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Atlantic Monthly Sidebar

June 1979

On the Jury

Had the young black been caught with a loaded revolver? Or was the gun planted by the white policeman who made the arrest? The judge asked jurors to reason from the evidence; no one counted on the implacable weight of racial hostility.

by Vivian Gornick

The case before the court was a criminal one: illegal possession of a loaded gun. The elements in the case were the testimony of two undercover policemen, the testimony of the accused, and the presence of a gun on the prosecutor's table. The policemen--both white, in their middle thirties--said the defendant had the gun in his hand when they arrested him. The defendant--black, eighteen--said it was all a lie, he'd never seen the gun until the moment the cops were pushing him up against a wall and handcuffing him. The gun--silver-plated, .32 caliber--lay there mute, an indifferent prop to be seized upon alternately by the prosecuting and the defending lawyers.

It took a day and a half for all the principals in the case to say what they had to say. At the end of that time, the judge turned to the jury box. He reminded the jurors, twelve good and true, that the burden of proof lay with the People; that unless, in their judgment, the People had proved beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused, it was incumbent upon them to bring in a verdict of not guilty. He enjoined the jurors to reason out of the evidence. He further enjoined them to search and make up their own minds, but at the same time to be open to the thought and feeling of their fellows, as the essence of deliberation was the interaction of open minds.

The judge spoke these profound words easily and carefully, yet mechanically and rhetorically: somewhat like a stewardess on a plane rehearsing her passengers in the lifesaving steps they were to take in case of an emergency whose potential reality no one believed in.

The policemen (whom I will call Galella and Kowalski) told substantially the same story: At approximately 7:30 P.M. one night last July, while on a regular tour of duty (wearing street clothes, driving an unmarked car), they spotted two boys, one of whom was the defendant, sitting at the edge of an alley on West 37th Street, a few feet in from 10th Avenue. As this was a neighborhood that Galella and Kowalski knew well--densely commercial during the day, equally dense with prostitution after dark--they automatically registered the presence of strangers. They drove on by and continued their tour. An hour later they heard over their car radio a report that someone had been seen with a gun in or around those same streets. They drove back and found a marked patrol car parked at the corner of 10th and 37th. These uniformed police said they too had had the gun report and had seen two boys they thought suspicious, had questioned and searched them, found nothing, and sent them on their way. The uniformed police described the two boys Galella and Kowalski had seen earlier. The four policemen parted and went back to their respective cars.

Galella and Kowalski drove up 10th Avenue, turning east on 38th Street. Halfway to 9th Avenue, they spotted the two boys in question walking back towards 10th Avenue. Why, they wondered, when the boys had been told to leave the neighborhood? They decided to swing through a bus lot in the middle of the block and return to 37th Street. They parked their car a third of the way up the block, beside a parking lot enclosed by a chainlink fence. In a few minutes they saw the boys standing on the corner, looking around. Then, the cops said, the boys walked into 37th Street, one of them ducked for a moment in and out of the alley, and they continued at a quick pace, half walking, half loping up the street toward Galella and Kowalski. When the two boys were within thirty feet or so of the unmarked car, both Galella and Kowalski said, they saw a gun in the left hand of one of the two. They leaped from their car, their own guns drawn, and said to the two: Don't move. Police." The boys froze in their tracks. Kowalski said, "Drop the gun." The boy with the gun stood motionless. A second time Kowalski said, "Drop the gun. Then, Kowalski said, in one swift motion the boy raised his arm and threw the gun back and up over the chain-link fence. The cops pushed the boys up against the building beside the fence, their faces turned toward the wall. Galella stood watch over them. Kowalski climbed the fence, retrieved the gun (with four bullets in it), and arrested the two. The one with the gun was the defendant.

The defendant (whom I will call David Moore) told an entirely different story. He said he and a friend of his neighborhood in Queens had decided to go that evening to a disco at 39th Street and 9th Avenue. They took the train into Manhattan, arriving at Times Square at 8:30 P.M. When they got to the disco, it was just opening for the evening. They decided to take a walk and return later, when their friends would have arrived. They walked down 9th Avenue, looking for a place to buy a beer. Couldn't find one. Walked over to 10th Avenue. Found a grocery store, bought the beers, and, returning along 10th, found the alley on 37th Street with steel drums in front of it. They sat down on the drums and began to drink their beers. Suddenly, a police car appeared at the corner. One of the cops came over and began questioning them: Who were they? What were they doing here? Did they have any weapons? They told them who they were, said no, they didn't have any weapons. The cop looked around, pushed his feet through the trash around the steel drums, frisked them, then told them to get going.

