Thomas Black lives in Leesburg, Virginia.
As the debate regarding police reform grows in intensity, we must consider the legislation Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) are being asked to enforce.
More importantly, what is the governing philosophy to which the legislators must hold LEOs and citizens accountable?
I recently became aware of an individual in Los Angeles, California who was allegedly unarmed at the time of being shot by local law enforcement; while I do not wish to take the tragedy of a life lost and turn it into a mere political discussion, further reflection may – in fact – save lives. Furthermore, it is worth noting that all of the information about the Dijon Kizzee case has likely not been made public, and this discussion must be tempered with the understanding that more information could, in fact, nullify or modulate aspects of my opinion. Nonetheless, I believe it is important to examine why law enforcement began interacting with Mr. Kizzee.
What law was Mr. Kizzee breaking which initiated LEO contact?
According to the article, Mr. Kizzee was stopped while riding his bicycle for vehicle code violations. Permit me, for a moment, to frame the criminal activity like this: Mr. Kizzee was engaged by LEOs for operating the same instrument of transportation that my two year-old son is currently learning to master. Should we now pause and consider what principles of government would lend itself to such legislation, and require armed officials to police such behavior?
To answer this question, I would submit that there are two fundamental philosophies of government in modern American politics.
One philosophy, as evidenced by a tweet from U.S. Representative Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), suggests that the function of government is to create laws that would progress society toward a better future – according to the government’s relative understanding of betterment at the time – and the popular election is the primary source of justification needed for subsequent legislation. The other philosophy would espouse a view concluding that the primary role of government is to protect the individual liberty of citizens. In the case of Dijon Kizzee, Eric Gardner, and others, these two perspectives proved immeasurably consequential.
As ambiguity has no friendship with good intentions, I will clearly state that it is my belief that a governing body, no matter how well-intentioned, will often subject the governed to unforeseen and unintended consequences of laws which go beyond the intent of protecting individuals to an encroachment on their civil rights and personal liberties.
Our Declaration of Independence states,
“…to secure these [inalienable] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Our Constitution, under the 14th Amendment, broadly recognizes that the government is responsible for protecting “life, liberty, or property.” This, therefore, begs the question:
What benefit did Eric Garner and Dijon Kizzee derive from their local governments and the laws they passed, which I have to assume were well-meaning and intended for societal betterment and progress?