By Sonny Scott
The return address portends bad news. Only the IRS or your ex-wife’s lawyer exceeds its Dread Quotient … the universally despised summons to jury duty.
You panic: difficult-to-schedule appointments, rush season at work, visits by important customers and prospects cultivated with the utmost assiduity over the previous months … all in abeyance at the will and pleasure of the court. No plans can be finalized until after the daily check-call to the clerk’s office, and this state of limbo may continue for weeks.
The doleful day dawns, and you report. Minutes drag as you listen to the monotonous questions. The judge seems impervious to the most compelling descriptions of financial ruin and physical hardship that jury service will entail, and you wonder why applicants for the dole get more respect. Everyone (including the defendant) gets more consideration than the venireman.
Finally, after countless delays, you are empanelled – only to be subjected to further inexplicable delays, redundant instructions and insulting treatment. Apparently, only masochists and the bereft wind up in involuntary servitude. Is there any wonder that juries sometimes return verdicts inconceivable to the more fortunate?
Such is the duty of a citizen, I am told. If the Republic can demand such onerous duty, why stop there?
Let’s summon citizens for random police patrols. Op-ed pages and online forums are crowded with opinions of those who know exactly what the police do wrong, but who would not think of doing the job themselves. Sharing the boredom, enduring the arrogant baiting and posing of wannabe miscreants, and going for the adrenaline ride that attend occasional moments of terror might provide a broadened perspective. Cops sometimes come across as pushy and officious, but civilized society is not possible without them. Furthermore, you don’t send choir boys to clean out crack houses.
While we’re at it, let’s send a few citizens on prison inspection tours. We seem hell-bent on locking more people up for longer periods. Society might be well served by better knowledge of what goes on behind the concertina wire.
In the same vein, if we are determined to execute some criminals, maybe the executioner should be selected from the jury that condemns them – or by someone randomly chosen from voter rolls. And, let’s not do it at 12:05 a.m. How about on the 50 yard line at half-time of the Egg Bowl? The last breath can be replayed on the Jumbotron for the benefit of anyone gone to take a whiz or buy concessions while the deed is being done. If we sanction this exercise of governmental power, it behooves us to man up and share in the disagreeable duty.
Why stop now? If we are going to continue to make war in sundry locales, let’s draft contingents of citizens to visit the war zones and observe our forces at work – like a grand jury visiting the county jail, as it were. These representative citizens would have every opportunity to eat MRE’s; squat over slit trenches; eat dirt during mortar attacks; smell burnt hair and flesh, feces and gastric juices from the disemboweled; and hear the screams of the wounded. (I am indebted to Fred Reed for some of these phrases.)
If substantial numbers of such citizen deputies shared their findings with us in civic clubs, churches, VFW halls, classrooms and local TV interviews, we would all be better equipped to cast the ballot, stand for office and explain to young men and women exactly what we’re asking them to do when we invite them to serve their country. April 15 would be vested with an extra layer of meaning if we visited hospital wards, graveyards and psychiatric wards – not to mention seeing up close and personal what bombs dropped from the stratosphere, or ordnance delivered by drones piloted from bunkers in the U.S. can affect on villages in Central Asia.
It is a messy world. “You want an omelet, you have to break eggs,” they say. Also, if you want veal, you have to kill a calf. If you depend on a voracious fossil-fueled economy, you have to contend for resources – as Japan did in 1941, and as we are now doing around the world. Have we become too prissy – like the teenager who is appalled at the thought of deer hunting, but cheerfully enjoys a burger with her friends? Or is there a disconnect between our values and our actions?
Either way, expanding the duties of a citizen might do us a world of good.
Sonny Scott is a Chickasaw County resident and a community columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.