The boys got up and began walking up 37th Street toward 9th. As they walked, David Moore's friend said to him: "Come on. They're gonna be back. They ain't gonna leave us alone." And they began to walk quickly. Halfway up the block, as they came alongside a chainlink fence, two men with guns in their hands appeared from out of nowhere. They said they were police, and they wanted to know where the gun was. "We know you got a gun," they said. "Where is it?" The boys said: "We got no gun." The police pushed them up against the wall, made them kneel facing the wall. David Moore said: "We asked them, 'Why you doin' this?' One of them began to climb the fence. The other one said, 'It's all right. If he don't find a gun, we'll let you go.' And then the other one, he came back with a gun."

We were six women, six men, five blacks, seven whites on that jury. Our occupations were postal worker, nurse's aide, clerk-typists, school secretary, community center worker, engineer, actor, writer, carpenter, investment analyst, housewife. It was impossible, sitting in the jury box during the trial, to know much more about any one of us, so well concealed did the people behind these surface identifications remain during the voir dire (jury selection process).

I had become irritated with the questions about possible police prejudice, and had said I thought these questions were designed to elicit stereotypic responses rather than to encourage thinking about individuals; after all, a policeman was only one human being, not the entire police force. Afterward, the postal worker (a bullnecked black man with steady eyes behind thick glasses, who had been chosen as a juror during the same round in which I was chosen) shook his head at me and said, "Didn't think you'd make it. Nosir. Not after all that lip you give 'em."

I looked around at the ten people then occupying jurors' seats: Mary Davis, the clerk-typist; Loren Levine, the investment analyst; Todd Graham, the engineer; Shirley Silvers and Laura O'Connell, the housewives; Oscar Williams, the community center worker; Anna James, the nurse's aide; David Barnes, the postal worker; Claire Moran, the school secretary; Richard Garcia, the carpenter. I thought back to the moment when the judge and the lawyers had asked each of us to assure them that we could and would be impartial listeners, that we would reason out of the evidence given, that a policeman's testimony would "give us no trouble" (what a euphemism!). Each of us had without hesitation simply said yes or no, and I remember thinking then, We lie. Every last one of us.

But we were all surprised when Gerald Anderson, the actor, was chosen as the last juror. The judge asked him if he was married and Anderson replied, "I live in sin, judge, but no children." All heads in the courtroom jerked in his direction, but Anderson's face bore an unflappable expression, and his smile of resignation said plainly: "I've seen it all; nothing you can say or do would unbalance me; being off balance is my natural condition." Then, when Anderson revealed that one of his many odd jobs as an often unemployed actor had been that of a worker in the New York courts, Richard Garcia laughed merrily and poked Claire Moran in an open, friendly manner, saying, "that's it."

Suddenly, we all knew why Anderson was accepted as the twelfth juror: it was six o'clock in the evening; we had been jury-picking for a full day and a half; if Anderson was rejected, the court would have to call for a fresh batch of prospective jurors. Neither lawyer was willing to sustain such a delay on "a simple gun possession case."

The jury room was a gray-green, institutional rectangle: coat hooks on the wall, two small bathrooms off to one side, a long, scarred table surrounded by wooden armchairs, wastebaskets, and a floor superficially clean, deeply filthy. We entered this room on a Friday at noon, most of us expecting to be gone from it by four or five that same day. We did not see the last of it until a full twelve hours had elapsed, by which time the grimy oppressiveness of the place had become, for me at least, inextricably bound up with psychological defeat.

We ate the sandwiches brought up from the coffee shop, drank the atrocious coffee, carefully put the wrappings and the remains of our lunches into a large paper carton, wiped off the table. Then the guard took out the garbage, locked us into the room, and we began with a vote around the table. It took exactly two minutes for each of those voices to be heard pronouncing the words guilty, not guilty. The vote was eight not guilty, four guilty. I was one of the four who voted guilty; the other three were Loren Levine, Gerald Anderson, and Shirley Silvers.

A wave of surprise. Most of the jurors voting not guilty had seemed vigorously conservative as they sat in the box, the ones voting guilty, predictably liberal. Then--perhaps appropriately--the guiltys had been spoken in hesitant, musing, this-is-open-for-discussion voices, while the not guiltys had been announced in flat, closed, nothing-to-discuss voices.

