The Rev. Al Sharpton has a longstanding career as a rabble-rouser whose rants have led to fatalities. His actions in the wake of an accidental death at Crown Heights led to the stabbing death of Yankel Rosenbaum, and his incitations against Freddie’s Fashion Mart, which led to the deaths of seven employees in a fire started by a rioter.
In the aftermath of the police shooting in Ferguson, the Grand Jury heard a large volume of evidence, sifted out truthful testimony while comparing it with forensic evidence, and decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson. Sharpton, who had riled up the masses in the weeks leading to the Grand Jury decision, made a tepid effort to stanch the angst.
In a recent police case in New York City, which left a man dead, a Grand Jury also refused to indict. Sharpton again failed to speak forcefully against rioters, and New York mayor Bil de Blasio gave a speech that heaped disgust on the New York Police Department.
Against this backdrop, on Saturday, December 20, 2014, a troubled man in Maryland shot his ex-girlfriend, posted a desire to “put wings on pigs (policemen)”, and lashed out against the recent police cases in Ferguson and New York City. He went to New York and gunned down two policemen before killing himself.
In the wake of these incidents, many Americans have attacked the “militarization” of the police force, with some libertarians tacitly supporting the deaths of the two officers.
This is indeed a time for sober assessment.
First, irrespective of what one thinks of the Brown case in Ferguson or the Garner case in New York City, we must begin with reality: in each case, a Grand Jury returned “no true bill”; i.e., decided NOT to indict.
Like trial (petit) jurors, grand jurors are first selected at random.
Unlike petit jurors, Grand Jurors are not prejudicially screened out. In a criminal trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys will eliminate jurors through the voir doir process: they will exclude jurors whom they believe may be adverse. Some defense attorneys and prosecutors will even enlist consultants who will screen out jurors who may be problematic.
This is not the case with Grand Juries: provided they meet the legal criteria, they get to serve. They are not questioned about their knowledge of particular cases, or what they think of various issues, or even what they do for a living.
Unlike petit jurors–who must remain silent while prosecutors and defense attorneys fight it out with witnesses–Grand Jurors have the capacity to directly question witnesses. They can even compel witnesses to testify. They can ask direct questions of prosecutors.
Unlike petit jurors, Grand Jurors do not decide on issues of guilt or innocence; they merely decide whether the evidence warrants having a trial.
Unlike petit jurors, who must unanimously judge “guilt beyond reasonable doubt” in order to convict, Grand Jurors only have to determine–with 9 votes out of 12–whether there is enough evidence for “probable cause”.
So when a Grand Jury refuses to indict, that is a very big deal: they are effectively saying that there is no case.
Let us not forget that the Grand Jury is a major part of the Constitutional right to Due Process. However you feel about the shooting in Ferguson, or the fracas that led to Garner’s death in New York City, the officers involved have rights. The Fifth Amendment reads the same without respect to skin color or station in life:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
This means that, unless you are in a military capacity, in which the Uniform Code of Military Justice applies, then you are entitled to a particular course of Due Process. The burden is on government to prove your guilt, not on you to prove your innocence. It also means that you cannot be tried for the same crime twice. You have the right not to testify. (Officers go to great lengths to advise you of those rights when you are arrested.)
In other words, (1) freedom is your default state, (2) government cannot take that away except through Due Process, and (3) it is on them to prove you guilty.
This goes for you and me; this goes for the rich executive and the homeless man; this goes for the gangster and the police officer.
Secondly, words mean things. When Michael Brown’s stepfather, in the wake of the Grand Jury decision, said, “burn this bitch down,” that inflamed and already angry mob. The ensuing damage to Ferguson will reverberate for years. Sharpton, di Blasio, and President Obama tacitly granted legitimacy to rioters where no such legitimacy was warranted.
Rather than call out thugs and marginalize them, certain political leaders only emboldened them. This not only damages minorities; it divides Americans where such division is unproductive and destructive.
