Prisoner Releases and State Emergency Declarations Create New Conflicts

Michigan's Capitol building April 29, 2020

Michigan's Capitol building April 29, 2020

By Steve Pomper 

Back in the 1990s the Seattle Police Department (SPD), under Police Chief Norm Stamper, updated/upgraded officers’ department-issued sidearms from .38 cal. S&W revolvers (6 rounds) to the semi-automatic .40 cal. Glock 17 (15 rounds +1).

The anti-gun, anti-cop political establishment had a reflexive freak-out. They had another similar reaction several years later when the department started their Patrol Rifle Program. SPD issued AR-15 rifles to qualified patrol officers.

Seattle’s streets will turn into the Wild West. It will be raining bullets, they warned. Oh, the humanity! The predicted carnage never materialized. What happened was the cops were safer because they were now armed with weapons more closely aligned with what the bad guys had. In fact, the chief decided to switch after a bank robber wounded an SPD officer during a shootout. The cop with his six-shooter and the criminal with his semi-auto pistol.

I bring this up because of the Wild West conditions have actually been created for their residents by some American city leaders. And it’s not just Seattle. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are also degrading under their ideological and incompetent political “leadership.” And, now, the CCP virus has provided some political leaders an excuse to flex their big government muscles. And, of course, they’re using police officers to enforce some arbitrary and non-science-based edicts.

This has created a dis-harmonic convergence of refusing to enforce certain laws against certain people, instituting no cash bail releases of dangerous criminals, and of states and counties releasing prisoners from the jails and prisons. How could this not wreak havoc on communities?

One prisoner released from Riker’s Island in New York City has already been arrested for sexual assault/attempted rape. Hey, Mayor de Blasio: Have you apologized to that victim, yet, or were you too busy out walking in a park 11-miles from your home, defying your own stay-at-home order?

Meanwhile, on the other coast, documentary film maker and City-Journal.com contributing editor Christopher Rufo wrote a piece titled, “Chaos by the Bay: San Francisco responds to the coronavirus with an experiment in lawlessness.” Rufo has a disturbing political history in that threats of violence against him, his wife, and their child by Seattle’s oh-so-tolerant Left forced him to abandon his run for a city council seat.

Though Rufo has dealt with crime and “homelessness” in Seattle, in the article mentioned above, he wrote about the devastation occurring in San Francisco under the cover of the CCP virus. And he highlighted how this is mostly affecting the city’s working poor.

Rufo writes about the irony in the progressives “quest to equalize the social hierarchy.” He says the city’s rich folks will be largely untouched by the consequences of “decarceration, decriminalization, and depolicing,” while lower income folks will suffer most.

He emphasizes “the poor and working class, who live in the neighborhoods most affected by tent encampments and open-air drug markets, will pay the price.” Rufo fears after leaders finally lift the stay-at-home restrictions, San Franciscans will emerge to find a transformed city. One “not toward greater equality, but toward greater misery, lawlessness, and disorder.”

What particularly troubles me is in these cities, it is the law enforcement officer who will be caught in the middle between unethical politicians and the communities who need the cops’ service and protection.

But, if this crisis has shown us nothing else, it has demonstrated how easily the far-left can conduct a political power grab. Just tell their city residents and the police officers that by obeying them unquestioningly, they are “saving lives,” and if they don’t obey, they are “killing people.” Add to that censoring anyone with a legitimate but dissenting opinion, and you have a potent prescription for oppression.

This happened a couple days ago when two California physicians who are also statisticians gave an articulate, well-supported dissenting opinion on the need for a national shutdown. Before the show they were on ended, YouTube/Google had taken down their viral video that millions of people had already seen.

YouTube defended its censorship by arguing the video “violated ‘community guidelines.’” So, a legitimate opinion on one side of a contentious issue violates YouTube’s community guidelines because it dissents from YouTube’s chosen political side? How scary is that? The folks who run Twitter and Facebook have expressed similar sentiments in their effort to remove “harmful misinformation” (information harmful to the Chinese-allied World Health Organization) from their platforms.

Just think about how scary this is. America is turning into a nation where “free speech” is under attack, not only by a foreign power, the Communist Chinese government, but by the nation’s leftist politicians in an unholy alliance with the mainstream media and the largest social media corporations on Earth.

Again, it’s important to remember these political forces will need police forces to facilitate their political coup, by not allowing this crisis to go to waste. Look at the position these folks are putting their cops in. Whether or not you agree with a restriction, by definition, emergency powers that allow governors to suspend constitutional rights, still do just that: suspend the U.S. Constitution.

I’ve looked again, but I’m still not finding any asterisks with footnotes in the Bill of Rights. For example, Amendment I: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” * except when a governor declares an emergency.

So, this puts police officers in the unenviable position of having to enforce restricting people’s constitutional rights. While most officers try to do the right thing, according to their duty and conscience, such an edict can be confusing and frustrating. Especially when what started as a health crisis becomes politicized, as this one has.

Some governors, like Kristi Noem, did not shutter her state, still abided by social distancing and other CDC protocols, and has now created a “return to normal” plan for South Dakota. Meanwhile, you have other governors, such as Phil Murphy in New Jersey, who has his state by the throat and has a plan for the dawning of a “new normal.” And while states have laws on the books, granting governors extraordinary powers during states of emergency, some judges are already striking down some government official’s overreaches.

In Illinois, as reported by westernjournal.com, a county judge granted a restraining order requested by a state representative against the governor. The representative argued the law allowed the governor to declare an emergency for 30 days. But noted the law doesn’t explicitly allow for extending the order. The judge said the extension of the stay-at-home order “shredded the Constitution.” He added, “Every second this Executive Order is in existence, it violates the Constitution shreds the Bill of Rights.”

It’s not fair for state and local officials, either recklessly or negligently, to place their cops on the horns of this constitutional dilemma. This political schism shows what is blurring the lines cops must work within: By and large, the governors of one party endorse stricter controls on the people, as they head toward a new normal. The governors of the other party endorse lifting restrictions and returning to normal. This shows how the people and the cops have a legitimate right to bristle at those officials who continue to restrain their liberty in what sometimes seems an arbitrary manner.

It is within this fog of uncertainty that officials put law enforcement officers in positions where they understand their duty to enforce the law but can never be quite sure how to proceed. It’s anathema for American cops to violate constitutional rights—even in a crisis.

And even if though the people have remedies through the courts, ostensibly, an officer’s duty under an emergency declaration is to enforce laws that abridge the Constitution. But does this conflict with an officer’s oath? Is there a line police officers should not cross?

Good cops argue among themselves over this dichotomy. This is not an easy question. And now some government officials, clinging to their new “temporary” powers, are forcing individual officers to answer it for themselves. Government officials in a country based on individual liberty and limited government should never put their cops in a position to have to answer this question. But, some are doing just that.

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