April 16, 1993. I was a first year law student at the University of Miami. I was about to finish my first - and worst - year of law school. By no means an expert in any area of the law, I was certainly more interested in the judicial system than most people.
Let's rewind the tape for a minute. A year before, a California jury acquitted the four officers accused of assaulting Rodney King, sparking a riot that would leave 53 dead. Property damage costs of that horrific time were staggering. The riot caused all Americans to once again talk about issues of race, of policing and of civil rights.
Back to April 16, 1993. It was a Saturday. I remember that because a) I wasn't at school that day, and b) the courts had decided to announce the verdict on the civil rights charges against the officers during the weekend, so as to help curtail the possibility of civil unrest stemming from an acquittal.
I watched the news coverage on a local television station - Channel 7, WSVN if memory serves. I don't know how to describe Channel 7 other than its self-inflicted motto: If it bleeds, it leads. If you want the most extreme, the most grotesque, the most inflammatory news coverage, you tuned into Channel 7. I knew if there was going to be unrest that day, it would be on Channel 7.
Channel 7 had stationed a reporter at the local 911 call center so they could report in real time on calls for assistance from the forecasted mayhem that was to envelop the city. And in the minutes before the verdict was announced, the reporter at the 911 call center broke into the non-stop coverage to report that someone had already called 911 to ask: "When do we get to start rioting?"
The recent debate on the possibility of new gun control measures, either through statute or executive order, has sparked some similar questions. So I think we need to address them.
We are a nation of laws. We are not a democracy, where the majority gets to tell the minority what to do. While it's true we do elect leaders in our republican (small "r" as opposed to big "R" Republican....there's a difference as you know) form of government, their efforts to legislate and regulate us are limited by our Constitution. Simply because a President enacts an executive order or signs legislation passed by Congress does not mean it becomes the law of the land forever. The Supreme Court may find the law violates the Constitution, striking it down.
When we live in a nation of laws with a constitutional government, we impliedly cede some of our rights to the government. For example, when we have elections, we impliedly agree that as citizens we will be bound by the result, even when it means our candidate lost. We agree that we will pay taxes, even if we think they are too high. We agree to follow the laws, and we agree that if we break those laws, we can go to jail.
How can I say that we agree to those things? Because we choose to live here. If you don't like those rules, then it's incumbent on you to find a place more fitting to your taste. No where in the Constitution does it say we get to riot or kill people or set things on fire if there are laws passed that we don't like. If you think there's a clause in there permitting that, let me know. But I'm fairly confident you won't find one.
Some will no doubt tell me this country was founded on the principles of rebellion and rioting. I don't know that I would disagree with that. And I'm well aware our Declaration of Independence says
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
It's important to remember that our Declaration of Independence was signed some twelve years before our Constitution was ratified. Our Constitution comes with methods to change it as times change. But as long as the Constitution is our ultimate law of the land, we must abide by it, even when we disagree with the resulting laws.
And so when I hear people talking about rioting or starting a revolution, I have to ask: Just what exactly do you intend to do? Shoot at federal agents? Burn down federal court houses? Attack military bases? What? All of these things seem hypocritical to me, especially when those who may be doing the attacking or rioting are purportedly doing so to support the rule of law and the Constitution.
We do not defeat over regulation and over legislation with violence. We do so using the system that is in place, created by the Constitution. We do it in the courts and at the ballot box. We do it by utilizing our First Amendment rights to educate others on the problems associated with an ever encroaching government. We do it by educating ourselves on what our rights are under the Constitution. We do it by encouraging others to do all of the same.
We can all envision a nightmare scenario where the Constitution is permanently suspended, due process is eliminated, property is seized without compensation, elections are suspended, people are jailed or executed for their political or religious beliefs, and on and on. If this nightmare scenario were to ever come about, would I be saying the same thing? Would I be saying "trust the rule of law?" I pray we are never put into that position.
So, in summary:
- Respect the Constitution.
- Pray for our leaders, even if you don't agree with them. Pray for God to heal our collective souls. Pray for wisdom for yourself.
- Educate yourself and others.
- Remember you get more flies with honey than you do vinegar.
- Be vigilant about what's going on in the news and in politics. Stay on top of current events.
- Reach out to those who disagree with you. Build relationships with them. Let them see you are not a bad person or a nut job.
- Value truth. Don't hide from facts.
- Prepare for the possibility of more difficult times ahead, for you and your family.
- Support candidates who espouse your values. This means supporting their campaigns financially. It also means reaching out to them to let them know what's on your mind.
- Be a nice person. Don't be a jerk, even if someone else is being a jerk to you. Set a good example.