Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero: The Lone Juror, Adam Sirois

Juror 11

Commenter Penn posted a nuanced take on Adam Sirois’s dilemma. It would have been a COTD yesterday, but for some reason WordPress has decided to spam all of Penn’s comments of late, for no reason that I can detect. (I can only discourage commenters I ban by repeatedly spamming them until they go away.) If anyone else has a disappearing comment, e-mail me quick, and I can usually find it. I’m sorry: I swear, it’s not me!

One point before I turn the blog over to Penn. His first comment is about that photo, much criticized, of the lone juror raising his hand in the press conference and “smirking” or looking”sheepish,” or “smug.” I liked Ann Althouse’s take on that:

“The photographers must have taken thousands of pictures of Sirois’s face, and the newspaper editors have chosen one, one that supports the “smirking… sheepishly” characterization. If he “looks like a smug little prick” to you, that’s because the editors decided to help you think that and because the man just had an 18-day experience and was the kind of person who could stand up for his beliefs in a group setting for more than 2 weeks. Most people would cave and go along to get along. These people are much more likely to have a pleasant, unremarkable face.”

Now here is Penn’s spam-rescued Comment of the Day on the post Ethics Hero: The “Lone Juror,” Adam Sirois:

If I were Mr. Sirois (or the admirer to his left) I wouldn’t be grinning at the cameras.

This is a bad time in this country to be a victim of cognitive dissonance — spoiling everyone’s desires or expectations and flying in the face of their firm beliefs — considering the incidence of irrational mob responses in the past few years that have preempted outcomes both in and out of the courtroom or on and off the playing field before the evidence is even in. Because the news flows by in eye-confounding banners and ear-bytes, there is a tendency to think that it is gone, over. But for the participants, the slogans and gestures last, in the minds of some, forever.

The excuses are varied: presumed racism, rape, child-abuse, cheating, corruption, guilt or innocence. As Ethics Alarms #1 position of “everybody does it” points up, it is the easiest rationalization and a powerful temptation to act on the Opinion everyone is supposed to have (because they have a RIGHT to an opinion, of course they have to have one). Which makes the joining with others of the same (unsupported) opinion lead to an overreaction (incited by media?) for both like-minded or idle citizens against whatever authority appears to stand in the way of their convictions. Meanwhile authority, using its own precedents by custom as well as by law, compound the errors: as police, mayors, district attorneys (#44 “we’ve always done it this way” or #5 “we’ve been getting away with it this long”) or academics and grandstanding politicians (#29a “I’ll tell you what to think since you’re too stupid to figure it out for yourself”).

The unhappy, long-term and potentially fatal consequence of these outbursts is that in not wanting or being able to accept they were wrong, overreacted, made fools of themselves, blindly followed the herd or a false prophet — they don’t back down. They – okay, we, well, if you insist, I … I simply didn’t look for or listen to any follow-up. The larger or more powerful the group, the less likely it was that I would risk speaking up. In fact, somewhere in any given day’s multiplicity of news sources is always a story similar to the one I just attacked/defended: “Somebody” has done “it” again, see? I knew it. My made-up mind has been vindicated That “I” would see that Sirois joins Zimmerman as an enemy of the people, because that is the opinion of the majority, an uninformed, misinformed blind and deaf opinion.

Been there, done that. It didn’t take much. First, the dirty jury-duty stories, not uncommon: called up two or three times a year, year after year, and not excused for exams (one of them missing a State Board licensing that cost me a year of professional income), or medical procedures (a minor operation that had to be rescheduled for a time that was to have been a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, the first in fourteen years). I never got to serve on a jury, just sat in the pool and fumed. Being groomed to accept the idea of a faulty “justice system” that did things like reward the cold-blooded assassinations of the city’s mayor and a supervisor with a diminished-capacity defense which, blown into national headlines, became reduced to “the Twinkie defense.” The riots and counter-actions by police following the inadequate trial results were short-lived, but what remained was the idea that the system WAS indeed broken and that neither it nor its defenders, the police, judge, prosecution and jurors, had a vested interest in either the law or justice. The natural identification for the man-in-the-street is the juror.

Being prompted to “do a Sirois” myself, standing out against a popular local hero (a journalist/author/historian supposedly representing a large minority whom I knew without doubt to be a plagiarizing, lying, bigoted hypocrite), led me, finally, to reassess that passive position. My answer was to distrust not the systems, faulty and flawed as they were, but two traps I had fallen into: 1) my own overriding skepticism, an intellectual laziness that allowed me to sit back and criticize instead of pursuing often unpleasant truths or participating in debate and reasoned action; and 2) the media, particularly headlines or any other kinds of shortcut or replacements for informed – that’s the adjective that goes best with the noun – opinion.

In the case of the Pedro Hernandez trial (keeping in mind it is not the Etan Patz trial), there is no way I could obtain an informed opinion on Sirois’ decision — even the trial transcript does not contain a record of jury deliberation. Barring access to that, I have to trust the system and assume nothing whatsoever about Sirois’ stand.

It was the gall of Sirois in the “it’s clever me, teacher; I’ve got the answer” pose that almost sucked me in: Do we have a new provocative “hand-up” gesture? Or an attentive photographer catching an op? Nuts. I’m waiting for the second trial; I think it starts in June.

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