicans, Negroes, and whites, suddenly called together, in defiance of the orders of Jesus and compliance with the orders of the court, to judge our fellow men. Early in the proceedings a bailiff terrupted the judge to tell someone, “There’ll be no reading in the courtroom.” Thus we were finessed into attentiveness by the legal elimination of alternatives and the early hour. Judge Mace Thurman, a young, able-seeming man who spoke into the microphone briskly, congratulated us upon our public-spirited presence. Then he advised us, of the necessary qualifications of jurors and asked those not qualifying to come forward. One by one seven Negroes and three Latin-Americans went up to him, high behind his bench, and told him why they did not qualify. A Negro man said, “I can’t read and write,” and he responded, \( unfortunately into the write? You’ll be excused,” and the fellow made his way out of the room aware of the eyes of his townsfolk. A Latin-American woman said, “I can’t speak very good English.” “You’ll be excused.” The judge had also advised us that jurors had to be “of good moral character,” but none of us went forward to claim disqualification under this provision. UPON ARRIVING in the courtroom I had been greeted by the only member of the jury venire I recognized, Mrs. Joyce Mims. \(Austin is now a city of 200,000, and we do not know all our fellow citizens here any ing with each other about the honor and distinction our present situation conferred upon us when alack, Judge Thurman provided us with an object for our gratified irritation : He read the list of classes of persons exempted, at their own option, from district and county court “Jury ServiceA Citizen’s Privilege and Responsibility.” Surely few would argue that mothers should be denied to their children under 16, although juries are thereby denied the services of women during a time in their lives when they may be more compassionate than most of us are generally. Mrs. Mims saw some argument for the exemption of physicians, most of whom are charged with caring for some continuing maladies, and firemen, whose duties are also continuous \(although even these groups include many who could arrange leaves of absence for jury duty : they work out their vacation schedering indignation, pyramided, by our alternating arguments, into outrage, against most of the rest of the exemptions. Listen to them! \(static from “1.All persons over 65.” \(That is, “2.Civil officers.” \(That is, about one-fourth of the population of the “3.Overseers of roads.” \(They have been called “foremen” since “4.Ministers of the gospel.” \(That is, those who tell us how’ we should live our lives, and are therefore ex perts in judging us ; although, of course, they are very busy during the “5.Physicians, dentists, attorneys, and spouses of attorneys.” \(Dentists, of course, must pull teeth when the pullin’s good, and attorneys, while agile in winning delays for their clients, could not possibly delay their cases in order to participate, as jurors, in the system of justice they have studied and served all their lives and know more about than the rest of us. As for “spouses of attorneys,” clearly Judy Horton they cannot be expected to be jurors, since they are the spouses of attor”6.Railroad station agents, conductors, engineers, and firemen.” \(The mail must go through, and even if it mustn’t, too much interchangeability of train workers might strengthen the “7.Any person who has acted as a jury commissioner within the preceding month. The wife of any man who is summoned to serve on the same jury panel.” \(The first of these exemptions, making sense, has little place on the list. As for a man, and wife called at the same time, clearly it is more important to exempt the wife with no children 16 or younger than it is to exempt the bread-win”8.Militia.” \(Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty from radioactive “9.Members of fire departments. “10.All females who have legal custody of a child or children under the age of 16 years.” “11.Registered, practical, or voca AUSTIN About a year ago, an Anglo-American freshman at the University of Texas stole several hundred dollars worth of rare books while working part-time in the library. He . was a straight-A student and some said a genius. No publicity was given to that case by the University. The boy was dismissed from school, and that was all. Within the past two weeks, a LatinAmerican senior at the University of Texas was charged with stealing several hundred dollars’ worth of booksone a rare bookwhile working part-time in the library. He was a C student, though one of his former professors characterized him as having “great potential.” This case received publicity through every local news media : newspapers, television, and radio. The boy was turned over to the Department of Public Safety and was charged with theft before the district attorney and released on WHY THE PROFOUND difference in the handling of these two cases? Is a suspected book thief considered more criminal at the University of Texas because he is a Latin-American instead of an AngloAmerican, because he is a senior instead of a freshman, because is is a C student instead of an A student? An explanation was given by UT Librarian Alexander Moffitt. “There was a change of policy,” he said. Ah, indeed. One boy is sent home. Another boy is sent to the district tional nurses.” \(Including, one pre”12.Practitioners who treat the sick by prayer or spiritual means.” \(It is probably better to exclude Christian Scientists, swamis, Oral Roberts, “13.Licensed morticians.” \(When a man is dead, he is dead : let’s preserve him at once, and also preserve the morticians from jury duty in return for their annual contributions to “14.Register ed pharmacists.” “15.Agents engaged in forestry.” \(A sensible thought. And