Thirdly, don’t blame the police for enforcing bad laws. Libertarians are right to be outraged that New York police officers are cracking down on the sale of unauthorized cigarettes (“loosies”). This, however, is not the fault of the police, but rather the mayor and the city council and the officials who made the law and enacted the policy for enforcement of the law. Police officers are merely instruments of policy.
New York is already a Draconian regime, given their tax structure and hostility toward gun owners. That they crack down on “loosies” is hardly surprising. This, however, is not the fault of the police.
Finally, what kind of nation do we wish to be?
Paul Harvey often said that self-rule is impossible without self-discipline. An integral part of self-discipline is the integrity to call evil for what it is. While no one wants to say that his or her child is bad, we need to be brutally honest: there are men and women of ill repute, who–for all the talk of how “good” they are–are thugs and felons.
When an armed robber fights an officer for his gun and gets shot to death, it isn’t “injustice”; it is the Law of Sowing and Reaping on live display. Fighting another adult over a deadly weapon can make one…dead.
In all the talk about “society”, we need to be honest about the factors contributing to the criminal class in America: illegitimacy, cohabitation, broken homes, promiscuity, and even drug use. We must call out a Church that has softened her preaching of truth.
This is not a poverty issue; it is a character issue. John Adams said it succinctly: “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
That is not to say that there aren’t bad cops out there; police officers are like any other segment of America: most are good, some are excellent, and yes, there are a few bad ones. The bad ones should be rooted out and dismissed and/or prosecuted.
Still, the larger issue is our character as a nation.
The Republican victory of November 4 was a summary dismissal of the Obama agenda by the American people. From runaway deficit spending, to the health care disaster that is Obamacare, to a rudderless, bumbling, reactionary foreign policy, Americans overwhelmingly voted against this administration, but will there be a new direction? And does a new direction include new wars?
That is a poignant question that Pat Buchanan asks, and with good reason. No matter who wins the elections, there is a perennial element that seeks to engage in wars. Our first President, George Washington, warned Americans about the dangers of foreign entanglements in his farewell address. President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned Americans about the dangers of the military-industrial complex.
On September 10, 2001, President Bush’s biggest headache was the menacing recession in the wake of the dot-com bust, but 8:45AM on September 11, 2001, his priorities radically changed.
While sending armed forces after the parties responsible for the attacks is perfectly legitimate—although Congress did not formally declare war, its Constitutional responsibility—since when did the mission of America’s military become one of nation-building?
We toppled the Taliban within weeks, but have spent the last 13 years in Afghanistan, attempting to establish a first-world government, rooted in a Christian understanding of law and justice, among an Islamic people with an 8th-century mindset.
Whereas the Soviet Union wasted a decade trying to impose communism on Afghanistan, President Bush, emboldened by his cadre of neoconservatives, took on the mission of imposing a Jefferson-Franklin style Constitutional republic on a people having no Christian consensus to make it work. To date, 2,347 Americans have died in Afghanistan.
In 2003, Bush, again with a vision drawn by the likes of neocons—Perle, Wolfowitz, Abrams, and Rice—embarked on an elective war in Iraq, a nation carved out in the aftermath of World War I. While Saddam Hussein toppled in short order, we created a power vacuum that violent Islamic factions quickly filled. By 2005, Sunnis and Shiites were engaged in open civil war, long after we declared an end to “major hostilities”. Ultimately, 4,491 Americans died in Iraq.
The removal of military forces from Iraq, as well as our support of Syrian rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad, have given birth to a menacing new Islamic group—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)–which has overrun most of Iraq. Today, Iraq is struggling to survive the onslaught of ISIS, whereas the Taliban controls Afghanistan just as they did on September 10, 2001. President Obama, who marketed himself as an anti-war President in 2008, has now committed more than 3,000 “military advisors” to Iraq to combat ISIS.
The Middle East is worse-off today than on September 10, 2001. And much of the blame for this rests firmly on the backs of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Against this backdrop, Buchanan rightly questions the wisdom of the neocons who from their foxholes in US think tanks promote military action against Iran and increased saber-rattling with Russia.
Whatever his faults, Russian President Vladimir Putin is exerting the same influence in his region that the United States has influenced in her hemisphere. If Europeans consider Putin a threat, then they can take it up with him; it’s none of our concern. War with Russia is about the worst idea on the table: two nuclear powers engaging in the very escalated conflict that we won by avoiding in the Cold War. To paraphrase Clancy (Red Storm Rising), neither side can win, but both sides can lose.
As for Iran, while the Islamic regime is not friendly toward the United States, their having nuclear weapons would hardly be without precedent in that region, as India, Pakistan, Russia, and Israel—each within a stone’s throw of Iran—are nuclear powers. Nor would a nuclear Iran be the only country hostile to the United States to have such weapons, as North Korea has them, and Pakistan and Russia, at best, are “frienemies”. And while Khameini and Rouhani are hardly the stable, pro-Western leaders we would prefer in Iran, they are perfectly rational compared to the Kim regime in North Korea.
For all their noise, Iran is not a viable threat to the security of the United States. If they are a threat to Israel, then Israel can fight them. It is hardly our job to fight Israel’s wars. To suggest otherwise has no Biblical precedent. The church must decide “who” or “what” is Israel – real estate or a person/people.
As ugly as the Cold War was, our victory was possible in no small part due to President Reagan’s ability to pick his battles wisely.
Reagan held a hard line, even as he welcomed Russian President Gorbachev to the table. Reagan built a military capable of defending our borders without engaging in unwise brinkmanship with our enemies. In the aftermath of the Marine barracks bombing in 1983, Reagan wisely chose not to become entangled in the bottomless pit of war in the Middle East. Instead, he focused on the real threat: the Soviet Union.
On January 20, 1989, President Reagan left office with a Cold War victory, and with a Middle East that was no worse than when he took office. He did not allow hawks of the day to draw him into endless wars.
Just as Americans dismissed the Obama agenda on November 4, they must also dismiss the corrosive agenda of the neocons.
They have cost Americans more in lives and dollars than the September 11 hijackers.
Against this backdrop, Buchanan rightly questions the wisdom of the Neocons who from their foxholes in US think tanks promote military action against Iran and increased saber-rattling with Russia. He cites in particular the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, whose leaders were given generous space to promote their war-mongering in the Wall Street Journal. The Foundation is highly funded by a small billionaires club who would buy U.S. foreign policy to start a preemptive nuclear war against Iran and Syria. Who are these billionaires? Buchanan names Home Depot’s Bernard Marcus who gave $10.7 million, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer who gave $3.6 million, and Sheldon Adelson, the Vegas-Macau casino kingpin, who gave $1.5 million to the foundation. It is naive indeed to believe that making the whole world a democracy will solve centuries of violence and hatred that are inbred in Middle East dictatorships. But when you put that many millions behind it, the idea gains traction no matter how ill conceived.
In the early 1980s—during the Cold War–the military wanted Christians, and aggressively pursued them. Recruiting magazines would profile outstanding Airman, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, many of them Christians.
Christians answered the call in droves. They would enroll in West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs. They would attend college with ROTC scholarships. They would join the ranks of the Rangers and Special Forces and Reconnaissance Marines. They would become infantrymen, tank commanders, fighter pilots, bomber pilots, cargo pilots, and parajumpers. They would ascend the ranks and transform the United States armed forces—the morale of which was in tatters in the wake of Vietnam—into the Cold War force that beat the Communists.
That is not today’s military.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the once Christian-friendly military began to push the Christian aside. The staunch conservative Reagan had given way to a more pragmatic Bush, who would give way to the draft-evading social engineer that was Clinton.
A military that, for over two hundred years, refused to send women into combat began contemplating exactly that. A military that, for over two hundred years, had found homosexuality to be incompatible with military service, was forced to enact a “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy as a compromise to Clinton’s desire to allow to gays openly serve in the military.
A military that once openly courted Christians became increasingly hostile to them, first in a passive-aggressive manner, then just plain aggressive. First, it was packaged as a crackdown on “proselytizing”. The argument was, “No one is forcing you to recant your faith; you just need to keep it to yourself.”
Now, caving to the harassment of the American Humanist Association, the United States Air Force enlistees are no longer required to say, “so help me God” in their enlistment oaths. This is no surprise being that the federal courts have become hostile to the Judeo-Christian bedrock that has served as our basis for law and justice.
Sadly, the military is the one institution for which the sobriety and severity of service and obligation cannot be understated. Whereas our Founders pledged life, fortune, and sacred honor, our military delivered that in blood.
Whereas bureaucrats obsess over policies that cost much and mean little, a military officer must make life and death decisions in combat. At his order, men and women will fight, if necessary, to the death. If a situation becomes sufficiently dire, he may order them to “stand and die”, refusing them the option of retreating. If an officer loses men in combat, he never completely returns home.
“So help me God” provides a stunning reminder of the high honor and responsibility of a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. “So help me God” implies accountability to an authority greater than any court of Man.
While the military is not, and has never been, a monastery, our military leaders have long understood the importance of the Christian foundation of our society, and the place of the military in upholding those high ideals, even as servicemen at times fall short of them. This is why General George Washington gave thanks to God in victory; this is why Col. Henry Mucci—addressing the Rangers of the 6th Ranger Battalion prior to the Cabanatuan POW rescue mission—insisted, “One more thing, there will be no Atheists on this trip.”
To take God out of the oath of enlistment undermines those fundamental ideals and reduces the accountability of servicemen at a time when they need more of it.
The United States is at a critical juncture. Benjamin Franklin, once said, “A Republic, if you can keep it,” we are well on our way to giving up that Republic. While Franklin was no evangelical Christian, he, like John Adams, respected the influence of the Christian in matters of law and justice, as well as public discourse.
There are so many aspects of American life that are rooted in Christianity: the work ethic; the equality of persons before the law; free exchange of goods and services; the premise that, no matter your past, you can live a reformed life and gain both property and respect; even charity; all of these are rooted in Christian doctrine.
When a society dismisses God, then the worst becomes possible, as this welcomes an insidious pluralism that invites a new era of barbarism.
A military that dismisses God neither upholds the ideals that made America a great country, nor reflects the values to which Americans should aspire, and in fact openly courts the very elements antithetical to the values and virtues that made American exceptional and won the Cold War.
It’s Winter in America.
The latest generation to reach adulthood has often been criticized for being lazy, selfish and, in general, lacking any sense of a moral compass. Many of the critics turn to our country’s straying from Christian principles as the cause for this, and that very well may be the case. But it goes much deeper than that.
It seems that when critics of Christianity worked valiantly to eradicate all traces of the religion that led our country to be a global super power from public schools, workplaces, and government offices, they inadvertently removed all morality along with it. And it appears that morality actually plays a role beyond the confines of church.
The New York Times recently ran an Op-Ed titled, The Mental Virtues, where author, David Brooks, lays out the moral values necessary to be a person of character in boring old workplaces across the country: love of learning, courage, firmness, humility, autonomy, and generosity.
According to Brooks these characteristics are what separate the everyday heroes from the schlumps who think they don’t matter and their choices don’t matter either. As the article points out heroes aren’t just soldiers on the battle field, but can be anyone who possesses the values and actions of a hero. Intellectual virtues are attainable and needed in every school, office building and government complex.
“In fact, the mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.”
This ‘moral enterprise’ sounds eerily like Biblical morality. Wouldn’t it be amazing if practical morality was once again taught to children in school? Wouldn’t it change the game if employers and teachers measured success based on one’s character and morality rather than their performance record?
While Brooks is definitely on to something with his identified moral values, unless they are coupled with the underlying beliefs of Christianity they are not only unattainable, but they become a rigid measuring stick in which no one can ever be good enough. In fact, that sentiment is precisely what led to morality being tossed out the window over the last century. When Christ and grace and mercy were pushed to the back and the rules of Christianity became the focus, their appeal lessoned, leading to the mess we are in now.