These past few years, there’s been a lot of loose talk about “the rule of law.” Quite a lot of that chatter has come from persons who seem not to understand it. Or perhaps they do, and are just using the phrase as a rhetorical bludgeon with which to flail their political opponents. That would be plausible, as more often than not what they’re railing against has nothing to do with the actual meaning of “the rule of law.”
While this may already be perfectly clear to the Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch — indeed, I would hope so – nevertheless I will state it plainly for the 2317th time this year. “The rule of law” means equality of all persons before the law – that it is the law that rules, and not any particular person or group. The rule of law holds that every living person is subject to the requirements of the law, regardless of his identity or status. Be he president or pauper, if he breaks the law, the law must hold him to account.
These past few decades, governments have been awarding themselves exceptions to the law. They’ve claimed that in certain circumstances, the law should not bind them or their agents – and they’ve proceeded to act on that claim. This is a deliberate violation of the rule of law. Unfortunately, the courts have mostly winked at it. But exceptions have consequences. When the exception is to a law that protects life and property, the consequences can be lethal.
Consider this news story cited at Captain’s Journal:
At around 12:30 a.m. on March 18, several people broke down a Houston resident’s door, home security camera footage shared by police showed.
The intruders, armed with rifles and guns, yelled “HPD” as they entered the home, the video showed.
The resident of the apartment was sleeping at the time and told police he heard someone attempting to kick down his door.
He grabbed his handgun and told police he “did not think that they were the police” and fired his gun several times, according to a news release from the Houston Police Department’s Robbery Division. The resident believed the suspects, who he said were men, were there to rob him.
Clad in black masks and dark clothing, the attempted robbers fired their guns, causing shots to go through the walls and into other apartments, police said in the release.
Fascinating, isn’t it? The robbers “identified themselves” as Houston police. The homeowner elected to take up arms against them, and an exchange of gunfire followed. Fortunately, the homeowner was not injured. But it’s the situational incentives that matter most.
In practical terms, it didn’t matter that the intruders were criminals performing a home invasion. Police no-knock raids have already claimed many lives, including the lives of complete innocents. They’ve also destroyed quite a bit of private property. Such destruction is never recompensed regardless of subsequent developments. And of course we have the phenomenon of “SWATting,” which has become a favored, deadly prank in some particularly vicious circles.
The central point here is the change to the incentives that arises from the exception to the Fourth Amendment the police have awarded themselves, with the courts’ tacit approval. A man who hears his door being broken down knows that his life is in danger. Yes, it could be the cops…but so what? The cops have killed quite a number of innocents on these no-knock raids. Should the homeowner trust that “it will be all right this time?” Or should he act to defend himself in whatever fashion is possible?
After all, the raid might be robbers pretending to be cops. That’s already happened a few times. Even if it is the cops, it might have nothing to do with any crime. It might be about the market value of his property.
Herschel comments as follows:
[P]olice should understand that while they are recklessly invading homes, they aren’t just putting our lives at risk. They’re putting their own lives at risk too.
They must understand that criminals have caught on to the game. Announce that you’re police, yell obscenities, scream for people to get on the floor, and instinctively some people will do that.
But understand that we can’t do that. We … cannot … do … that. We don’t know who you are and we have our own lives to protect.
This is the consequence of the exception to the Fourth Amendment the police have awarded themselves. Their intentions are irrelevant. Whatever statute they seek to enforce is irrelevant, as the Fourth Amendment, being part of the Constitution of the United States, is the supreme law of the land. The protection of one’s own life takes moral and practical precedence over police zealotry in “law enforcement.”
And thus it shall remain.
It’s well understood that an unenforceable law weakens respect for the law in general. Worse, when the consequences of the attempts to enforce such a law manifest themselves, they cause those who know about them to distance themselves from the law and its enforcers. Instead of being seen as protectors of public order and the rights of the innocent, the cops become one of the enemies thereof. The consequences of that shift of viewpoints should require no great unpacking by your Curmudgeon.
Perhaps these are “unintended consequences.” That doesn’t matter in the slightest. If they weren’t anticipated – we must pray that they weren’t – they should compel the immediate repeal of the law under whose color they eventuated. If the law remains in force, the legislators and enforcers have only themselves to blame for what will follow.
“Should” be “obvious,” eh? But politicians and public officials greatly dislike admitting to mistakes. Historically, they prefer to “double down,” regardless of the hopelessness of their positions. Laws that criminalize victimless crimes – “crimes” that involve no one but consenting adults, doing nothing but transacting peacefully – provide the best possible demonstration.
Which is why “supporting your local police” is becoming more problematic year after year.
“We make the rules. You obey them. And they don’t apply to us.”
They make and enforce their laws unilaterally; I don’t get a vote.
That’s the “law” of a master to a slave. I have no respect for it, and only acknowledge it as far as avoiding a certain amount of hassle in my daily life.
They want a society “without rule of law?” They’re well on the way of creating one.