"Well," said I, the novice juror, to myself, "it's just like the movies. Now we begin. Now we will talk, we will listen to one another, we will see how we have arrived at these opinions. Because that, surely, is all they are now: opinions, not settled convictions."

But I was wrong. The twelve hours that followed would in no essential alter the attitudes made clear during those first two minutes. What did happen, though, is that, one by one, all four guiltys were "persuaded" to change their votes to not guilty. That persuasion came about not through the irresistible uses of reason but through the disintegrating power of emotional cave-in.

Nearly everyone seemed to speak at once: over, under, and through each other. No one heard anything anyone else said, and no one actually said anything new, just repeated, in ever louder tones, guilty, not guilty. Richard Garcia said: "I just feel he's innocent. Don't ask me why, I just feel it." Anna James--whose voice bore an uncanny resemblance to that of Butterfly McQueen--said, "I can't believe that boy ain't innocent." Claire Moran and Laura O'Connell stated flatly: "I don't believe the cops." Todd Graham, a solid man whose rimless glasses made his large afro look conservative, simply smiled and shook his head repeatedly, "No way, no way." Mary Davis, a large black woman endowed with a maternal appearance, compressed her lips, crossed her arms on her huge bosom, and shook her head, loudly. Shirley Silvers, middle-aged, well-dressed, brimming with nervous sweetness, turned agitatedly from one to another, chattering: "I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, I think he's guilty, I don't know."

In the midst of all this, a sudden flare-up between Richard Garcia and Loren Levine: yelling, footstamping, slamming of bathroom doors, Garcia's voice shrill, crying, "Let me talk! Dammit, will you let me talk?" Levine retorting hotly, "That's all you've been doing. And not saying a single thing of substance. If we let you go on, we'll be here for a week!"

What was this? Levine--thin, remote, with a voice trapped between nasal drip and lockjaw, always reading the Times when the others were talking, and polishing his glasses, thoughtfully--why was he standing there with a faceful of twitching irritation as though he were exploding inside? And Garcia--blackhaired, wide-faced, mustachioed, manner expansive, above all jolly--why was he on his feet, his voice screeching, his hands on his hips, as though to say, I can't take this another minute"? Were we going to have juror "revelations" so soon? We had only just begun.

Order. Order. Let's have some order here. Now calmly--let each one of us tell the others exactly why we think guilty, not guilty.

We went around the table again. Richard Garcia, Mary Davis, and Anna James repeated that they couldn't believe that boy wasn't innocent.

Loren Levine, under tight control again, said quietly that he felt the police story hung together; it was logical in all its parts and it made sense to him.

Laura O'Connell--born, raised, married, and still living in the same working-class neighborhood--said an uninflected, tenement-pitched voice: "I don't believe the cops. I know cops. Some of my best friends are cops. I know what they do. I just don't believe em."

Claire Moran, a small, thin, birdlike woman in her forties, nodded her head and said, "That's right. I can't help feeling the same. I just don't believe that police story."

It was my turn. I said, "In order for me to vote not guilty, I would have to believe that these two policemen deliberately framed this boy. I would have to believe they planted that gun on him. I find that almost possible to believe."

"Oh, for God's sake," said Mary Davis.

"They do it all the time," protested Todd Graham. "Everybody knows that," cried Laura O'Connell. "That's true, you know," said Claire Moran.

"Yes," said Gerald Anderson, speaking for the first one, "they do do it all the time. But only for a reason. This case there was no reason." Everyone turned to Gerald, the street-smart actor who proved to be the best juror in the room, the man who most loved reason, and the only one to return again and again to the question of the evidence before us.

"I probably know more about cops than anyone else this room," Gerald said, "and I certainly know they are capable of planting a weapon on somebody. But, in experience, it's almost always because they know or they think they know a person they're after is guilty of a crime they can't prove. Usually it's narcotics. Sometimes it's some hard-nosed kid in a neighborhood they've worked in who's given them trouble, they hate the kid, they want to put him away. But to plant a gun on a perfectly strange kid? Just to bring a charge of gun possession? When there are a thousand such arrests a day in New York, all perfectly legit? That doesn't make any sense to me at all."

"Besides, where would the gun have come from?" asked Shirley Silvers.

"Oh, cops have two guns on them quite often," said add Graham. "The one you see, and the one you don't."

"Oh, for Chrissake," said Gerald Anderson. "Do you realize what you're saying? You know if a cop walks out of the station house with a gun secreted on his person, and he's discovered, it's his job? Right then and there. He's finished. You think a cop does a thing like that so lightly?"

