Letters

Anonymous
Via e-mail

Yeah, I have a beef...I can't believe the way Gene Reitnauer has been treated by the courts and media ["The cats of war," November 20].

Who will take her place? Where is the justice in taking her down? Look to the deeds Gene has done and not those of Robert Reitnauer. Gene is an example of Texas individuality in its most noble form.

Paul Waldman
Via e-mail

Many faces of prejudice
Your story on hung juries ["Unreasonable doubts," December 4] might serve to further validate a fear held by many non-minority, law-abiding citizens of Dallas County. Namely, that there is always a distinct possibility that some particular menace to society, of minority persuasion, will be treated leniently by a jury member, or members, of the same race or ethnicity. Such validation, to their way of thinking, would clearly expose a serious flaw in our criminal justice system--a flaw which could ultimately threaten the process purposefully intended to keep "them" from "us."

Before jumping to such a conclusion, however, we might want to consider the issue a little more closely. And while the Simi Valley verdict has increased our awareness of decisions apparently made along racial or ethnic lines, hopefully it will not totally blind us to the possibility that other biases enter into the equation of guilt or innocence. Justice is rarely a matter of black and white--or brown and white--or any color, for that matter.

A number of years ago, I had the experience of serving on a Dallas County grand jury. The grand jury's job is to determine which defendants' cases go to court and which do not. Two days each week, over a three-month period, we heard a total of nearly 3,000 cases.

The defendants, in the vast majority of cases, were not my peers. I was 40, white, college-educated, steadily employed, did not abuse either drugs or alcohol, and had no previous criminal record. The other members of the 12-person grand jury, recommended by commissioners of the court, were more or less like me in many respects. The majority were white. The majority were male. And the majority were over 50. There were four minority members: three blacks and one Hispanic.

Early on, one of the black jurors became ill, and we continued for the remainder of the session with a maximum of 11 members. It takes nine members to return a "true bill," meaning that a case will be prosecuted. In many instances, the remaining two black members (both female) and I decided cases along the same lines. It was soon obvious that our voting bloc could potentially no-bill any case at all, regardless of what the eight remaining members felt about the evidence presented.

In my opinion, it was also obvious that race and/or ethnicity played a role in many of the determinations. The frightening part of the experience for me, however, was realizing just how prejudiced my fellow jurors were. Worst of all, their prejudices were so ingrained, they rarely realized or understood how offensive their words or perceptions were. Even 15 years of working in the civil rights field had not prepared me for such narrow-minded ignorance--an ignorance which usually concluded that black and Hispanic defendants were wrong, while white victims were usually right. White teens who showed up with their family lawyers deserved a second chance, while minority teens were merely following their predisposed natures.

But the prejudices of that grand jury, my own included, went further than race and ethnicity. The ignorance was also sexist. Many of the male jurors concluded that many female victims provoked the violence against them. They felt that male perpetrators merely needed counseling to deal with their personal problems, not jail time.

Jurors were inclined to identify with a defendant or victim who looked like them. Female jurors tended to sympathize with female victims of abuse, or were more inclined to empathize with female defendants against their male victims. Older male jurors couldn't fathom the possibility of sexual abuse by an accused father or grandfather, despite compelling evidence of its occurrence. A divorced male juror, who had child visitation problems with an ex-wife, supported a divorced ex-husband clearly interfering with the terms of the court's child custody decision. Being a single parent myself, with custody of a young daughter, my inclination was to believe the mother, who was the custodial parent.

The point to all this is that we all have our own clearly defined prejudices. While race and ethnicity may be the most obvious ones, they may not be much more insidious than any other. And a hung jury is a hung jury, regardless of the bias upon which it is based.

Name withheld
Via e-mail

Who cares?
I just read some of the remarks about articles related to Dr. Gonzalez and the DISD. The subject is getting to be dull. Just a few questions: Has the word "teacher" ever come into this? I have seen the word "children" once or twice in the last several weeks. Does anyone care about either of us?

I watched the bedroom furniture being removed, hoping there would be a chair or two so the teachers in our overcrowded elementary school could enjoy the luxury of having a chair for all of their students. Try sitting on the floor or a trash can all day! It would be great to have time to spend working for the students instead of spending 35 to 43 hours in useless staff development because someone was paid big bucks to think up a way to insult the teachers. Some staff development is good; most is a waste of time. It would be nice to get a raise that actually addressed the cost of living. Actually, it would be nice to get a raise that came close to the money we spend on our class! We would like to go to school each day and know we would only teach our 25 children and not have to take in six more because no substitute was hired for another class. Does anyone care about this?

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