Today, Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. The fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is, does the law mean something, or is it just a piece of paper? No officer is above the law; otherwise, the end result will be tyranny. In that regard, Ms. Mosby's actions are a welcome first step. Even if Freddie Gray had an extensive police record, he is still entitled to the protection of the law, along with Eric Garner and Mike Brown.
However, we have merely scratched the surface regarding the Constitutionality of our officers' actions. The fact remains that we are continuing to heavily militarize our police officers through the 1033 program in a misguided effort to stop the flow of drugs. While drugs are a serious problem in our society, that does not justify blatantly disregarding the Constitution and blurring the line between our military and our police forces.
Radley Balko, in "Rise of the Warrior Cop," goes so far as to suggest that the Third Amendment, the Quartering Act, prohibits the kind of militarized police forces we are seeing in our city streets today. It reads as follows:
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.While this appears to apply to private property, it is clear that this amendment, as an expression of our country's moral values, was intended to express the preference for civilian protection of our country over military. Washington warned against maintaining large standing armies in his Farewell Address when he said:
While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.While Washington was not a pacifist and he believed in the establishment of national guards and a strong central union, it follows that we should only have the kind of military that is sufficient to protect our country, not for waging war against its own people. So, when we blur the lines between our military and police forces, we only undermine the foundations on which this country was founded. King George III engaged in some of the same tactics that our militarized police forces are engaging in today:
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.The arrest of Freddie Gray was clearly the sort of harassment that was practiced back in the days of King George. Even today, we are not told why Mr. Gray was arrested by the police or what probable cause they had. The fact that overly militarized police forces are being established is a blatant attempt to bypass our states and weaken state sovereignty. And given the culture of impunity that these militarized police units operate under, in which they enjoy privileges and immunities from prosecution, they become independent and superior to local and state powers.He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
While the Supremacy Clause places the Federal Government over state and local institutions, it is one thing to be in charge. It is quite another to do things just to show who is in charge. This sort of power should only be used as sparingly as possible. To establish a strong union, as Washington and Lincoln did, avoids the problem of lack of national unity in the face of danger, as the Greek city states experienced when they were threatened by Macedonia. However, establishing militarized police forces is simply a power grab under the guise of fighting the "war on drugs." Even if it is popular among the people, fighting the "war on drugs" should never be used as an excuse to bypass the Constitution or upset the balance between federal, state, and local sovereignty.
This is not an attack on all law enforcement officers or law enforcement departments. This is, however, an attack on the notion that our law enforcement should be held to a different standard when it comes to enforcing our laws or that everything they say should be treated as gospel truth. It shouldn't matter who you are or what you do, the law still matters. Being a law enforcement officer is a sacred trust, and when law enforcement officers are allowed to operate with impunity, it undermines the confidence that our people have in our police.