Law and Order. The Rule of Law. The Constitution. The Bill of Rights. Liberty and Freedom. Personal Responsibility. Societal Responsibility. These are the words and terms of a free society; to be sure there are a lot more, we have been at this for well over 200 years, but I’ll discuss these for now.
Do they mean anything in a modern America?
Law and order is called into question based on who and how the law is enforced and what we demand there be order to. The rule of law, once a bedrock principle is now seen as an impediment to personal belief and a tool for oppression. The Constitution is over looked when it’s inconvenient, and held up when it’s convenient. We can’t even decide if it’s a “living breathing document” that can be molded and shaped to our current will or if it is a guide to specific and basic rules as stated for us to live by.
The Bill of Rights, a document that limits what the government can do to us is called out of date and short sighted because it does not list what the government must do FOR us. Liberty and Freedom are seen as nice ideas, but have no place in our modern discussions of the growth, reach, and power of government and it’s relationship with the citizens. Liberty and Freedom for some can be seen as privilege and power over others.
Personal responsibility is a term used as a negative; often depicted as a subliminal representation of greed and malice toward those less fortunate members of our society. And Societal Responsibility, the things we all should do for our fellow citizens, is quickly being replaced with the call for American Socialism, or enforcing what was once done as part of our nature, by a government to make it fair.
Now these interpretations are different for all of us. I am sure we can tack other meanings onto each of these terms and words based on our own perception of truth, right and wrong and life experience. And in fact that seems to be the thing that is causing our society to come apart at the seams; we don’t agree on what things mean anymore, we don’t have common goals and more and we don’t see our nation through the same lens.
In the midst of this sea change in cultural norms, understanding of our place in the world and what we should be, we have asked our police to do their jobs, keep us safe from harm, protect our rights and serve their community.
As anyone who has read my columns for the past 5 years knows I have expressed my realization of the Crossroads we have arrived at as a nation. At first I tried to point out what I saw as potential “things to come”, somewhere down the road. Over time I felt an urgency to the journey and last year I felt we were indeed standing at the crossroad and the time to decide was at hand.
The events of the past year make that all the more clear, and the current election process we are all immersed in brings the point to a sharp focus; this crossroad and the direction we choose will affect all of us, our kids, grandkids and the world.
I will leave each of you to decide what the right choice is; that is not the purpose of my musings. I want to highlight the way this internal rupture of our way of life affects the men and women of law enforcement and the mission we send them on.
How are they to interpret what they see and respond to? Take free speech and the right to protest. These go deep in our history and have been used to change the way we live and interact with each other; most times for the good.
What is an officer to do when one group disagrees with the things another person wants to say and instead of making a case that the person we disagree with is wrong and that our ideas are better, it is decided to silence the speech we don’t like to the roar of approval from many.
Does the officer protect the free speech rights of the person disliked and move the others or does the officer help the crowd silence that person by allowing them to physically block participation.
Keep in mind that there will come a time that OUR speech may be disliked and we are the ones silenced.
When a crime is committed, do we want our officers to aggressively enforce the law and hold to account those who committed the crime or do we want our officers to understand the reasoning of the criminal and not enforce the law?
What if a person refuses a lawful order of a police officer; the very people we have empowered to act in our name, should the officer simply document the persons disagreement and move on so as not to have a conflict? If the person fights should the officer retreat so as not to injure the person? What if an officer has a warrant for a person, but they don’t think it is fair they get arrested? Should the officer simply advise the person to turn themselves in when they feel like it?
These may seem like ridiculous examples, but if you look around you will see each one of these points of view loudly proclaimed. It is a decision we have to make now, because if we don’t decide, it will be decided for us. There is an old saying that goes: “We will get what we deserve”. And whatever that is may not be what we want.
Freedom and Liberty are not something the government gives to us, they are things we are born with; at least we have believed that for the majority of our history.
Protecting the rights of all of us to say whatever we believe is not a good idea only when the speech is what we like. In fact it is when the speech is of a nature that we don’t like it, but allow its expression that we actually live a free life. The remedy for hateful speech is not to silence it, but to present an alternative to it. Ideas should win, not mob rule, threats of violence or intimidation.
If an idea has value it will find its way to our hearts, then to our conscience, and finally into our laws. Without this simple process, and real tolerance we will descend to the place that people have lived for most of human history; living in fear and under the thumb of power. It is the aspiration of the human soul to live free, but it is our nature to live under domination. Silencing ideas we don’t care for is the first step backwards into the darkness.
Our police officers will respond as we tell them to; they will follow our wishes and provide the world we demand. The key is to understand what we are asking for. How do you want your world to run, with liberty and freedom or enforced fairness based on someone else’s interpretation of fair?
I guess the answer for each of us depends on which side of the argument we come down on. History is great teacher if we take the time to learn the lessons she has to teach; what has she taught you?
Let me know what you think.