Friday, April 23, 2021

No One is Above the Law

My most recent post drew some comments from a trusted friend, so I want to clarify a few things. Everyone must be held accountable for their actions. No one is above the law; not even those in law enforcement. I was reminded of the phrase, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." I wasn't certain of its origin so I looked it up.

Lord Acton writes to Bishop Creighton in a series of letters concerning the moral problem of writing history about the Inquisition. Acton believes that the same moral standards should be applied to all men, political and religious leaders included, especially since, in his famous phrase, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position, like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greater names coupled with the greater crimes. You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them, higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science.

I understand the tendencies in people. I realize there are those who wear a badge as a member of law enforcement that begin to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. They begin to act as though the very law they are sworn to uphold does not apply to them. Based on my experience, that number is small. Perhaps I am naive to think that my statistical sample represents the majority.

Even if I am wrong, it does not justify open season on killing police officers. I understand there have been several trials of officers accused of violating the law, or even a person's human rights, that have been found "not guilty". You rarely hear of those that were charged and found guilty, even though it does happen. Many times, as with many cases in the criminal justice system, there are plea deals made out of court.

The major caveat when dealing with law enforcement is when deadly force is used. Except for states that empower citizens to "stand your ground," police are the only ones justified in using deadly force to stop criminal activity; hence, "absolute power." Clearly, they must be held to a higher standard. Otherwise, this "absolute power" will "corrupt absolutely."

In my opinion, the police are held to a higher standard. I realize in this day and age I am in the minority with this view. I have made this statement often to friends and family: "If an officer is going to risk being investigated or prosecuted every time they remove their gun from its holster, then take away the guns." At least then the officers would know exactly what they could or couldn't do.

It is never ok for an officer to harm another individual unless warranted by the circumstances. It is never ok for an officer to use deadly force unless they perceive an imminent threat to themselves or others. However, I also believe it is very difficult, even with "video evidence," to understand the full ramifications and dynamics at play in any given circumstance. 

Should they be investigated? Absolutely! Should they be given the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? Absolutely! Should they face the penalties for crimes committed? Absolutely! Should they be allowed to do their jobs without fear of being hunted down and killed like ferrel swine? Absolutely!

Doctors are found libel for malpractice, yet I still see doctors for medical care. The reason? Not all are derelict in their practice. People are poisoned by food eaten at restaurants, yet I still eat out. Why? Because this level of neglect is rare. Police officers are found guilty of crimes. Are they all guilty? They are not.

I doubt I will write on this again. I usually avoid topics which are seen as political. For me, however, this is not a political issue. It is personal. I understand why some disagree with me and that's ok. I welcome all comments and questions. I want to learn. I want to understand.

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