"The Law Perverted"
In his now-famous pamphlet, The Law, Frédéric Bastiat decried, "The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!"
He further observed that "[n]o society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law."
These words were written in 1848 but are worthy of serious contemplation today, in our modern society.
By now, you've likely heard of Officer Michael Thomas Slager who shot and killed Walter Scott, firing eight rounds at the back of the man as he fled an attempted arrest for a non-violent crime. Initially, the officer claimed that Scott was combative and attempting to steal his Tazer, requiring use of deadly force. However, unbeknownst to Officer Slager, a citizen videotaped the incident. Not only did it not support the notion of a "heat of the moment struggle," it showed Mister Scott a considerable distance away - and running away. It also showed the officer quite deliberately planting his Taser at the feet of the dead man.
I am not a lawyer and fervently support the American notion of presumed innocence but "damning" is an understatement for this scene. And, thanks to the ubiquitous cell phone camera, this type of behavior has been captured far too often.
Earlier this year, another story came to light involving a man who committed an unspeakable crime - he served a lawsuit summons on a Louisiana police officer who was being sued for brutality. Once the document was accepted by the officer, the man serving the document was surrounded, verbally abused, and had his paperwork thrown at his face, all of which was far from the worst repercussion.
Minutes later, as he drove home, he was pulled over and arrested for assaulting the officer - a charge that was backed up by seven corroborating witnesses. Eventually, he was charge with two felonies, obstruction of justice and intimidating a witnesses. Conviction could have meant up to eighty years in prison.
What none of them knew was that the man's wife and nephew had videoed the entire incident. It still took nearly a year for the case to be dismissed and charges dropped. The man has incurred crushing legal fees, unrecoverable lost time, and a shattered sense of faith in the system. Had two grainy cell phone videos not been taken - a last-minute thought at that - his life would have been completely ruined and he would be in prison as you read this. And, adding insult to injury, none of the "witnesses" have themselves faced any legal ramifications for their outright lies.
There is also the recent case of Enrique Del Rosario, who was arrested for assaulting police officers from the NYPD's 72nd Precinct. The only problem is that video provided by passers-by showed that the young man was in fact the victim. He had been filming police as the threw a woman to the ground. When his actions were discovered, several officers converged on him, striking him in the head and taking his camera (which still has not been recovered). One officer accidentally struck another with his nightstick, providing "evidence" of Del Rosario's crime. Charges against the youth were dropped to avoid jurors witnessing the video evidence.
Sadly, the examples are numerous and extend far beyond "a few bad apples" on police forces. In some cases, police seeking to do the legally-right thing are stymied by cronyism from prosecutors. This was the case in Washington, D.C., where onerous gun laws make it a crime to possess a standard, thirty-round rifle magazine. Unless you have friends, apparently.
In December of 2012, Meet the Press's then-host David Gregory decided to use such a magazine as a dramatic prop when interviewing the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre. Prior to the interview, NBC had contacted the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to ask about the legality of this and was advised that it would be a violation of "this important law." Yet it happened on national television, with no apparent ramification. If a "regular citizen" would face arrest for the possession of such a magazine (or even a single shotgun shell), many thought, why then was Mister Gregory walking around in polite society?
A Freedom of Information lawsuit eventually uncovered that Metro PD held that same opinion but was told to stand down by D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan. His Office of the Attorney General issued a statement declaring, "Having carefully reviewed all of the facts and circumstances of this matter, as it does in every case involving firearms-related offenses or any other potential violation of D.C. law within our criminal jurisdiction, OAG has determined to exercise its prosecutorial discretion to decline to bring criminal charges against Mr. Gregory, who has no criminal record, or any other NBC employee based on the events associated with the December 23, 2012 broadcast."
It must be nice to have well-placed friends.
Beyond police and prosecutors, we see equally capricious behavior from justices, such as Olu Stevens of Kentucky. Judge Stevens took offense that a three-year-old victim of an armed home invasion now harbored fear of black men because, well, two black men broke down her home's door and waved pistols in her young face. He then "blamed and shamed the victims" both in the courtroom and on social media, as he sentenced one of the robbers simply to probation. Despite stating in court that "more times than not" he sends offenders who use firearms during their offenses to prison, Judge Stevens made assurances that his having been "offended" had nothing to do with his leniency.
There is also the recent case of Judge Thomas Piccione, who came up with an inventive way to place Lynn Van Tassel on electronic monitoring even though her crime - failure to obey his order to pay attorney's fees, while the order was being appealed - didn't qualify her for such treatment. He made up a criminal charge in the system, which did qualify her.
Please stop and read that again. He altered her criminal record - giving her a criminal record - so that he could get her treated the way he thought was best suited to his whims. No arrest, no trial, no conviction - but this phantom crime would show up on any background check and appear completely legitimate. Because he felt like it.
Making matters worse, a Federal court declined to hold him liable for his actions. In fact, the three-judge panel declared that all judges are immune from their actions - including misdeeds. Their six-page ruling stated, "a judge has absolute civil immunity, even if the action 'was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority....'"
We can continue up the Federal food chain to the ATF ordering licensed gun dealers to sell firearms to people known to be involved with violent Mexican drug gangs, then blaming loose gun laws and "unscrupulous gun dealers" for contributing the violence across the border. Of course this should come as no surprise, given that there is an actual ATF training video telling new agents to commit perjury rather than admit their records are inaccurate. And we can continue onward, with Sharyl Attkinsson's statement that she was warned that classified documents were deliberately planted on her work computer at CBS "to be able to accuse you of having classified documents if they ever needed to do that at some point."
This is madness. And worse, this is disastrous for us as a civilized society. When agents of our laws - those who make them; those who enforce them; those who determine the fate of citizens who violate them - can execute their duty based on whim, or are not held to the standards they are allowed to enforce upon others, they remove all incentive for the law abiding to remain so. And if we, as citizens, do not take offense, do not take active opposition, and do not unceasingly demand accountability for such behavior, we deserve every horror that follows.
I started with a warning from Bastiat. I'll close with another, from John Adams:
"[I]f innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, 'whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,' and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever."