Friday, July 24, 2020

Rights are for everyone, even those you despise.

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” ― H.L. Mencken
I really wish people would stop making me defend the McCloskeys. Based on everything I’ve read about them, they are awful people who sue their neighbors, occupy land and then file squatter’s rights to claim it legally, and they are possibly anti-queer. The husband, Mark, definitely sued his father and sister over a land deed. These are not the kind of people I like, much less want to defend, but like everyone else in this country they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, there are many people who take issue with that.

The official position of Operation Blazing Sword - Pink Pistols is “In regard to the McCloskeys, we can respect their right to self defense against threats as they perceived them. However, we absolutely condemn their appalling ignorance of, and disregard for, basic firearm safety. As to the whys and wherefores of their case, Operation Blazing Sword - Pink Pistols leaves that in the hands of the St. Louis, MO legal system.” In other words, they might be guilty or they might be innocent, and that’s for the courts to decide. We are happy that no one was killed, and we strongly believe that the McCloskeys really need some proper firearm training. I’m a big proponent of Massad Ayoob’s MAG40 class.

I wish that could be the end of it. I really, truly, wish it were. Unfortunately, it is all too common for me to see on social media calls for vigilante “justice” against the McCloskeys because a trial will take too long or it’s believed they will receive a Not Guilty verdict or even because they’re anti-gay. In other words, “I don’t like them so let’s violate their rights because they’re scumbags.”

However, the problem with the line of reasoning that goes These people are scumbags so it's fine that their rights are being violated is that it neglects to consider that one day you may be considered the scumbag based upon the accusation. I've seen lives destroyed by false accusations of domestic violence, sexual assault, child neglect, etc, and that's with the protection of the legal system and an eventual verdict of not guilty. Without that protection? Well, it's worth pointing out that the purpose of the police isn't to protect the innocent from criminals. That's a nice side-effect to be sure, but it isn't the main point. 

No, the purpose of the police is to end the vendetta -- “You killed my cousin so I'll kill your brother in revenge!” and “You killed my brother so I'll get my revenge by killing your wife!” etc -- by offloading that hate and guilt onto the state. You don't have to kill the man who killed your cousin; you get the state to lock him up after due process proves he did indeed kill your cousin. His family is upset by that because they figure he was in the right and your cousin was in the wrong, but they're just as upset at the state for locking him up as they are at you for pressing charges; you're upset that the man who killed your cousin wasn't put to death, but he's in jail for 20 years which means you have received some sort of revenge for the murder. Everyone is unhappy with the state, and that's fairness of a sort.

The moment that people decide en masse that rights such as “innocent until proven guilty” and “deserves a fair trial with a proper defense” don't apply to people they don't like, and that rule of law is worthless, is the moment that justice becomes “summary trial and execution by an angry mob” and the return of the vendetta cycle. That's something none of us should want because once you throw away the legal protections of others, you eliminate them for yourself as well.

I am reminded of the most memorable scene from the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons:
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law?
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? 
Roper: Yes! I’d cut down every law in England to do that! 
More: Oh? And, when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast – man’s laws, not God’s – and, if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

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