Law enforcement, Occupy Charlottesville, and why the Constitution will fail
by Clifton Smith

Guest Editorial Graphic Schilling Show BlogThere are many facets of the recent debacle associated with the recent “Occupy Charlottesville” which will no doubt be a matter of prescient debate for many weeks and months to follow. As it should be. However, I feel that there is core principle which has been overlooked, yet it is the very essence of what America is all about. It is an intricate portion of the ideological rock upon which this nation was founded, and as such, without it, our constitution can not and will not survive.

America is not simply a geographical location. It is not a mere happenstance of mountains and rivers and other natural resources. Beyond all of that, America is as much a place in one’s heart and mind, as it is a land that exists between Canada and South America. Given the right education and understanding of the history and philosophy of our founding fathers, I dare say a group could fly to the moon or Mars, and rightfully establish America anywhere. What is the essence of this ideal called America? It is in its respect for the rule of law. Previously, the citizens of America could trust that, just as the statue indicates, justice is blind as she holds the scales in balance. However, when the rule of law is no longer upheld, then the trust of the public is destroyed. With the erosion of that trust, goes the bedrock in which the pillars of our republic have been inserted.

Our founding fathers recognized the importance of good laws, but even more so, they were cognizant that good laws were preferable, but good men were better. This is where the notion of the Oath of Office came into being. Not just federal office’s, but for all offices. From the president down to the local dogcatcher. Why? Because our founding fathers knew that for our republic to survive, its officers must, for the good of “WE THE PEOPLE” pledge their allegiance to the constitution, or rather “The Law of the Land.”

Therein lies what causes me concern in the “Occupy Charlottesville” incident. I am not going to attempt to dissect the reasoning of the OC members, or whether or not you are in agreement with their stance. What I do take issue with, is the manner in which they were allowed to, for a time, break the law. What causes alarm is the capricious manner in which political bodies selectively choose to enforce regulations already on the books. What is an oath? An oath is a statement of fact or a promise calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually God, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow. The essence of a divine oath is an invocation of divine agency to be a guarantor of the oath taker’s own honesty and integrity in a matter. By implication, this invokes divine displeasure if the oath taker fails in their sworn duties. It therefore implies greater care than usual in the act of the performance of one’s duty.

These days, the importance of law enforcement can not be underestimated. Police officers take risks and suffer inconveniences to protect the lives, defend civil liberties, secure the safety of fellow citizens, and they endure such risks and tolerate such inconveniences on behalf of strangers. Consequently, police work is one of the more noble and selfless occupations in society. Making a difference in the quality of life is an opportunity that policing provides, and few other professions can offer. A public affirmation of adhering to an Oath of Honor is a powerful vehicle demonstrating ethical standards. The following is the   Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, and is generally utilized and accepted by police departments throughout the United States. It reads as follows:

On my honor,
I will never betray my badge,
my integrity, my character,
or the public trust.
I will always have
the courage to hold myself
and others accountable for our actions.
I will always uphold the constitution
my community and the agency I serve.

So what is my point? When city council refused to do their job, and ordered the police NOT to fulfill their duty, the police chief should have ignored this order, for it was not constitutional. It is the duty of the police to enforce and execute the law as it currently exists! Perhaps city council sympathized with the plight of the protestors. Perhaps some even firmly believed, erroneously, in the rightness of their cause. It matters not. City council is elected to uphold the laws of the community. Now, perhaps they want to change those laws. Fine. But do so by following the rules of proper legislation. And if city council can not or will not fulfill their constitutional duties, then the checks and balances system falls into place.

So, how should have this recent scenario played out, if we had individuals in authority who had the grit to fulfill their responsibilities? When Occupy Charlottesville initially commenced breaking the law, the Charlottesville Police Department should have executed the law as it was currently on the books, and expelled them from the park utilizing whatever means necessary. When the police department was instructed to violate their sworn duties to the community and to the rule of law by council, the police department should have ignored the order and performed their duties. If council wanted to allow the activities that ultimately ensued, then an emergency council session should have been held, and the current rules and regulations amended in the proper legislative order!! The OC individuals should have been disallowed presence in Lee Park, or any other park, until city council, having taken the proper steps and in the proper order, effects a publically approved change to policy regarding to the rules and regulations of public parks.

