By Steven J. Grisafi, PhD.
Ulysses Simpson Grant is considered by most Americans to have been an outstanding army general, but only a mediocre president. My opinion differs. As a military officer I tend to view Grant as having been unnecessarily ruthless in his pursuit of victory. The lives of too many Union soldiers were needlessly sacrificed to meet President Lincoln’s demand for swift victory. As president Americans tend to view Grant’s administration as rife with corruption. I won’t argue against that claim. I only suggest that after victory over the Confederacy this was to be expected in Washington. I view President Grant as having a superior understanding of the Rule of Law than most other presidents. And certainly superior to that of President Lincoln.
Grant understood that unless a government intends to enforce a law that it has created the law must be removed. In the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd, America has seen numerous protests, and counter-protests, far removed from the City of Minneapolis where Floyd was killed. Protests reached the relatively small city of Cour D’alene, Idaho near which my family lives. Taking an interest in what has transpired there I came upon this story of a mother who feels that she must leave her home because of protests and the counter-reaction they have brought. There is a history in that part of Northern Idaho of armed militia movements such that the residents have come to view such activity as commonplace. But for Rebecca Schroeder the presence of armed militia counter-protests to the Black Lives Matter protests has brought her worry and dread. Legal help has come to her from national organizations that seek to prove the presence of the armed militia members on the streets of Cour D’alene to be unlawful. Examination of the state laws of Idaho supports this position.
Similar to my home state of Pennsylvania, Idaho is an open carry state. My understanding of the pertinent Idaho law is that, while anyone may open carry a firearm in Idaho, such persons may not do so organized as a group. However, this would pertain to both protesters, counter-protesters and any others persons openly carrying firearms as an organized group. Numerous demonstrators for Black Lives Matter also open carry firearms. Since their demonstrations occur as an organized group, they too would be considered as violating the pertinent Idaho law. Consequently, the police of Cour D’alene are confronted with the dilemma of having to arrest both groups of protesters and counter-protesters, which would certainly overwhelm the capacity of their department to do so. As a result, the police do nothing and fail to enforce the law.
An analogous situation occurred in a dreadful, but fascinating, example found here. This incident occurred in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon is also an open carry state. However, it may or may not have that particular law that Idaho has regarding a “body of men.” If this incident had occurred in Idaho, a police officer reporting to the scene would be tasked with the duty to arrest the demonstrator. Not aware, or properly understanding the law, that the driver is not part of a “body of men,” violence would likely erupt at the scene and likely throughout the entire United States. People would consider the driver to be equally at fault. He may very well be at fault. If, for example, if he were driving in Pennsylvania he would need a concealed carry permit to carry his loaded pistol on his person while driving. But as regards the “body of men” law he is not in violation of it. Differing laws from one state to another all across the United States can be a source of much confusion and misunderstanding.
This is an interesting situation because it brings into focus a fundamental principle of the Rule of Law that I know President Ulysses Simpson Grant understood. Unless a government intends to enforce a law that it has created the law must be removed. Not doing so breeds contempt of the people for all laws the government has created. In the situation where no American is indifferent to the Black Lives Matter movement, with the two opposing camps in Cour D’alene comprising the near totality of the population, violation of the law indicates that the law serves no purpose of the people.
We have seen a similar situation in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia District Attorney vowed to charge a Philadelphia police officer who, when deployed by his commanders, used pepper spray against demonstrators who were blocking Interstate 476. The ordinance laws of Philadelphia explicitly state that nobody may block either a street nor sidewalk within the City without first obtaining a permit to do so. The demonstrators blocking Federal Defense Interstate Highway 476 had no such permit to do so. Yet the Philadelphia District Attorney believed that such persons were acting within their lawful right to protest. Regardless of whatever opinion one may have regarding the actions taken by Police Officer Richard Nicoletti toward the demonstrators, the opinion of the District Attorney is nothing short of ludicrous. The people ought rightfully expect that the ordinance, requiring a permit to block a city street, be removed.
It may irritate some that I choose to include the following example. I do so to show that there is no color-line to tragedy in America. Tragedy stuck over the Labor Day weekend in Utah. A mother, distressed because her 13 year old autistic son was having a violent seizure, called the police for help. They came and shot her son. No cities in America burned as result of this shooting. The outrage is no less intense than that resulting from the suffocation of George Floyd nor the shootings of Jacob Blake and Rayshard Brooks. No rioting, no looting, nor any arson follows the shooting of Linden Cameron, not because he is any less loved than the others, but because the boy is white. He is not the first white boy to suffer unjustly at the hands of the police. Nor will he be the last. We who understand the Rule of Law recognize its imperfections. We seek to remove them and improve its performance. But we don’t riot.