In the current maelstrom occurring as a result of the federal government “shutdown”, long neglected principles and important questions that need answers are being revealed. Most Americans saw the government shutdown as a system failure and line up along political party allegiances, failing to see the principles the writers of the Constitution put in place to protect the American people against abuses of power that are inevitable with fallible human beings at the helm.
For those of us in law enforcement, there is a particular incident that occurred that brings up questions that need answering given the current conduct of our elected officials and agency bureaucrats, regardless of political affiliation.
The specific incident involves the Blue Ridge Parkway and a privately owned business located along the Parkway. As a result of the “shutdown”, all monuments, federally run parks and national forests are closed and Park Rangers were ordered to “make life as difficult as we can.” The Pisgah Inn, a privately-owned restaurant and inn is located on mile marker 408.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The executive branch ordered Park Rangers to inform the owner to close his business. When he failed to do so in protest, Park Rangers were ordered to block the entrance of his business, while the Blue Ridge Parkway, in and of itself, an open air park remains open to traffic. As of now, Rangers are stationed in shifts around the clock, blocking the entrances to the business.
The Park Rangers, apologetic, explained they were “just following orders”. It is an ugly and morally untenable position to be in. Given the current political situation in the country, it is one that more and more officers will find themselves in at all levels of government. Law enforcement has an ugly history across the world of being utilized as a weapon to further political agendas and the establishment of tyrannical dynasties at a local level, as well as nationally.
Instead of protecting individuals against the predation of others and impartially enforcing laws established through the orderly legal process, police have been used to enforce the whims of political and often criminal tyrants. Though the vast majority of officers are performing their duties honorably and in good faith, too often, there is a failure to fully understand the full implications of the oath that every officer takes upon accepting the badge.
Though other countries have followed suit, the United States was the first to require an oath to uphold and defend ideas and principles, rather than swear fealty to a person or elected position. The basic law enforcement oath, with minor variations depending on jurisdiction is:
Oath of Office
I (state your name), do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of the State of xxxxxx, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and defend them against enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge, the duties of a peace officer, to the best of my ability, so help me God.
What is the significance of swearing an oath to support the Constitution first, rather than to the President or the government in general? Though many dismiss the founders, and the Constitution as outdated, the men that developed the Constitution anticipated and understood that human beings being placed in positions of power would abuse it, some for well meaning, but misguided purposes and others to accumulate or abuse the power given them. They even anticipated that the whole people could be swayed by emotions, circumstances and the lies of ambitious, conniving people gaining control of the government.
That the supervisory chain of command issued orders to Park Rangers to “make life miserable” for American citizens to further political agendas is on its face an unlawful order. There is no constitutional or statutory authority for government officials to harass, intimidate or make life difficult for anyone, let alone law abiding citizens, especially for the purposes of achieving political agendas in violation of constitutional limitations. There are, in fact, court cases addressing privately owned businesses and individuals leasing federal lands winning in court when the federal government disrupted the lawful use of this property like the Park Rangers did when physically obstructing access to the Pisgah Inn and others along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
These politically motivated abuses are not limited to the federal government. One of many examples is in 2007, police were ordered to destroy the tents of the homeless in St. Petersburg, Florida with box cutters. While the homeless do present problems for many local communities, there are lawful means to address the issue that do not involve police officers destroying the personal property of citizens, even though they are homeless and have no political influence. The city excused ordering the actions stating that they didn’t want to arrest and get into conflict with the homeless, yet ended up with an entire cadre of homeless up in arms, along with others in the community.
The oath of office we take provides that we first support the U.S. Constitution and one of the fundamental principles of the Constitution is that all laws must flow from within the foundation of it. We are then directed to support the State Constitution of our jurisdiction and the laws flowing within those boundaries. We are to bear true faith and allegiance to the former and here is where many have missed the significance of their oaths. We are directed to defend against foreign and domestic enemies of that which we swore to support through the faithful and impartial discharge of our duties.
Our oath requires that we are knowledgeable of the Constitution and the limitations of government authority, as well as the laws that uphold those principles. That oath does not provide for blind obeisance to any and all orders given by our superiors. The challenge we face as a profession is to answer the question of what will be done when we are faced with increasingly blatant unlawful orders. The weight of the badge can be a very heavy weight to bear.
It is my hope that all who swore this oath and accepted the noble weight of the badge, regardless of whether it is at a federal, state or local level will look to the immense sacrifices that were made to change the relationship between the citizens and their government to birth the liberty that allowed the greatest nation to begin the journey to fulfill the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, along with all of mankind being created equal. We are not blind automatons mindlessly following orders; we are American citizens first and peace officers after that.
Perhaps George Washington outlined our duties best in the following quote:
“The value of liberty was thus enhanced in our estimation by the difficulty of its attainment, and the worth of characters appreciated by the trials of adversity…The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations…Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism…It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn.”
And John Adams:
“…Cities may be rebuilt, and a People reduced to Poverty, may acquire fresh Property: But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored.”
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Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership. She also writes for The Badge Guys (www.thebadgeguys.com). She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today