By Bryan Hyde
Will Rogers once said: “A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth.” I thought of that when a friend of mine who works closely with a local police agency recently told me that I’m not very popular with many of our boys in blue. They worry that I’m leading people to believe that we are headed for a police state. For the record, that’s exactly what I’m saying . . .
If my pointing out the approaching police state troubles you, it’s probably because you recognize the growing divide between the state and the people. The problem isn’t you or your ability to do your job. The problem is in how the state is using laws and law enforcement to consolidate its power over the people.
Having said that, I wish to make perfectly clear that we do not yet live in a full-blown police state. But there are several trends that make it obvious that we are moving in the direction of one.
We are losing the protection of natural rights that have protected us from abusive power since ancient times. We are searched without warrants, denied the right to defend ourselves, and forced to provide evidence against ourselves.
Our local police are becoming increasingly militarized as the state declares war against everything it wishes to control. Asset forfeiture laws allow authorities to confiscate property from the citizenry without a shred of evidence that a crime has been committed.
Right now the United States imprisons a greater percentage of its citizens than China, Russia, Rwanda, Iran, or Afghanistan. According to the FBI, law enforcement agencies throughout America arrest roughly 15 million people each year. Here’s the kicker, if the violent crime rate has been falling since 1993, why are jails and prisons so full?
The answer is because of an unchecked expansion of state power. Thanks to the growing tendency to solve every societal problem by passing new laws, the threat of government punishment has been greatly increased.
Police are sent forth to enforce countless laws that don’t involve one person causing harm to another but are simply offenses to the state and its rules. Even a relatively free state like Utah still enacts approximately 500 new laws each and every year.
We are choking to death on laws that make nearly every facet of our lives a police matter. The policymakers are the ones who perpetuate the notion that all problems must be solved by organized violence. The greater accountability is on their shoulders.
Still, you play a key role in this situation.
There is a question that I must ask you in all sincerity: Is there any law politicians could enact that you wouldn’t enforce?
If your answer is “no” then we have a serious problem. It goes far beyond the boilerplate responses of “if you don’t like a law, work to get it changed.” An individual acting under state authority who would enforce any and all edicts enacted by the political class risks becoming a tool for tyranny.
History’s greatest triumphs of despotism were done under the color of law. As blogger Eric Peters has pointed out, the men who rounded up Jews, or sent people to the gulag, or spied on the East German citizenry were not wild-eyed monsters.
They were often decent men, whose loyalty to the state and devotion to duty allowed them to enforce the laws no matter what their conscience might say. They allowed themselves to be seduced into adherence to authority rather than adherence to what is right.
In our time, law enforcement is becoming increasingly preoccupied with what is “legal” instead of what is right.
The sight of police in Watertown, Mass., yanking innocent people out of their homes at gunpoint was bad enough. As was the Aurora, Colo., officers pointing guns in the faces of children and handcuffing 40 innocent motorists while searching for a robbery suspect. In both instances, the actions of law enforcement were deemed legal.
Anyone who dismisses such overkill as isolated incidents is either being naïve or willfully blind. The state is becoming far too comfortable with the use of organized violence against innocent people.
What would you do to guard against this? Would you ever refuse to engage in such tactics? Or would you follow orders and offer the standard “officer safety” justifications of your superiors?
The idea of limited government and protection of personal rights is no more delusional or utopian than believing that legal is the same thing as right.
I have nothing against you personally. My own encounters with law enforcement have been as positive as they’ve been few. The people I know in law enforcement are good individuals. They take their oaths seriously and do their jobs with great dedication to the protection of individual rights.
Earlier this year, sheriffs in Utah and Colorado sent a letter to President Obama about gun control. They promised to uphold the Second Amendment rights of the citizens who elected them. They reminded the president, “We, like you, swore a solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and we are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation.”
We need more lawmen like them who are willing to stand up to the state and say “no” when it exceeds its legitimate authority.