These Are the Times

Paul Jacob
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Posted: Jul 10, 2016 12:01 AM
These Are the Times

. . . that try men’s souls. In Common Sense, his hit pamphlet of 1776, Tom Paine lamented that “Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe.”

Appealing to Americans, he urged us to “receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”

Today . . . well, our country might be mistaken for an asylum. Just not the type envisioned by Citizen Tom Paine.

Freedom is now under siege right here in America.

Even before police added two more black men, one in Minnesota and one in Louisiana, to the horribly long list of black men and women (and white and Asian and Latino, too) killed by police in needless, stupid confrontations, and prior to the cold-bolded, premeditated murders of five policemen in downtown Dallas for the offense of being officers of the law and white, most Americans realized we were badly off track.

Respect for the law has been decimated, in part because too many police officers have abused their power and violated the law under color of law. And, moreover, because they’ve gotten away with it. Bad people will always do bad things, but when they get away with it, the bad gets worse.

And can crowd out the good.

Mostly, however, police have been put in untenable situations by politicians. Everywhere, the War on Drugs has led to over-policing, expecting the agents of government to control what far too high a percentage of the people seem intent on putting into their own bodies.

In inner city communities, and on the highways, the War on Drugs has become a war on black people. Mandatory minimum sentences have destroyed families and devastated neighborhoods over non-violent drug use.

Skeptical? Black drug use is comparable to white use, but black arrest and incarceration rates are far higher. It may be flat-out racism, but I suspect it mostly has socio-economic roots: it’s far easier to arrest and prosecute poorer people (who can’t lawyer up and effectively fight back) in our legal system. Yes, a higher percentage of black folks are poor.

There is a consensus in the country, across left and right, for criminal justice reform. Yet, politicians are offering mostly Band-Aids.

The Obama administration has highlighted the campaign to “Ban the Box” — the place on employment applications asking whether one has ever been convicted of a crime. Obama has already so ordered for those applying for federal jobs. Many are calling for reducing the number of folks incarcerated, one of the few categories where the U.S. leads the entire world.

But something is amiss. If these felons are dangerous, violent people, should we be opening the jail doors simply because there are so many of them? Or, is the problem actually that our laws are sweeping up far too many non-violent people? If that’s the case, as in the War on Drugs, the answer is not just to find ways to release those who never should have been incarcerated in the first place, but — get this — to STOP incarcerating them.

Maybe the country is simply too divided to solve the problems we face. But on criminal justice reform, America isn’t divided much at all.

There is a clear public consensus for requiring on-duty police to wear lapel cameras, for example. In addition to providing important evidence, lapel cameras have been shown to inspire better behavior from both cops and citizens.

Americans also overwhelmingly support ending civil asset forfeiture, a ridiculous and obviously unjust process whereby police and federal agencies simply seize assets or cash from “suspected” criminals and then keep the stuff even when the suspect is never charged with a crime, much less convicted of one. The once-upon-a-time suspect must then sue and prove his or her innocence to regain his or her property.

It’s not hard to understand that this has led to richer police departments and federal agencies and a lot of innocent citizens being ripped-off.

And to a sensible, reasonable, 20/20 vision diminishment of respect for the rule of law.

Yet, with all Mr. Obama’s executive orders, he hasn’t bothered to end this blatant destruction of the basic principle of innocent until proven guilty. He could constitutionally stop the federal government from engaging in stealing people’s stuff with a stroke of his pen.

Why doesn’t he? Is he unwilling to give up the revenue stream?

In the shadow of the disturbing violence of recent days, many will take sides between police and protesters, ignoring justice in favor of identity politics. That only embraces our dysfunctional politics and increases our inability to find peace.

Better to embrace justice where we can still find it.

There are many possible reforms. But they are unlikely to be enacted unless citizens work together to make change. Leaving it to interest groups and politicians will only give us more of the same. Or worse.