Todd Graham shrugged his shoulders, closed his mouth, and looked down at the table. Clearly, Gerald's words had only silenced him.

"Well, that may be true, Mr. Anderson," said David Barnes softly, his voice all self-conscious dignity, "although we only have your word for it, you'll pardon my pointing out, and some of us here may have had experiences that contradict that statement, but I don't believe the police story either. I can't exactly say why. It just don't sit right with me. And if it don't sit right, I gotta vote not guilty."

Six people turned to the right and to the left and mouthed, "That's right. That's the way I see it, too. If you don't believe the cops..."

Oscar Williams, the community center worker--tall, thin, middle-aged, very black-skinned, a face and manner suffused with a quiet that passed for calm--had not said one word during this entire time. I turned to him: "Mr. Williams, what do you think?" He looked at me for a long moment before he spoke. There was silence in the room. And then, in a low, steady voice, making extraordinary use of the rhetorical device of dividing a sentence into its phrases, Oscar Williams said: "I cannot believe. That boy raised his arm. With a gun in it. When a policeman had told him to freeze. And that boy ain't a dead boy. I simply cannot believe that."

One instant of utter stillness, and then a jam of voices in the already thickening air: "Amen!" "That's right, that's right." "I'm with him." "I can't believe that either." "Nosir. I don't believe that either."

Gerald Anderson and I stared at each other. We were shaken by Williams's eloquence and its effect on the room. "But still," I could almost see me and Gerald thinking at the same moment.

"Mr. Williams, does that mean you think the cops framed the boy?" I asked.

"I didn't say that." He closed his eyes and spread the fingers of his thin, fine hand in the air. "I don't know whether they framed the boy or not. And I'm not sayin' they did. I'm only sayin' I cannot see that thing happening. "

Williams took off his glasses; the skin just below his eyes and on the bridge of his nose glistened. He wiped his face with a soft white handkerchief. He carefully lifted one pressed pants leg over the other. Then he said: "I'm no social worker. I'm no bleeding heart. I know how rotten kids are. They stink. And there is absolutely nothing worse than a teenager with a gun in his hand. Don't you think I know that? But," his voice dropped one husky octave, "I cannot see that thing happening. And I keep thinking: If I blow this, if I give that kid a record...well, I just wouldn't be able to live with myself."

Mary Davis removed her arms from across her capacious chest and said, "Well, as far as I'm concerned, the man just said it all. Now we either all vote not guilty or we go in and tell the judge we are stuck." She was sitting directly opposite me. She leaned across the table toward me and said, "Sweetheart, cops, they shoot first, ask questions later. All of 'em."

"You said in the courtroom you weren't prejudiced against the police," I said faintly.

"I ain't prejudiced!" she replied angrily. "I'm just telling you what they do."

"It doesn't matter what they do," I said. "You've got to look at what these two did. Or what you think they did. And why you think they did it."

"Oh, there's no talking to this girl," Mary Davis said, twisting her face and body into a tortured profile position. (She really was a very large woman.)

"Yes," said Gerald Anderson dryly. "Well, I do think the question of whether we think the police framed the boy is the crucial one, and it isn't enough to say you can't or won't think about that one. Now, no one's experience here is sacred. It carries no more authority than anyone else's. Our experience is all supposed to be in the service of the evidence before us. Not the other way around."

Everyone nodded, but Gerald's words meant nothing. On and on it went. For hours. It was not merely that the same words and phrases were repeated endlessly; it was that our "positions" seemed to have become congealed; minds and eyes glazed over; we didn't even hear ourselves speaking after a while.

Two curiosities emerged during these hours. One was that Anna James--the nurse's aide who just couldn't believe that boy wasn't innocent--proved to be a near mental incompetent. She could not keep in her mind the details of the story told by the police and the one told by the boy. At one point she mused out loud, "How that boy get over from Lexington Avenue so quick? They must be crazy to think we swallow that." We all stared at her. Lexington Avenue? What on earth was she talking about? Worse yet, what had been transpiring in her mind all this time?

I discovered afterward that Anna James was the most professional juror among us. She had over the years been chosen to serve in innumerable criminal and civil cases; and before my own term as juror was over, I saw her chosen to serve on a complex case of embezzlement. I knew why, too. Her manner was one of middleclass reserve, indicating (to one who asked no vital questions) a quiet but firm capacity to think, slowly but responsibly. During the twelve hours I was locked up with her, I discovered that that manner masked a slowwitted stubbornness functioning in the service of two profound disabilities: she was at all times oblivious to evidence, and she hated the cops. Hated them.