Rules and laws are given to us in order to prevent chaos and to allow domestic tranquility. They are meant not to hold us back, but to establish order to support our lives and make them better. I recall the example of a kite. A father and son went kite flying on a windy day. The wind was strong, and soon the kite soared higher and higher. Within just a short while, they had let out all their line, and the kite was just a small dot in the sky. The boy, caught up in the excitement of flying the kite, asked his dad, “Isn’t the string holding the kite down? If we let go of the string, will the kite not go even higher?” To this the dad replied. “No, it’s just the opposite. It is the string that holds the kite up. If we let go of the string, the kite would fall to the ground and be forever lost.”

Sometimes we see rules and laws in the same manner. Some think that they hold us back, when in truth, they are the very thing that holds our society up. We have a free society because of these rules and laws, and because people obey and respect these laws. These laws are in place and are enforced to protect the people. A great danger is to think that disobeying the laws will give us more freedom. Instead, it is through disobedience that innocent people are hurt and suffer. When our governing officials fail to properly represent and uphold the law, then the last line of defense against societal chaos rests in the police. When they choose to wrongly place their allegiance to an individual, or group of individuals who are governing in error, rather than following the rules set forth by our forefathers, they start to cut the cord of trust in the flight of this kite we know as our republic. How many more cuts of trust, such as the recent OC incident, can this delicate cord of order withstand, before we too see our republic fall and be lost forever? How long can we violate the constitution, before we successfully destroy it? I fear we will soon have the answer.

6 COMMENTS

  1. This is a cogent thought, and one largely overlooked, not only in Charlottesville, but in every community that played fast and loose with regulations regarding how it handled Occupy events. Our Representative Republic only works, when our elected officials fulfill their oaths of office. If they do not or will not, then it is incumbent upon law enforcement to be that last line of defense in the enforcement of the rule of law. When that fails, what hope o we have? Remember, under President’s Lincoln and Hoover, “Shoot to kill” took care of mobs like this. There may be a lesson to relearn there.

  2. Mr. Smith, I respect the argument that city council should have immediately required Occupy Charlottesville to file for a permit, and should have kicked them out until they had it. But given that the council did have the right to give them permission to camp, the permit itself was only a technicality. It’s a little much to suggest that the republic is teetering because local authorities took a few days to require a technicality be taken care of. You don’t even provide evidence that a majority of local people share your criticism of city council, much less that they have lost faith in the council.

    Also, whenever someone says that something or other “the very essence of what America is all about” or some such thing, I look for them to back up their claim. This country was founded by means of a revolution, i.e. a breaking of of the rule of law in the most fundamental way, and arguably the first act of that revolution was the Boston Tea Party, a criminal act.

    So principled law-breaking is an American tradition as well, in particular civil disobedience, which is what the occupation was until it was given permits. I wasn’t impressed with this group either, and I too think the city should have kicked them out long before, but while you wouldn’t know it from the Schilling Show, which tells the truth, i.e. the partial truth, and nothing but the partial truth, the Progress quoted police Lieutenant Robbie Roberts that the arrests were “non-violent . . . I guess it would be mutual respect between both sides, is probably how I’d classify it.” So yes, while some of the protesters acted like jerks in the end, they were apparently in the minority. In any case, contrary to what Rob implies, the juvenile trash-talking when the park was cleared wasn’t precipitated by City Council’s hesitancy to enforce the letter of the law. There is no reason to think it wouldn’t occurred whenever the park was cleared.

