In Part I, I wrote about what happened when my third-grade teacher began a lesson on slavery. In Part II, I’ll share what happened soon after.
(Note: Names in these posts have been changed.)
Days or weeks past and our attention shifted to the U.S. justice system.
Though we didn’t expect a real reason to hold a mock trial, we had one, and the consequences of the trial were real.
When my class came in from recess, we learned Tommy had attacked George. I don’t remember why, but I do remember the teachers presented the attack as a hate crime.
Anyway, I was shocked. George was the class clown, a sweet kid with a strong sense of humor. I couldn’t imagine someone having a problem with him. I wasn’t surprised Tommy was the attacker, though. Since Tommy stole my Big, Fat Garfield pencil and argued with “finders, keepers” in first grade, I’d thought him capable of anything. That’s the logic of an elementary-school kid.
Here’s what bothered me most about the trial. The class acted as a jury, listening to witnesses who agreed Tommy had hit and dragged George across asphalt. At the end, we were told to lay our heads down on our desks like for the game “Heads Up, Seven Up” to vote. When our teacher asked who thought the defendant (Tommy) guilty, I raised my hand and heard silence. When asked who thought the defendant was not guilty, I heard a loud shuffle of hands go up.
When we raised our heads, I saw our teacher was furious. She said that despite the vote of the jury, the judge (that was her) declared the defendant Guilty and would be sentenced in accordance with the school’s policies.
I wondered, Was I the only student who voted Guilty? How could anyone think George, and the witnesses, had lied?
The subject wasn’t brought up again.
George and his younger sister, the only kids at school who could possibly claim “Black” as their race, moved to another school the following year. The next and last time I saw George was the following year at my school’s Halloween carnival, always a big event. We talked, and I remember we commented on each other’s costumes. (I was Catwoman and he was a very believable Urkel from “Family Matters”).
It wasn’t until more than a decade later that I thought of a less disturbing possibly. What if I’d been the only student to vote in favor of Tommy? Maybe I misheard my teacher during voting, and the rest of the class had voted sensibly. Maybe my teacher and George later realized my vote was a mistake, which is why they never said anything to me.
I wish that were the case. I may never know.