The Observer spent the entirety of last week — seven days straight — dug in at the Pulaski County Courthouse, stationed there for the manslaughter trial of a Little Rock police officer who stands accused of killing a boy he didn't have to. You can read all about it in this issue, in fact, and make your own decisions. As some talking heads of questionable repute once said: We report, you decide.
All last week, Your Correspondent — long a legal geek but not quite enough of one to want to shell out for law school — waited. We waited through voir dire. We waited, a little more enthralled, through opening arguments and testimony. We waited through breaks and recesses and lunch, furiously texting dispatches back to our waiting colleagues, who beamed them out to you while we cracked our aching thumbs. At last, on Saturday, with closing arguments done, we waited for the jury to file out and begin their solemn duty.
And then, we waited some more. The rest of the day Saturday. Most of the day Sunday, the courthouse largely abandoned in favor of more Godly houses of consideration and judgment. In the hallway outside the jury room door, we waited. Notes came in and out. Attorneys filed stone-faced in and out of the courtroom. The door to the jury room was unlocked and locked. Water pitchers went in full and came out empty. A crowd of reporters and looky-loos and family members of the victim and defendant gathered in the hallway as the hours dragged on, sometimes so loud that they had to be sternly shushed by the bailiffs, other times standing silent as a vigil when it looked like something, anything, was about to happen, but didn't. In our boredom, The Observer tried to read the tea-leaves: bailiffs putting on and taking off their jackets, notes to the judge folded crookedly or square, the jingle of keys, attorneys' faces. As a group, we all took turns staring at the door, which stayed stubbornly closed — the sealed tomb of Tutankhamun, concealing mysteries.
At one point, The Observer went into the bathroom, and noticed a paperclip in the urinal. So bored were we that we snapped a picture of it, risking dropping our phone in the john. So bored were we that we wrote the following poem about it, beaming it via our unbaptized phone out to our friends on Mr. Zuckerberg's Book O' Face. Said friends pronounced Your Correspondent stir crazy, being either in need of a stiff drink or psychiatric meds:
PAPERCLIP IN THE URINAL: A BORED AT THE COURTHOUSE POEM
How did you get there
Left to rust
Lost to your days
Of holding together
What is bound to fall apart?
What document did you corner?
Divorce? Division? Civil action?
Printed and stamped
In this echoing hall
where light is bounced off marble
To try and blind Revenge?
Is it weird
That I'm standing here,
In this quiet Sunday
Bathroom, thinking this
About a paperclip
in the pisser?
And so, needing meds or drink, we waited. Outside, the clouds grew and receded, drifting across the mirrored face of a nearby building, which we decided looked like a darker chunk of sky. Once, it rained.
Finally, as Sunday pushed on toward dusk, the jury and the public were summoned back to the courtroom, to learn from the jury foreperson that they were hopelessly deadlocked. Judge Wendell Griffen, looking as weary as the rest of us by then, declared a mistrial, dismissed the jury with thanks, set new court dates, handled other business, and then ushered us all back out into the cold, cruel world again.
Standing on the corner outside the courthouse in the slanting sun, we thought: What a thing this system we have is. What a miracle. Though some are sure to argue, The Observer still has faith that it's truly still that mirror to blind fork-tongued Revenge, the enemy of Justice we talked about in our moment of urinal contemplation. A little cloudy and tarnished, perhaps, but still bouncing light into all this darkness.
Sure, it takes a while, and we can't always get there. Sunday afternoon proves that. But sooner or later, we have to have faith that the wheel will turn, the sun will rise, and the door to that room will open, for good or ill.