It’s very interesting to hear, on this, our Independence Day, a story about an issue the authors of the Constitution when to some great lengths to avoid.
There were strong limitations against a standing Army build into the Constitution. While Congress is empowered to raise armies, they are limited in the manner in which they may fund them. Indeed, until the end of World War II, after every war, our Army would generally shrink to little more than a token force.
While there was concern among the Founders that a standing army might lead to foreign adventurism, the great fear was that such a standing army would instead become of tool of internal repression of the population. Hence the constitutional provision for the militia explicitly to serve to put down rebellion and civil disorder.
Popular disgust with the use of the Army to bypass civil courts and law enforcement functions in the post-Civil War era lead to the passage of the Posse Comitatus Act, a law prohibiting federal armed forces from acting as law enforcement. Respect for a sharp divide between an external security role, and a domestic law enforcement role is so deeply ingrained in today’s officer corps that even the hint of challenging that status quo leads to sharp condemnation from the corps. Just ask URR or any of the other officers that post or comment here.
And so, despite having a large standing army, for almost 150 years, American citizens have had very little to fear from it.
But there is in fact, a standing army that our Founding Fathers never anticipated, as such a force simply never existed at the time our Constitution was ratified.
There simply were no municipal police forces. And yet today, virtually every municipality in America has an armed police force. Indeed, a vast array of entities have police forces. Several large transit authorities have their own forces. Even large school districts have their own police.
Particularly since the “War on Drugs” began, we’ve also seen a sharp trend of police forces shifting from peace officers to a paramilitary force.
We will grant that the majority of police officers are decent, honorable citizens that see themselves as standing between polite civil citizens, and the criminal element of society. We recognize that they have a difficult, dangerous job.
But we’ve consistently seen that given authority over citizens, virtually every department will sooner or later abuse that authority.
Recently Hawthorne, CA police officers arrested a man for “obstruction” when any outside observer would draw the conclusion the arrest was more for filming those officers in the performance of their duties, and not being a fan of the police. Worse, this confrontation led to the citizen’s dog being shot, a shooting that took place very close to a large number of civilians, who might easily have been injured by a stray round.
Worse still comes this story from Henderson, NV.
Henderson police arrested a family for refusing to let officers use their homes as lookouts for a domestic violence investigation of their neighbors, the family claims in court.
Anthony Mitchell and his parents Michael and Linda Mitchell sued the City of Henderson, its Police Chief Jutta Chambers, Officers Garret Poiner, Ronald Feola, Ramona Walls, Angela Walker, and Christopher Worley, and City of North Las Vegas and its Police Chief Joseph Chronister, in Federal Court.
Henderson, pop. 257,000, is a suburb of Las Vegas.
The Mitchell family’s claim includes Third Amendment violations, a rare claim in the United States. The Third Amendment prohibits quartering soldiers in citizens’ homes in times of peace without the consent of the owner.
You may say that the Third Amendment has not been incorporated against the states. Perhaps not (I really don’t know the case law here).
I would say that if it hasn’t been incorporated, this might be a fine case to do so. Second, this is, if not exactly what the Founders hoped to prevent, it’s certainly in line with it. Finally, the Henderson PD almost certainly receives some federal funding of some sort, which would attach federal oversight.
Read the whole article. This egregious abuse of citizens calls not only for civil punishment in the form of a monetary award to the victim, but also forfeiture of limited sovereign immunity of both the Police Department and the individual officers involved. Termination, and criminal prosecution of officers who so blatantly abuse the very citizens they have sworn to serve and protect is most definitely called for.
Today, on this day we celebrate our independence, it behooves us all to remember that allowing rights to erode is an insult to those who came before us, and struggled mightily to secure those rights, and the blessings of liberty for us, their posterity. What shall our descendants say of us?
H/T: to the sidebar at Ace’s.