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A Call to Duty: The King Trial : IRENE FERTIK

March 07, 1993|MARY ANNE PEREZ | Irene Fertik, 49, is the staff photographer for the University of Southern California and free-lances for City Times and other publications. She was called for the jury pool in the federal trial of the four officers accused of violating Rodney G. King's civil rights. She made it through several call-ins before being told that her panel, Panel 65, would not be chosen for duty. Fertik was interviewed by Mary Anne Perez.

The letter arrived in December and said: "Congratulations. You have been selected to be considered for a jury in a federal case that will last two months, sequestered, downtown."

My sister read it and said: "This is the Rodney King trial."

For two months, I was sort of preparing for this because I felt it was a chance of a lifetime, that maybe I would really get a chance to do something for my community, which I always try to do anyway with my photography. But this was a very direct, meaningful opportunity to be involved in a historic case.

I felt like I was auditioning for a part. I dressed for it and rehearsed for it. I couldn't just be me, because the me that was me , they definitely would not want.

I wanted to be on the jury very much but I knew that if I told an untruth, it could possibly cause a mistrial, so I was very responsible.

I felt I could be fair and objective because, as a newspaper photographer on the staff of a daily newspaper for six years, I had on-the-job training of being open and not making up my mind before I met people and heard the facts and walked in their shoes.

In this case, it was obvious everybody had an opinion--I really knew it would be OK to have an opinion. Bush had an opinion; Bradley had an opinion.

I was disappointed in the outcome of the first trial. However, I really meant that I would listen to the evidence and then judge.

I was very impressed by the random selection of the jury. It really was a sweep of humanity. There was a lot of talking about race, which was interesting. You never hear it in polite conversation. It was delightful.

Right down below from the third floor of the Federal Courthouse where we were gathered was the entrance to the court, were all the cameramen were. It looked like a swarm of vultures. It was a very visual representation of what the media can look like, closing in on people having to run the gantlet to get by.

It was a hassle for me, but a lot of the perspective jurors were like me, feeling that this was a real historic event. I didn't feel at all frightened, at that point I didn't think they were going to reveal the names of the jurors.

The questionnaire took me an hour and a half to finish.

One questions was: "Do you think that private citizens should own guns?" I felt it was a defense question. Living in Vermont, I got a feel for how important hunting is to people, so I said, "Yes." But I also felt that in Vermont the criminal justice system works; I don't think it works here.

Another question asked: "Could you vote for acquittal, knowing that a riot may ensue?" I said "Yes." No. 1, I don't feel that there will be a riot if they are acquitted, for many reasons, the first one being Police Chief Willie Williams, and on down the line--even President Clinton. Things have changed enormously, in six months, eight months. No. 2, I don't believe in emotional blackmail. If I felt this was right, I would never feel that people who are angry and hostile were holding me hostage.

Many who engaged in violence used it as an excuse to be that way. Some looting was certainly understandable given that so many people are so poor. I don't think they will do it again because they've seen how destructive it was. But I think the threat is used by people who don't believe in rules and who are so alienated from the system that they have no thought for anyone else. Still, there are so many positive things that came out of the violence. Without being that cynical, I feel that if people keep up the energy and motivation to make a difference, it will happen.

I'm prone to vote for the underdog and Rodney King is still the underdog even though he's the prosecution. I was stressing my ability as a journalist. I said I was a staff photographer on a newspaper for six years. Within that, I put that I had a good working relationship with the police which is true, because that was in Vermont.

I believe in social justice for everyone. I don't feel that's happening in this city and I feel that police have a big responsibility in that. Even though their job is very stressful. But I've lived in many cities and I've never seen the police so alienated from the population and the population alienated from the police. I don't think citizens are to blame; I definitely feel the police are to blame.

Judge John G. Davies was very impressive. I sensed that he was extremely fair. He was dignified, warm as opposed to distant. Everyone was hanging on his words. This was an example of democracy in action, and here we were, a slice of the city, here to do a civic duty. Davies had every confidence in the jury selection, that the system does not work without people like us.

Davies read the indictment and I looked at the four defendants. I was the closest prospective juror to them. Defendant Sgt. Stacey C. Koon face's was very thin and long. Looks like he lost 15 pounds.

I had to call in to the court every morning. The first day they dismissed 70 from the panel by reading off their numbers. Toward the end they excused another 80. I was still in the running. I heard they were nearing the end of the jury selection process. Then the remaining potential jurors from Panel 65 were dismissed, and I knew that it was over.

Last week I got a call for a six-week federal case. I could do it for the Rodney King jury . . . I was willing to take a leave of absence for that, but for this, I couldn't. So they let me go.

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