A must-read blog post on WashingtonPost.com has the following quote:
In an alternate universe, the mixed-up politics of the Duke lacrosse case — with progressive groups and personalities largely lining up with the prosecutor, and conservative groups and personalities largely lining up with the defense — might have presented a unique opportunity. Once it was clear that the players were innocent, and that Nifong had lied and withheld evidence, conservatives could perhaps have had their eyes opened to the inadequacies of the criminal justice system, and been brought on board to move for reform.
Read more at the Washington Post website.
It was the fraudulent “rape” scandal in Durham that opened my eyes to government abuse of power, and the fact that men and women in law enforcement are no less vulnerable corruption than anyone else in a position of authority. Sadly, most conservatives have not come to the same conclusion I have. This is strange, considering how many conservatives have a healthy distrust of government. I had hoped the more libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement would bring more awareness of this kind of dangerous corruption, but sadly that has not panned out either.
In fact, if you look at the Bill of Rights, it is clear how much the founding fathers were worried about government abuse of power in the area of law enforcement. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and requires a specific warrant, the Fifth Amendment requires due process for people charged with a crime, the Sixth Amendment requires a speedy trial and protects the right to gather evidence, and the Eighth Amendment bans excessive bail, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments.
The fact that the founders thought it was important enough to place these protections in the Constitution should tell us something. Conservatives often talk about returning to the core values in our founding documents but that principle does not transfer to criminal prosecutions nearly as much as it should. Instead, we sneer at people “lawyering up” and bemoan the cost of due process and civil liberties protections for people accused of crimes. But as I pointed out in a letter to the editor last summer, if the Duke lacrosse players “were poor and black, they would likely be in prison today. Thankfully, they had the financial resources to fight a corrupt system.”
If you do not believe that, look at the Central Park Five.
I think a lot of the modern political disrespect of civil liberties dates to the unrest of the 1960’s. People were seeing riots in the streets, and crime was rising. Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” that has been ramped up ever since, with military-grade firepower (including tanks) that is more appropriate for a literal war than for law enforcement. Republicans hammered Democrats as being soft on crime (a criticism that was sometimes deserved) to great political benefit and Democrats were determined to prove they were every bit as tough on crime as Republicans.
The problem with these policies is that “tough on crime” has translated to being tough on civil liberties, and we as a society often shrug at misconduct or outright corruption in law enforcement. When case after case after case is exposed of innocent people who are framed for crimes they did not commit because corrupt prosecutors hid evidence or lied to the jury, we dismiss it as an “isolated incident.”
But if anyone should be worried about corruption in law enforcement and threats to our civil liberties, it should be conservative Christians and philosophical libertarians within the Republican Party. Christians should remember the warning in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” and philosophical libertarians and Tea Party conservatives need to recognize that law enforcement is composed of fallen men and women who are every bit as prone to corruption as someone who works for the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency or a local planning and zoning department.