Today the United States of America has been free and sovereign for 244 years, but this Independence Day is unlike any other in history.
Not only are many parades and a majority of fireworks displays canceled due to COVID-19, but protests and riots in response to a Minnesota police officer killing Minneapolis local, George Floyd, still grip some urban centers. From a recent spike in coronavirus cases in Florida and Texas to the devolution of Seattle’s streets into abject lawlessness, this holiday feels a bit like America is under assault from within.
If you’ve been watching the news, there is no shortage of people to blame. The issues we face as a nation today are numerous and threaten to divide us if we fail to address them creatively and forget the problem-solving pragmatism of the founding generation.
The American war for independence from Britain was instigated by a diverse coalition of free peoples who sought to secure self-government and their unalienable rights against any government that might infringe them.
The British monarchy was not the most oppressive government body around in 1776, in fact, far from it. Although the American Revolution may have been made inevitable by the Crown’s crackdown on its American colonists, American independence was born of a previously unheard-of practical idealism.
Likewise, the United States in the year 2020 is not an oppressive regime compared to any other on earth—but there is still much to be done.
The last six weeks of protest and violence have been a referendum on the need for law enforcement reform in this country.
There are a set of problematic policies that enabled Officer Chauvin to use such startling measures to restrain an American citizen–including, for example, the doctrine of qualified immunity which prevents police officers from being sued in civil court, and the practice of “no-knock raids,” which recently resulted in another totally distinct death of a young woman named Breonna Taylor when officers entered the wrong house in plain clothes by mistake. These policies and others are now coming up for debate.
Such debate reflects legitimate complaints that deserve our attention as active citizens of our republic, even though it is relatively easy to be happy and complacent in this freest nation on earth. There are some within our government–such as Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to name a couple–who are seeking, to little avail so far, to address these issues.
There are some others, however, whose agenda has expanded far beyond a simple reaction of anger after another black American died at the hands of a police officer. Such people tell us that the entire American constitutional system is worthless in view of its observable flaws. Indeed, there is now a shockingly popular sentiment that destruction and violence are the rational and “legitimate” antidotes to what ails our nation.
As disturbing as these sentiments seem, they are not new–nor is the recognition that completely unrestrained violence can spoil even a completely justified cause.
When you turn on the TV it is likely you will hear that your political options are restricted to being pro-protest or anti-riot. This kind of simple thinking is the opposite of the genius that created the United States in 1776.
Years after the original States won their Independence, the French–peeking selectively at Thomas Jefferson’s notes–began their own revolution against their king. The French Revolution, in comparison to the American, was far uglier. Now, after a pro-protest state senator in Wisconson was beaten while recording protestors vandalizing a statue of a Civil War abolitionist in Madison, the similarities to the French Terror are becoming more apparent.
Obviously, this kind of destruction and senseless, directionless violence does not make police reform more likely and often precedes more aggressive police responses, continuing the cycle of retaliation and violence.
Still, we must reject the temptation, in fear of anarchy, to give up our practical idealism by opting for easy solutions that settle for the status quo.
Bringing the requisite amount of accountability to American law enforcement would take several reforms, but Amash’s tri-partisan bill ending Qualified Immunity for police officers is a good start and we shouldn’t stop there. Paul’s bill, which would eliminate no-knock warrants, would also curb the confrontational culture of policing but it is likely neither of these bills would pass, even if they avoided President Trump’s veto.