Opinion

Whose Civil Rights Are They, Anyway?

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Posted: Sep 25, 2020 11:03 AM
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Whose Civil Rights Are They, Anyway?

Source: AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File

Just ask Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha or the McCloskeys in St. Louis if our Constitution’s 14th Amendment protections apply to them. 

Ratified in 1868, the amendment’s principal intent was to grant citizenship to all former slaves, but the next sentence in Section 1 is what matters today:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? In plain English, each citizen is entitled to all the rights enumerated in the Constitution’s first 10 amendments, the fabled Bill of Rights, and what’s more, state and local governments are bound to its guarantees (the Slaughterhouse Cases, 1873). Even though those same words were perverted to give us the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine with Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, they were magnificently applied in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and in similar cases where that noble language was employed to right great wrongs. 

As this summer’s violence spread and worsened—with little attempt control it—from Minneapolis to Portland, then, to Seattle, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, and others, and then to Lancaster, PA, and Rochester, NY, of all places, we might wonder if the 14th Amendment had been repealed and no one told us.

Portland is a good example. When Ted Wheeler took the oath of office in becoming mayor in 2017, he raised his right hand and repeated these words:

I, Ted Wheeler, do solemnly (affirm or swear) that I will support the Constitutions of the United States and of the State of Oregon and the Charter of the City of Portland and its laws; I will faithfully, honestly and ethically perform my duties as Mayor…

Wouldn’t we bet the oath Kate Brown took as Oregon’s Governor in 2015 is pretty much the same? And how about the one Bill de Blasio took as Mayor of New York in 2014, and the one Andrew Cuomo took as Governor of New York in 2011? And how about all those other mayors and governors? Along with all the other blah-blah, they all swore they’d support (maybe even protect and defend) the Constitution of the United States, didn’t they? Which includes the 14th Amendment? Which forbids them to deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws?

So, why haven’t these elected officials let law enforcement authorities provide that protection to their people? Instead, they deliberately, consciously withheld police protection to thousands of innocent people and businesses in all those cities. Shouldn’t they be accountable for those decisions? I don’t mean at the ballot box. I mean in the courtroom. 

Antifa’s paid thugs will get their justice, we hope, but they’re much harder to identify and find. We know who made the decisions that cost people their livelihoods, and for some, their lives.  Why has no one demanded that civil rights investigations be launched against those who aided and abetted the violence in places like Portland? When Ted Wheeler and all those other elected officials—almost all Democrats—failed to act, did they not join in a conspiracy with the rioters to deny the citizenry equal protection of the laws?

Abetting a felony is a crime, isn’t it? Or is it just for you and me? 

By way of comparison, what if California’s Governor Newsom refused to allow firefighters to quench the wildfires raging in his state? Would people stand for it? Why, then, is it legally acceptable for elected officials to watch while the arsonists’ fires rage in their cities? How many Nero’s can we permit?            

The underpinnings of our Union require mutual respect, responsibility, and finally, accountability. The Piper must, in a just way, be paid. Unless the “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln said, coalesce in restoring the “mutual bonds of affection,” by insisting upon the terms of our social compact—the Constitution of the United States—our beloved Union may be rent asunder. 

Elected officials may be given wide latitude in exercising their judgment, even prosecutorial discretion, but there is no implied permission to aid and abet lawbreakers at political whim. The cry for justice in race matters has been long, loud, and just, but violence against innocents is never just. Do the amendments' time-burnished words not shout out that investigations be made, indictments issued, warrants signed, and arrests made?

As long as we still have our Constitution, isn’t it reasonable to expect our politicians to abide by what they’ve sworn to uphold? Or will we wait until they defund our rights, and let the anarchists come for the rest of us?

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