Thursday, September 17, 2015

"A Nation of Laws or a Nation of Lawlessness?"

     Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“A Nation of Laws or a Nation of Lawlessness?”
September 17, 2015

Congress, composed of popularly elected representatives, is charged with passing laws. It is the job of the President to “faithfully” carry out those laws, whether he (she) likes them or not. It is the Supreme Court alone, based on cases brought before it and using judgment and precedence, which decides whether a law meets the standards set forth in the Constitution. No one, not the former Secretary of State, not even the President is above the law. Justice is (or should be) blind.

When Kim Davis, the Rowan County (Kentucky) clerk refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple because it violated her religious beliefs, she broke the law. She spent five days in jail. While the right to worship as we please comes from our Creator, we live among others who may not share our beliefs. Society functions when it adheres to laws, not passed down from God, but made by men and women. When Michael Brown walked into a convenience store in Ferguson, Missouri and stole some cigarillos, he broke the law. When he resisted arrest, he broke the law. When he attacked the arresting police officer, he was shot. Despite enormous pressure from the White House, a grand jury decided not to indict and the Justice Department declined to bring criminal charges against Officer Wilson. Justice prevailed, but because of attempts by public officials to evade the legal system Wilson’s life was forever changed.

This is not to suggest that all laws are good. Some are not. And people can and do effect change. Peaceful protests and civil disobedience are embedded in our culture. In 1849, Henry David Thoreau published, “Civil Disobedience.” Decades later Martin Luther King defined it as the active, public breaking of the law to bring about a change in law or public policy. Both men broke laws they felt unfair or wrong. Both served some time in jail. Neither whined about their treatment, and both used peaceful means. Abolition began as a protest movement. It culminated in the Civil War and achieved its end on January 1, 1863 when Lincoln issued the Proclamation Emancipation. The women’s suffrage movement began in the middle of the 19th Century and was finally realized with the passage of the 19th Amendment on May 19, 1919. The Civil Rights Act, the consequence of decades of protests, ended legal segregation with its passage in 1964.

While the examples cited above show that bad laws can be amended, it should be kept in mind that while there have been 11,539 proposed amendments to the Constitution only 27 have been enacted. It is a laborious process, requiring a two-thirds majority in Congress and approval by the legislatures of three-fourths of the States. It was not designed to be easy.

The foundation of our Country rests on laws and rules of behavior. The system is designed to maintain order and protect us from tyrannical leaders – a quaint notion in today’s world where many students don’t learn American history – but one that greatly concerned those who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787. Without laws we would first descend into chaos and then fall victim to a leader who amassed too much power.

Yet, there are indications that lawlessness has increased. As President, Mr. Obama sets the tone. In July 2009 Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates was accosted by Cambridge police who had been alerted there were two African-American males breaking into homes. Preemptively, Mr. Obama said the police “acted stupidly.” He later had to apologize and sat down for a beer with Officer James Crowley and Professor Gates. Two and half years later, an African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin, was shot by George Zimmerman who was performing “neighborhood watch.” Again, before the facts were in, Mr. Obama claimed racism: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”  A jury found Mr. Zimmerman innocent and the Justice Department found no case of civil rights violation. The situations in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland brought similar responses – prejudging both cases before facts were available. The man responsible for faithfully executing the laws should not be seen as prejudging the accused. Even when the accused are found innocent, their reputations have often been destroyed.

In Baltimore where it appears that the police did use excessive force, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made a bad situation worse. In the rioting that followed the death of Freddie Gray, she ordered the police to “give those who want to destroy space to do so.” It seemed irrelevant to her that what would be destroyed was the rightful property of another. It is when politicians ignore the constraints of law and when they surrender to mobs that lawlessness and anarchy flow.

It is our leaders’ disregard for laws that lie behind this concern of our nation falling into lawlessness. The law creating the Affordable Care Act required states to set up exchanges. When some refused, the Administration, not Congress, rewrote the law to suit their purposes. When Mr. Obama wanted to make recess appointments, he simply declared Congress not in session.  The Supreme Court later ruled 9-0 that he was wrong. In sanctuary cities, local governments refuse to uphold the law. They do not permit municipal funds to provide resources or comply with the enforcement of federal immigration laws. They claim to be acting humanely, but the real motivation is political. The Lois Lerner case exposed a lawless plan to give extra scrutiny to those groups opposed to Mr. Obama’s 2012 reelection bid. Hillary Clinton is lawlessness personified. She lied about her use of a private e-mail account and the server on which it was based. She lied about what happened in Benghazi, and she wants us to trust her to be President?

America is a remarkable achievement. There are many reasons for its success: its isolation, which meant the Country was unlikely to be invaded. Its size and abundant natural resources meant it could expand and become wealthy. But the real reasons were the men and women who came to these shores from myriad places and cultures. They were a people willing to leave behind cities, friends and families to find a new life free of persecution. Those who became leaders were usually classically schooled, coupled with common sense. They understood history and governments. They understood what worked. They knew that a healthy and cohesive society had to be based on laws; else anarchy would prevail and, from the ashes, bad men would rise.


We should keep in mind the larger picture, as we ponder the mistrust of police. No one will claim there are not rogue cops. The undercover policeman who took down James Blake outside a New York hotel comes to mind. But they are the exception. The profession is dangerous. In 2014, 126 police officers were killed. It is true that Blacks are disproportionately victims of crime, but those crimes are committed overwhelmingly by other Blacks. The cops are in minority communities because they and the people know that lawlessness undoes civilization.

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