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