how about the staff at the Port Isabel light”16.All school teachers, public, parochial, and private.” \(They only get three months’ vacation, during which they are invariably in college EIGHTEEN of our group claimed various exemptions, mostly mothers. Doubtless most of the lawyers, doctors, nurses, ministers, pharmacists, morticians, and “spouses of attorneys” claimed their exemptions in advance to avoid their richly merited public stonings. Nevertheless, when one Negro man passed the bench on the way out remarking to the judge, “I’m a minister,” I felt an, impartial interracial disgust which would have been thwarted in the more hesitant souls of those still self-conscious about the equality of man. Then the many who had been waiting eagerly for their turn, “the excuses,” lined up before the bench, extending down the center aisle to the middle of the courtroom. Judge Thurman, hearing the first excuse, described to the assemblage, in gentle language, the fence-enclosed meadow within which my own good citizenship had already ripened into its present stolid estate : he could exempt no occupation ; all he would grant would be postponements. In the sinking realization of his meaning, most of the excusees would have straggled back to their seats but for their sensing of the watchful attention of their amused attorney. Quite a change of policy. Why, and how? We pursued the cold spoor of bureaucracy a bit further with Mr. Moffitt, our conversation running in part : Q. Have we any other thefts’ to compare these with in treatment? A. I would say no. These are the only two instances of book thefts I know of where employees were concerned. Q. Well, if there was a policy change before this last case, when did it come about? A. I had heard rumors of a policy change but hadn’t been told of a policy change. Q. Were you the one who initiated punitive action against the LatinAmerican ? A. Well, I had heard the rumor about the policy change toward thieving, and I wanted to find out, so I Ransom, and he told me to see \(ViceLandrum. He called in Chief Hamilcalled in the Department of Public Safety. That’s all I know. Q. Will all cases involving student employees be handles in this fashion in the future? A. I don’t know. I have received no written communication of policy yet. This young man seems to be getting the fall-guy treatment from a ponderous bUreaupratic mechanism that is run so completely by whimsy, filtering down from somewhere up townsfolk. Not a one retreated without a little chat with him. “It’ll probably be a light week,” he told a lady who had a bridge brunch awaiting her arrival, “but you can come back when it’s more convenient if you wish.” “Well,” she said, “I guess it’ll be just as bad later on,” and returned to her seat, accustoming herself to the new halo of civic responsibility she had just caught sight of overhead through her upraised eyelids. They only needed one jury Monday morning in the other three courts of the jurisdiction. The 32 first-called trooped away, leaving most of us waiting in Thurman’s court. In very rapid order, Judge Thurman, looking them squarely in their eyes, sentenced two men caught driving a second time while not entirely in command of themselves to “one year in the penitentiary”; a younger man in workshirt and bluejeans, for the same offense, to “three months in the county jail”; and a boy caught with a stolen car to “two years in the penitentiary.” The attorneys for each of these con demned men volunteered no word of defense nor any appeal for clemency, but rather agreed with the district attorney that they were getting what was coming to them. “It make me think of Victor Hugo,” Mrs. Mims whispered. WE LITTLE NOTICE the anachronisms and injustices of the moldy laws until they bear into our own lives. To see ordinary, fidgeting men with families, whose crime was getting caught drunk in a car a second time, ordered to the penitentiary for one year shocked me beyond the power of the judge’s later explanation they would get good treatment as alcoholics at Huntsville quite to re deem. But they did not need us, this morning, to judge our fellow men, the felons each having assented to the judgments of the system, and so at least we were spared serving as jurors while our neighborly undertakers and “spouses of lawyers” went about their business immune from “Jury Service A Citizen’s Privilege and Responsibility.” R.D. toward the top, that the head librarian of the place does not as yet know just what “The Policy” is in a situation where the reputation, scholastic career, and happiness of a boy is at stake. It is wrong to steal books. But all God’s chillun who sweat at the armpits now and then have larcenous inclinations. It is in such moments that we are partly directed by social sanctions. That’s what laws are for. They’re to let us know what punishment we can expect if we get out of line. But university laws are hardly directive laws when they are so arbitrary and secret that even such an important official of the university as Moffitt has heard of them only “as a rumor”. Under such conditions, how could a mere clerk know what to expect? WHEN A UNIVERSITY reaches an enrollment of nearly 20,000, the prevailing attitude easily becomes one of indifference to the individual. To get the renown that comes with massive enrollment, fat and famous faculties, overwhelming book collections, a university has to sacrifice something. Perhaps the University of Texas has chosen to give up the worth of the individual as its part in the Faustian pact. If so, it is out of place to worry about one boy, a suspected thief at that, although he does seem to be getting a fast policy shuffle. B.S. THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 5 Jan. 14, 1961 A Case for the Individual
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