when laws are not moral

reflections on the proper role of law enforcement

once upon a time, right here in america, there was a law that stated that not only were some humans the property of other humans, but that if those who had been enslaved ran away, it was illegal to help them. rather, the law stated that aiding in their capture and return to their owners was required.

truly, this was a squalid and rancid set of mandates running roughshod over personal agency and any semblance of intrinsic human rights.

but from it we learned and now we lionize the tales of the underground railroad, of those who stood up against this loathsome legalism and instead chose the path of morality.

their names and courage are remembered.

many in places like nuremburg had quite a lot to say about those who made the other choice and “followed orders” instead of following their consciences.

alas, so much progress in society seems not so much cumulative as cyclical.

we forget these things, lose these truths, and stride once more upon well trodden rakes committing the sins of our fathers and perpetuating penchants for rules over rightness.

we have learned nothing.

we are not just willing, but eager to invite the vampire back in.

leaving aside issues of whether this is, in fact, a truly lawful order (clearly debatable) let us, for the sake of disputation presume that it is and carries full and valid legal weight and standing.

let us presume that these police are indeed refusing to obey a lawful order.

“so what?”

this may well render them more, not less fit to be police for as we have seen above, the venn diagram of “legal” and “moral” can have some quite notable failures in overlap.

perhaps these peelers deserve not pink-slips but “attaboys” for having sufficient courage of conviction and moral fiber to oppose that which is antithetical to individual rights even (and especially) if it be codified.

do we truly want a constabulary that will faithfully and without exception enforce all laws and mandates handed them without discernment or moral limitation and follow rules rather than ethics as they perform their duties and live their lives?

because i struggle to conceive of anything more terrifying.

or might we prefer police that are actual humans and who have both the sense and license to refuse to comply with or enforce unjust laws?

and if, indeed, we would prefer such agency for those hired to protect our rights, then must we not also cede that such people are entitled to protect their own rights as well and to engage in the same civil disobedience and non-compliance as the rest of “we the people?”

shall we select our flatfoots for their inclination to submit to tyranny rather than their willingness to stand against it?

because this seems a poor recipe for ongoing freedom.

a police force with a history of civil disobedience against unjust diktat seems to me a fine thing, a thing to cultivate not excoriate.

it becomes a check on encroachment by the state rather than its enforcer.

people are getting this the wrong way ‘round. let coppers be people first and gendarmes second.

you want them with YOU, not upholding empty legalism of others.