By Jon Harris:
Is it trendy to flaunt disobeying the law? Is this the new reality—that laws we do not agree with can simply be ignored? Is it proper to protest the enforcement of laws that are currently on the books? How about deciding whether or not the First Amendment is even relevant any longer?
We are witnessing a lack of understanding or blatant disregard for our country’s legal foundation. We see a total disrespect for the laws of our land. These are not new laws that have just been enacted by a presidential executive order. These are not strange legal loopholes unfamiliar to the public. What I am talking about are essential, long-standing statutes that more and more citizens just do not agree with, and feel no need to follow or recognize.
There are three instances I want to mention.
Freedom of Speech
The graph to the right, published by the Pew Research Center, shows a startling slide in support for First Amendment protections.
Analyzing this graph, the older generation values free speech more than Millennials (those in the 18 to 34 age range) two to one. Education was a factor, and those with less education did not consider free speech to be as important as those with college degrees. Republicans favored freedom of expression more than Democrats, as did men over women and whites over non-whites. From the protests and news reports, one would think the data about who supports free speech and who does not would be exactly the opposite.
Look at the demonstrations recently at several institutions of higher education, as well as in the streets, where free speech was shouted or shut down by protestors: who did we see in the crowds? Young protesters, minority protestors, female protesters, and those opposing President Trump and the Republicans. The Pew research validates what we have seen. What is clear is that free speech was not only shut down, but there is a feeling among the younger generation that free speech is no longer a right.
Freedom of expression is tolerated only when it is agreed with, and that conviction is adamantly held among America’s protestors today. Freedom of expression goes to the heart of our country’s founding. There is a reason the First Amendment specifically addresses with free speech; the Founding Fathers knew it was of utmost importance.
According to Justia.com, one of the most overlooked parts of the guarantee of free speech is the fact that it causes a sweeping change in ways that the government itself can never quite accomplish. Justice Thurgood Marshall stated, “Above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.”
Where we see the fight for free speech come to the forefront is at our nation’s universities and colleges. This is a startling revelation, as one would think these institutions would be the standard-bearers for free speech and the constitutional right to freedom of expression, even if that speech doesn’t fit the current social or political mood. Sadly, that is not the case. Free speech has all but disappeared from the nation’s educational institutions in the name of political correctness.
Another topic in the news causing mass protests is the enforcement of standing immigration laws. President Trump directed DHS and ICE to enforce deportation measures for illegal aliens with criminal records. In Arizona, protests erupted with the arrest and deportation of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, an illegal alien with a felony criminal record.
ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe confirmed in an email that Garcia de Rayos was deported to Mexico. “Ms. Garcia, who has a prior felony conviction in Arizona for criminal impersonation, was the subject of a court-issued removal order that became final in July 2013,” Pitts O’Keefe said. “Ms. Garcia’s immigration case underwent review at multiple levels of the immigration court system, including the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the judges held she did not have a legal basis to remain in the US,” she said. Pitts O’Keefe declined to give details of the arrest, but Garcia de Rayos’ attorney said she was arrested in 2008 as part of a workplace raid at a Mesa water park and accused of identity theft—a felony.
The subject was a convicted felon. Garcia de Rayos used someone else’s Social Security number to work and receive benefits on a fraudulent basis. Protests and attempts to physically prevent the federal agents from carrying out the deportation were not successful.
US immigration authorities arrested hundreds of illegal aliens in at least half a dozen states this week in a series of raids that marked the first large-scale enforcement of President Trump’s January 26 order. The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some aliens who did not have criminal records—an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during the Obama administration that aimed to deport those who had committed crimes. Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said, “We’re talking about people who are threats to public safety or a threat to the integrity of the immigration system.” Christensen noted that the majority of those detained were dangerous criminals, including some who had been convicted of murder and domestic violence.
In Austin, Texas, flyers have been handed out to the public advising them to fight the federal immigration officers carrying out arrests. The city government is supporting this reckless action. When elected city officials openly defy the law—in this case, lawful arrests of illegal aliens with criminal backgrounds—it sets a dangerous example and furthers the opinion that laws that are not agreeable or convenient should be ignored. The newly-elected sheriff of Travis County, Texas (Austin) is in a battle with Texas Governor Greg Abbott over the sheriff’s stance not to cooperate with immigration detainers. This action has cost her department 1.5 million in state funding so far, and at least 18 positions within the department. The State of Texas Senate recently passed a bill (Senate Bill #4), which now moves to the House.
“Elected officials do not get to pick and choose which laws they will obey,” Republican Governor Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement after the Tuesday vote. “Today’s action in the Senate helps ensure that sheriffs and officials across Texas comply with federal immigration laws and honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests that keep dangerous criminals off of our streets.”
At least in Texas, it appears that the rule of law still holds importance.
Riots in Washington, D.C. resulted in arrests and indictments for felony rioting for over a hundred protestors. Here again, we have an example of violent and destructive activism. The public supporting the rioters have not considered the cost and damage to private property, nor the dangerous situation that these rioters created. The average age of the arrested was 27, solidly in the middle of the age group that feels free speech should no longer be protected. Peaceful protest is protected free speech, and the police were there not only to protect the citizens but also to ensure the right of people to be heard by all sides. But these rioters came to destroy, not protest. Most were dressed in all black and had their faces covered. Police said in a statement that the group damaged vehicles, destroyed property, and set small fires while armed with crowbars and hammers. Peter Newsham, the interim police chief of the DC Metropolitan Police Department, said that “the group caused significant damage along a number of blocks.”
Riots are not new. We have experienced riots and property destruction in countless cities throughout the history of our country. Lawlessness and rioting are simply allowed to happen in some areas. In Ferguson, Missouri, the damage of the riots was estimated in the tens of millions, not counting an almost five million dollar cost to taxpayers for the added police protection. Those riots were not confined to Ferguson, however, as we saw them take hold in several other cities, like Baltimore and Milwaukee. Rioting is a felony, but those laws were not enforced. Rioters had little fear of police action, and this led to lawlessness. In the case of the Baltimore riots, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in public statement, “We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.” What an idiotic approach! Once again, portions of the public, and in this case, the city of Baltimore’s elected mayor, felt the riots were justified and supported the lawlessness, which sets a terrible standard.
The laws of our country must be obeyed. When the public feels it can openly disobey or disregard the laws of the land, anarchy can follow, as we have seen with anti-police riots around the country. Law enforcement and local governments must work together to ensure the laws are observed, and if broken, that the perpetrators are brought to justice. To do anything else is to abandon the job of ensuring public order and safety. Mob rule is not what this country is about, but if lawlessness is allowed to continue (and in some cases is supported by politicians and portions of the public), mob rule is exactly what we will have.
Jon Harris is an OpsLens contributor and former Army NCO, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community. He holds a B.S. in Government and Politics and an M.S. in Criminal Justice.
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