The Rule of Law

America is a lot of things, and there are as many perceptions of what America is as there are Americans. Naturally, when there are so many perceptions slightly out of alignment, there are disagreements about what it means to be America, or what it means to be an American.

I think most Americans would agree, or at least concede, that we live under the Rule of Law, or at least aspire to. We quibble about which laws we live under, what they mean, and about how successful we are at living lawfully. There are questions such as “Who polices the police,” that suggest we don’t all live under the same law or that not all of us are equally subject to its enforcement.

We mostly agree that the Constitution is one of our foundation documents, but we frequently try to use it to buttress opposing positions on what America should be. When the Supreme Court issues rulings we don’t like about the Constitution and its interpretation, we tend to fume and fuss about how the Court is exceeding its authority, ignoring the fact that it can’t exceed its authority, because its authority is so clearly laid out in the Constitution.

All of this is prelude to the latest Martyrdom-by-Police action in Oregon. A group of extremists, if you trust their intellectual honesty, or selfish bastards hiding behind some Constitutional drapings, if you don’t, very loudly and clearly thumbed their collective noses at the notion of government by the Federal government and “seized” some unused buildings in an act of rebellion and contempt. It probably qualifies as sedition or treason, but since I’m not a lawyer, I can only say “probably.” They say they’re “defending” the Constitution, but their premise, that local counties are the supreme authorities and that the Constitution gives the Federal government only very limited powers, is refuted by the fact that the Constitution was the replacement for the Articles of Confederation, intended to strengthen the Federal government compared to the weak status is had under the Articles of Confederation.

Now, one of the rebels is dead, presumably shot by the law enforcement authorities, be they FBI, county officials, state officials, or some other law enforcement agency; they’ve all been cooperating during this rebellion.

It’s always sad when someone is shot by law enforcement, especially when they’re killed. Part of living under the rule of law is the presumption that all of us should be safe from violence, especially unwarranted violence from the government. However, all violent deaths at the hands of law enforcement aren’t equal. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, among many, many others, are regarded quite differently than the deaths of the San Bernadino murderers, shot by police during an intense shoot-out hours after their original crimes. The former may have been murder-by-cop; the latter were almost certainly suicide-by-cop. Instead of surrendering when they knew they were fugitives, they resisted and fought, leaving the police no reasonable choice but to fight back with lethal force.

I don’t know what happened on that remote highway in Oregon, where one man died, but I can easily believe that it was an extreme example of suicide-by-copy, an attempt at martyrdom-by-cop. The dead man was on record as saying that he’d rather die than be jailed. Should we doubt that and believe that the police would rather have killed him than jailed him and made him stand trial under the law of the Constitution as the vast majority of us interpret it? Five felons and rebels survived that encounter and are now jailed; only one is dead. I can very easily believe his death was deliberate, designed to inflame supporters at the alleged injustice of it, the alleged abuse of power by the overreaching, illegitimate forces of power.

I will not give those rebels and zealots the satisfaction of blaming the police for the death or the other incarcerations. When people go out of their way to defy and provoke authority in an attempt to make a statement, I can’t be surprised or very upset when they punctuate their statements by putting authorities that I recognize as legitimate in the position of having to respond with lethal force, even when death results.

The dead man got what he allegedly wanted and what he presumably deserved. I will not mourn him or his fellow rebels. I hope to forget them and their movement while the government moves to enforce all of the laws we live under on all the misguided, selfish, arrogant members of that cult.

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