55 Hours of Freedom

By Jim Whitt

I reported for jury duty on Monday this week and spent the day waiting until I heard my name called. Since it was late in the afternoon the judge had us report the next morning for what’s called voire dire, the process by which they determine who will ultimately be chosen as jurors for the case.

This was a criminal case and the charge was assault with a deadly weapon. The attorneys and judge peppered us with questions to determine if we understood our responsibility as jurors. The defendant is presumed innocent. The burden of proof is upon the government and the jurors have to determine whether or not the state has met that burden before rendering a verdict. It’s a humbling responsibility because a person’s freedom hangs in the balance. You have to think about that when you vote.

I was not selected for the jury and returned to the pool. We were dismissed at the end of the day and I stopped on my way home from the courthouse to vote in our presidential primary. Flags at polling places were flying at half-staff in honor of Staff Sgt. Allen R. McKenna Jr., of Noble, Oklahoma who died Feb. 21 in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.

On Wednesday morning I reported to the jury pool in but was never called. Those of us left in the pool were dismissed in the middle of the afternoon. I was about to leave the courthouse when I remembered that I had lost the case for my sunglasses sometime during the day. Instead of walking out the door I stopped to ask an officer by the metal detector if someone had turned it in.

My attention was diverted to a group of people rushing through the doors from outside. One of them shouted that someone was shooting a gun on the courthouse plaza.  Deputies rushed past me to get outside. Through the glass doors I saw a deputy stop, level his weapon and fire. I heard more shots before courthouse personnel herded all of us bystanders to the second floor of the courthouse.

That’s how my tour of jury duty ended. Within a matter of 55 hours I could have been a juror in a case involving assault with a deadly weapon or a victim in a case involving assault with a deadly weapon. The melee ended with three people being shot. Had I not stopped to ask about a lost item I would have walked out the door onto the plaza and possibly into the line of fire.

As I reflected on everything I experienced during those 55 hours I thought about freedom and what I read from Alex Spiro some time before. A trial by a jury of our peers protects our freedom. A soldier dies to protect our freedom. Officers of the law put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. When you and I vote, we should be thinking about protecting our freedom.

Whoever is elected President takes this oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

That Constitution is what guarantees our freedom. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

Fifty-five hours reminded me that freedom is a precious and fragile thing. It’s up to us to make sure we never lose it. You have to think about that when you vote.

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