Liberty, Authority, and Madness
I do not want to be writing about this. It’s two days before Christmas. I do not want to write about this. But I can’t shake it out of my mind. It’s consuming me in an unhealthy way. The only way through it is to go through it, so I guess I need to write about it. Then maybe I can relax. Which might be impossible.
An infinite number of curses upon cop-killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley. God dammit.
Having a cause in this media-saturated age, interwoven as it is with high-speed social networking, and choked to death with pundits whose jobs are not to inform, but to inflame, is immensely frustrating. It is so easy for events to go out of control, so easy to divide people down ideological lines, so easy to replace discourse with patriotic sloganeering, and so easy to drive total crackpots to commit insane acts of violence.
This Ismaaiyl Brinsley character ruined everything. God dammit.
Look, there are serious issues with law enforcement, and the lousy laws that enable them. Yes, I know, it’s #NotAllCops. It’s also #NotAllCities (or towns or counties or whatever). A fair criticism of this post can be applied to the generalization that “there are serious issues with law enforcement in this country”, but I tend to think that problems in this country are the problems of this country. Like it or not, we are all in this together, and if we have flaws in our Constitution, in court rulings concerning the Constitution, or in the execution of laws under our Constitution, anywhere in the country, it violates all our fundamental rights. Cleveland today, Shelbyville tomorrow. These things are a real problem for all of us.
A lot of people will disagree with me, many quite vehemently. Many, if not most, Americans love their police departments and the cops who serve in them. I understand completely: these men & women take great risks and do very dangerous jobs and have to deal with the worst of society on a daily basis. I, on the other hand, drive a desk. There’s no way I can understand what it’s like to do a job where every knock on a door can end in a bullet to the gut. The most I have to worry about is carpal tunnel syndrome. I get that, I really do.
But here’s the problem, and it’s a fundamental one: people in authority are the biggest threat to our liberty.
Let’s go back to my lame, doughy life. I do computer work for a living. How much of a threat am I to your God-given rights? Well, I could learn how to write viruses and manipulate social media to crack your bank account passwords. That would be a pretty harsh violation. I could stalk you, or threaten you, or send a lot of pizza deliveries to your house. I could do worse. And all that would be bad.
But in the end, I have no power, no authority. Eventually I would be caught, and I would be tried, and I would be sentenced. The laws are meant to keep me from doing those nasty, nasty things.
When you look at the lowest of society, those who most often clash with law enforcement, they have even less power to violate your liberties. Yes, there is crime in these areas. Yes, the crime there is nasty. All that is true. But these folks have far less power, far less authority, than even I do (I can at least afford a really good lawyer).
Now let’s take authority figures. Police officers. FBI officers. DEA officers. The NSA. Even Congress (or state legislatures, or other lawmakers), through the laws that empower those law-enforcement officers. Depending on your level of conspiracy-belief, you can toss in various corporations and high-power donors who fund those lawmakers’ candidacies. What can these people do to your civil rights?
A lot. An incalculable amount, actually. They are the ones who have the authority to do so. So I’ll say it again: authority figures are the Number One threat to your fundamental civil rights. If you doubt this, read the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson is basically calling out the King of England for using authority to violate fundamental rights. He’s not calling out pirates or brigands or thieves, he’s calling out the King, Parliament, and British law enforcement.
This is why it is vital that we treat any overreach by any law enforcement officer or agency with the gravest seriousness and to the fullest extent of the law. They are both our protectors and our greatest risk to liberty. Yet recent cases concerning police overreach — most egregiously the Eric Garner case in NYC and the Dontre Hamilton case in Milwaukee — suggest it is not taken seriously (shooting 14 times in self defense? Would you get away with that?). There is enough going on, enough cases being reported in all sorts of jurisdictions, that there is definitely something wrong happening. And we have to take it all seriously.
Unfortunately, many protestors and their allies, missed the real point, and muddied the message. The real message isn’t “there are bad cops”; it’s the cultures, systems, and laws that are in place that suggest that we do not take overreach seriously. They made it all about “bad cops”. That was the message that got through. It was a whole “us vs. them” message, a message whose only possible result would be inflaming the situation.
Which led to that asshole Ismaaiyl Brinsley ruining everything. God dammit.
Now we’ll never get it fixed. Brinsley screwed it all up. He brutally murdered two police officers for no damned reason whatsoever, and in doing so, he’s ruined any chance of fixing it.
When you have a cause, especially one you are the minority, you have to keep the moral highground at any cost. I had seriously thought that this cause — the cause of implementing better law enforcement practices and better systems of checks-and-balances — had that moral high ground, even in spite of the Ferguson looters. Other protests all across the country were fairly peaceful, even in NYC. It looked hopeful, maybe this would be noticed and lawmakers would be emboldened to work against the entrenched systems to get real change done.
But now, that moral highground is lost. Lost because some batshit crazy asshat decided shooting cops was a good thing.
Without the moral highground, the cause is lost. People will reflexively, and jingoistically, forever link “reforming police” with “murderous looters”. All the Facebookers will post all their memes and motivational posters full of pithy little slogans. Everyone will be peer-pressured into keeping silent about the real problem and keep silent they will. Lawmakers will pick up on all of this, and do nothing (or perhaps make it even worse).
The cause is lost. I hope liberty doesn’t suffer.