The second curiosity was that each of the others who had voted not guilty also hated the police. Hated distrusted, disbelieved, did not want to think about anything said or done by anyone who was a policeman "Cops shoot first, ask questions later." Young, old, black, white, blue-collar, white-collar: they all drew a pugnacious blank on police testimony.

At six o'clock, Gerald Anderson, who had been staring morosely at a diagrammatic chart of the streets in which "the incident" had taken place, said, "Hey, wait a minute. I just realized something." Everyone perked up. Anything to break this deadly boring tension. "The kid may or may not be innocent," Gerald went on, "but one thing is certain. He lied on that stand. Look, everyone agrees that four policemen questioned him. I mean, the cops said that, and he said that, too. There's no argument there. Now, he says he was questioned at the corner by the uniformed police. And then questioned again halfway down the block by the undercover cops. If that's true, then the undercover cops must have been sitting in their car when he was questioned by the uniformed police. Because it only takes half a minute to get down the block. They'd have seen it. Why would they have grabbed the kids a minute later if they'd just seen them questioned and searched? That certainly doesn't make sense. He must be lying about that."

Excitement generated quickly. Confused, disturbed, everyone was glad to have something new to think about. Eager attention was turned to Gerald's "discovery." None but one thought of where this attention could lead. Oscar Williams sat still and silent, hands folded on knobby knees, glasses glistening in the dull yellow light. He looked up into the noise and very softly said, "Just because he's lyin' don't mean he's guilty as charged." It was as though a schoolmaster had rapped the children for rowdiness. Todd Graham said very soberly, "Yeah, that's right." So did Mart Davis. So did Claire Moran. So did Richard Garcia.

Shortly after this we were taken to dinner, herded together at two or three tables in a chop house, given a selective menu that did not permit so much as a glass of beer, watched over by the guards. It was a depressed and depressing meal.

No sooner had we returned to the jury room, hung up our coats, and taken our seats, than David Barnes stood up, approached the diagram, cleared his throat and said, "I've been thinking." We all looked at him, supposing him about to carry Gerald's point further. Barnes then, after a fashion, repeated the original point as though he were introducing it for the first time, and then proceeded to garble the details so that the point was utterly lost and the exercise at the diagram without meaning.

It seemed impossible that everyone in the room would not instantly see that Barnes had just caricatured not only the point but the point of the point. But no. Garcia said, "Now there's an idea." Claire Moran said, "Would you mind going over that again, Mr. Barnes?" Laura O'Connell, straining nearsightedly at the diagram, said, "I kinda see what you're getting at." Todd Graham looked down at the sheet of doodle drawings under his right hand. Oscar Williams inspected his fingernails. Loren Levine nearly took out the Times.

I swung in my seat to look at Gerald. He was staring into space. I thought I saw something close over his eyes, some invisible shutter come down, and I think in that moment his switched vote was being born. As I looked at his face I knew we were lost. I remembered a moment a few hours earlier when Williams had said something, and Gerald had replied curtly: "You know you're putting pressure on us," and Williams had demurred, and I had thought: "No, the pressure is being applied from within."

I did not know if my conviction that the police did not frame David Moore constituted evidence any more than Oscar Williams's conviction that the boy could not have raised his arm with a gun in it and not be shot dead constituted a reasonable doubt. And I did not really care if the boy was guilty or not guilty, if he was punished or set free, if the police were supported or attacked. But the abdication of thought frightened me. That did matter. In fact it seemed to be the only thing that mattered, and it mattered that it was we--Gerald and I and all the rest--who wouldn't do the thinking. I realized that I had become strangely attached to the people in the room. In these hours together, unwilling and most peculiar bonds had been forged. It was not that we had revealed ourselves to each other, though to some extent we had. It was certainly not that we were sealed by shared understandings of the mind or heart. No, it was rather, I began to see, that we had been locked up here randomly, thrown together willy-nilly like a family, and like a family had inflicted our emotional prejudices on each other. This act cast long shadows. Certainly it touched something in me, made me responsive to mysterious claims I could not at that moment identify. The situation began to seem metaphoric. Civilization seemed to hang on the willingness here in this room to think. In the emotional grandiosity of that moment was born my switched vote.

