As I write this we are within moments of learning the decision by a Grand Jury in Missouri. It is as though this one verdict is the most important declaration ever to be pronounced. To those poised to protest this panel’s expected decision it has significance far more sweeping than Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation” and it has rewritten the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the troublemakers.” Most likely there will be violence. It is expected. It is planned. It is an American tragedy.
The Founders recognized that only if the law were applied equally to everyone would there be the possibility of achieving the Declaration’s proclamation that each of us is entitled to enjoy “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That was as true at the founding of the nation as it is today. And it is probably also true that while that goal is admirable, it has never been fully achieved. That is not a condemnation of this lofty objective but rather a statement about us and how we allow our self-interest to corrupt the ideal.
The judicial system is an integral part of the political system. Whether the voters directly elect those who are responsible for trying us if we are alleged to have committed an offence or are appointed by those whom we have elected to serve the municipality, state or the nation as a whole, judges are as much political by nature of their office as are our mayors and congressmen. The Founders recognized that in describing the judiciary as one of three co-equal branches of government.
Of course, before a person is brought to trial there are others who are involved in the process which resulted in a hearing before the bar of justice. Those are, at the first level, the law enforcement officers who apprehended the accused. While there are undoubtedly some who discharge that office inappropriately, we rely on our police forces to help maintain some reasonable semblance of safety in society. By and large, the occasional “rogue” officer who abuses his or her authority and sworn duty are the exception rather than the rule. To attribute regular unlawful behavior to them is to do them a great disservice – and if that attitude is commonplace, then all of society will suffer as a consequence. Even those with the greatest distrust of police forces, I suspect, if caught in a crossfire by two rival gangs as an innocent bystander, would hope that a squad car would show up on the scene.
Fortunately, like most Americans, I have had very little interaction with the police in my lifetime. The first time was as a victim of an assault by three perpetrators wielding switchblades. The second time was after some workmen stole some personal property while making repairs in my apartment. The third and fourth times were to report the theft of my vehicle. The fifth through sixteenth times were to report the theft of my car’s radio. That’s been it. I’ve never heard a knock on the door asking me my whereabouts at such and such time because I was a suspect in a robbery, an assault or a murder. My total interaction was as a victim – not as a perpetrator.
In reference to these various episodes, I suppose that I might choose to be bitter because none of those who either assaulted me or stole my property was ever tried for their abuse of the law – at least not as it pertained to my particular interactions with them. Perhaps they went on to further crimes and were apprehended for those. I have no way of knowing that. Should I therefore conclude that my experience demonstrates that the police are worthless?
Sadly, while it is a commonplace way of viewing life, extrapolating from one individual’s personal experience and drawing broad conclusions from it can be a dangerous and biased path to follow. I know that police forces do indeed apprehend people who have committed more serious crimes than the ones in which I was involved. I, for one, am glad that they are there – and I’m glad that they’re armed. There are sociopathic people in this country who break the law and who constitute a threat to those of us who are law abiding.
While we should certainly remove those in our law enforcement offices who abuse their power and responsibilities, whether that is a local law enforcement officer, an attorney, a judge, the Attorney General or President who are ultimately responsible for seeing that the laws generally are enforced, the best advice on how to avoid confrontations with law enforcement might come from comedian, Chris Rock.
Perhaps Rock’s advice, had it been followed, might have made it so those of us who before August had never heard of Ferguson,MO, would still be living lives of blissful ignrance about its existence.
This principle, although probably lost on the majority of those who might protest the Grand Jury’s verdict, is at the heart of the matter. They are not so much interested in justice as they are in the confirmation that the only justice that is acceptable is the one they dictate. They look to mete out the vengeance handed out by vigilantes and the KKK to which some of their forefathers were subject. They view that as proper retribution for the past misdeeds of others – now long gone to the grave.