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Responding to Lawlessness in a Country of Laws

By Wesley Smith1591113975932

The video last week of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer was alarming and heartbreaking to watch.  It was one of the most troubling incidents of misbehavior by a law enforcement officer in a long time.  Our hearts ache for the family of Mr. Floyd, and we are shocked and grieved by this senseless death.  What happened should trouble every law-abiding citizen, as should the aftermath of that event.

People have a right to assemble and to engage in peaceful protests, as guaranteed by our Constitution.  However, there is no Constitutional right to violence.  There is no legal right to arson, assault, or breaking and entering.  But that is what we are witnessing this week in America.  The violence flaring on our streets dishonors the memory of George Floyd and is an additional injustice that is inexcusable.  One week after Memorial Day, nearly all of the monuments on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to those who gave their lives for our freedom have been defaced and vandalized.  Why? The Lincoln Memorial was also targeted, as well as one of the most historic churches in our nation’s capital.  The destruction and vandalism happening all across America adds insult to the societal injury caused by the death of George Floyd.

COVID-19 was a horrific blow to businesses small and large.  Now there is the double blow to businesses and people’s livelihoods as wanton destruction rains down on our streets.  Many of the businesses and residences that have come under attack are those of African Americans and other minorities.  For example, 50 percent of businesses in Atlanta, Georgia are minority owned.  Yet many of these same businesses are either being looted and destroyed or forced to close because of the riots. Antifa and other groups in our country ignore the dire consequences to the lives of African Americans as they hijack legitimate concerns over the death of George Floyd and others.

The intensity of the violence and riots are exacerbated by law enforcement, in many instances, backing away from protecting lives and property—often at the direction of liberal mayors and governors.  The passive presence of police or of unarmed National Guard troops only encourages the violence.  When police retreat from enforcing the law and protecting property, minority citizens suffer the most.  As Andy McCarthy stated in an editorial, “laws do not enforce themselves.”

Some in the left-leaning media have made excuses for the lawlessness by citing ongoing racial anger and tensions.  However, there is no excuse for such violence—whether it is perpetrated by a rogue police officer or a group of out-of-control demonstrators.  Some left-leaning politicians are often not helpful and are exploiting the situation.  For example, liberal Senator Brian Schatz is proposing legislation that would ban transferring military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.  Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey has suggested that law enforcement must be required to report to the federal government anytime they use force, an unrealistic and unnecessary requirement that would make people on our streets less safe, not safer.

The divide we are witnessing now is not between blacks and whites, but between civic-minded, law-abiding citizens and those who are using Floyd’s death to engage in—or tacitly approve—crime and violence.  Every American who loves our country and believes in equal rights for all people is rightly disturbed by what is going on in the United States today.  It is some of the most blazon hatred and contempt for what our nation stands for, promulgated not by patriots but by anarchists and criminals.

Most Americans have had enough!

President Trump has stated that he will use the United States military to bring law and order back to the streets.  There is precedent for this and, unless matters resolve quickly, is warranted.  Military forces, for example, were used during the Civil Rights era to stop violent demonstrations and to safeguard those who were following the law to integrate the University of Arkansas. President George H. W. Bush sent federal troops in to quell violence in California following the Rodney King incident.

Whether it is the use of active duty troops or the National Guard, there is legal provision for their deployment. Regarding the use of the National Guard, we should note two things:  First, just like our active duty troops, they are soldiers.  Secondly, under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, the Guard can ensure order and safety, with armed force if necessary, and can back up local and state law enforcement.  That is not a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which limits the use of military force for domestic enforcement of laws.

Even if active duty troops are deployed, the Posse Comitatus Act, passed during the Reconstruction era in 1878, has constitutional and statutory exceptions.  One such exception is the Insurrection Act, which provides that federal troops can be deployed domestically.  That act, and Article IV of the U.S. Constitution authorizes the President to put down insurrection and protect the governments of the various states. What is insurrection?  It is a violent attack on the authority of the state.  The Insurrection Act allows the President of the United States to “suppress, in any state, insurrection, domestic violence” or a combination of the two.

Attacks on police officers, innocent bystanders, government buildings, and businesses are a perversion of the rights of all Americans to lodge protests and to peacefully assemble.  We must not only stand together for racial equality, but for the rights of all people to live in peace and safety.  We must stand shoulder to shoulder as we unite against all forms of hatred and violence.

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