For an instant I saw things clearly. "Hang the jury," I said to myself, "there is no way out of this." But the last moment I said to myself, "No. They must see. I must make them see." And from that moment on I was, essentially, pleading with everyone "to see" what was happening here. I knew I should hang the jury but I simply could not do what I knew should be done. It was then a given that I would let myself be overcome. Clearly, I needed them more than they needed me.

At nine o'clock Shirley Silvers cried out, "I change my vote! I vote not guilty." Half an hour later, Gerald Anderson, still staring into space, looking absolutely bleak, said, "I vote not guilty." Directly afterward, Loren Levine, who had retreated into near total silence since his altercation with Richard Garcia, said crisply, "Me, too. Not guilty." Why had none of them hung the jury? What personal mystery struggled up in each of them? To what were they "attached" that they had caved in, one by one?

I was the last holdout. All around me pressed voices, faces, shadows, that said, "Explain yourself. Justify yourself. We know who we are. Can you say as much? What is all this nonsense about? Never mind the others. What are you doing here?"

I looked at Oscar Williams now sitting silent, watching me. I begged him with my eyes to understand and support me. He looked at me. His face said. "I do understand, but you're in this alone." The memory of his voice saying, "That boy would be a dead boy" entered into me, made me quail somewhere inside myself. Conveniently, I lost my nerve against that haughty pain of his; conveniently, couldn't hold on to what I knew, began to get fogged up, didn't quite know anymore what was evidence, what a reasonable doubt...

"For God's sake," I cried as though I were going under. "What reason would these two cops have had for framing this kid? Cynically, recklessly, cold-bloodedly, framing a boy they'd never seen before? Now you know goddamn well it's not these two people whose testimony you've been listening to. It's cops. All cops. So what have we got here? Where does that leave us? With two stereotypes: on the one hand" (I raised my left arm at the elbow, hand palm out), "we have 'the cops.' On the other hand" (I raised my right arm), "we have 'a young black boy'..."

The word black was a match struck to a can of gasoline: conflagration blazed in less than thirty seconds.

"Color, color, who said anything about color?" David Barnes thundered. "What chu bringing in color for? I don't like that. Nosiree, I don't like that one bit."

"I knew she had that in her mind all the time!" Anna James shrieked, "I knew it."

"I don't wanna hear a word about black or white," Mary Davis boomed. "Now you hear me? That boy's mama raised him up just like everybody else's. Didn't do it no different from yours."

Shirley Silvers got hysterical and began to scream: "She didn't mean it. She didn't mean it."

Todd Graham smiled mockingly at me and said, "I know. You're not prejudiced."

Oscar Williams's eyes met mine in amazement for a single second. Then he buried his face in his hands.

Gerald Anderson and Loren Levine stared, openmouthed, but remained silent.

It was just easier for everyone to let happen what was happening.

As for me, I felt relief. The charge of racism--painful and frightening at first--was, in fact, a smokescreen behind which everyone, myself included, was only too glad to hide. "You win," I said. "Not guilty." Everyone looked down, or away.

At midnight the verdict was announced in the courtroom. The jurors fell all over themselves fleeing the building. Claire Moran turned in the doorway and said, "Please don't misunderstand this, but I hope I never see any of you again!"

Only Gerald Anderson and I stayed behind. Ours was the sick feeling of cowards that compels hanging around. The lawyers, both of whom were young and eager for details as to what had happened in the jury room, also hung around. We talked a long while together.

We told them many things, and then we told them how persuasive had been Oscar Williams's assertion that he couldn't imagine the boy making a motion with a gun in his hand while facing a cop and not being shot, and how Williams had agonized that this was the boy's first arrest and Williams would be ruining his life with a conviction. The young assistant district attorney listened silently, nodding his head forlornly at every word I spoke as though he knew this litany by heart. I looked at him, puzzled.

"It was Moore's first arrest, wasn't it?" I asked.

"No," he shook his head. "He was arrested in 1974 at the age of fourteen."

"What was the charge?" asked Gerald.

"Pointing a loaded .22 caliber gun at a policeman."

On Monday morning I returned, as directed, to the large jurors' room in the Criminal Courts Building. Almost everyone from the jury was there. Mary Davis, Richard Garcia, and Anna James sat together, but everyone else sat alone in widely separated seats. I walked directly over to Oscar Williams. He rose as I approached him. We looked at each other. I told him what the district attorney had told me about David Moore's previous arrest. Williams's black skin turned the color of cigarette ash. It exactly matched the taste in my mouth.


Copyright © 1979 by Vivian Gornick. All rights reserved.
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