    This editorial also suggests that our belief in the rule of law distinguishes us from other nations. How does it distinguish us from other Western nations? Or from, say, Japan? Etc. And when police officers, the people charged with enforcing the rule of law, routinely break it themselves by speeding, do we really believe in that law or just give it lip service? If the issue is public trust, the threat to it is routine law-breaking by the rank and file, not the debatable actions of a few officials in an unprecedented situation.

  3. Well, I am one of Citizen in Charlottesville who felt that city counsel was on side of Occupiers. They have the duty to act. If the city counsel told the police chief let them be. That is the issue with me. The city counsel now has set a very bad perecedent that will now allow anyone the same privilege. It tool city counsel 30 days to get around to enforcing the law. That is the biggest issue of all. Why! I have asked and keep getting the first amendment speech. Excuse me Ken, but when any group of individuals who are in power decide to set themself above the law and than what. When one city counselor through the whole process keep say they are for the occupiers and was helping them. Was present on night on the occupiers when to jail. There is something wrong with this.
    Mr. Smith is on point, Rob is on point, Ken — the question that still has not be answer is why didn’t city counsel decide to let the occupiers in park? Why did Mr. Jones or city counsel decide to let them get their own way and interfear with the police to do their jobs. Why do we have laws on books. Just to let a group of individuals decide which one’s to follow or which group has to follow them or ?????????????????????????????

  4. It didn’t take the city anywhere near 30 days to begin issuing permits, and once the first permit was issued, the occupation was legal. You may not like that, but it’s a fact, so don’t talk nonsense.

    Unlike Kristin Szakos, I didn’t see indefinite occupation as justified as an expression of free speech, but what exactly is wrong with a city official giving her view and expressing support for the movement? Is Szakos not an American citizen? Aren’t elected political officials expected to take political stands?

    You also make it sound like there was a clash of wills between the council and the police department. I have seen evidence of no such thing.

    Why did the council not immediately evict the group and require them to get a permit? Ideology may have been a factor, and of course you guys presume it is, because like all ideologues, you automatically assume the worst about your opponents, which is why you hinder rather than further the democratic process. But we have no evidence that this was a deciding factor. Another equally plausible reason is that Occupy Charlottesville’s camping in the park as a political act was unprecedented, and as such could be seen as not violating the spirit of the law, which was intended to prevent not political protest but noise and crime. (Yes, crime did eventually occur when other elements attached themselves to the group, but that was not a problem before the permits were issued).

    but when any group of individuals who are in power decide to set themself above the law and than what.

    How about the American Revolution? You can disagree with a group’s political goals, and you can criticize its character, but if you honor violent political protest in one case, you have no grounds to knock peaceful protest in another. I agree with a lot of the criticism made of Occupy Charlottesville, but civil disobedience is an American tradition.

  5. Yes we had occupiers!
    Yes we had certain members of city counsel openly supporting occupiers!
    Yes there was (still ongoing0 public out cry of why did you let them in the park!
    Answer, it’s their first amendment right!
    As I seen somewhere of late or heard:
    The FRIST AMENDMENT is for everyone not just for the chosen few.
    That is what city counsel did. Let a select few go ahead and setup a squater camp before city counsel changed the rules.
    So Rob, and other may say or express their opinions but do it within the law. We all have right to express ourselves per FIRST AMENDMENT but still doesn’t give me the right to be heard. City Counsel gave them the right to be heard.
    No the police didn’t have to use deadly force to clean out park. That is not the point, the fact still remain that city counsel and city staff were meeting with these individuals before they moved into park. They moved in without obtaining a permit. However if they did, they still could be in park after 11 pm. That is point allot of individuals are trying to say. Everyone is so concern that chosen few were given special treatment, that city counsel endorsed them. We have laws on book for a reason.
    But in long or short term does it really matter. No for the city counsel is going to do what they want. The city staff take their marching orders from Mr. Jones who takes them from the city counsel. I hope everyone enjoy warm fuzzy feeling when the city counsel increases our taxes to paid something else on their wish list to keep the chosen few happy.
    Good night (maybe)

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