Voluntarily Giving up Rights â€” Bostonâ€™s Outrage Against the Constitution
By: Warner Todd Huston
The recent outrage against Constitutional liberty by the Boston Police raises some very interesting questions. Can we voluntarily give up our Constitutional rights? Further, can government legally violate our rights even if we ask them to do so? These are questions that we all need to consider before allowing police into our homes, invited or no.
Last week The Boston Globe reported that the Boston police are about to launch a program in â€œhigh-crime neighborhoodsâ€ where a roving band of policemen will walk door-to-door and ask parents if they have permission to search the home for guns. These police squads intend to conduct searches without warrants, claiming that the invitation by the homeowner is all they need to commence the search.
Like all steps down the road to tyranny, the pavement here is being laid by folks with good intentions, officials who are, after all, only trying to â€œhelpâ€ the community. The Commissar of Police, Edward Davis claims that he is giving the folks of Boston â€œan optionâ€ for what to do about gun violence in the city. The cops â€œask permissionâ€ to enter and supposedly only do so when given the OK. They also target specific homes that have been fingered as troublesome by neighbors and other intelligence sources.
Some community leaders are professing their faith in this new program that is patterned after one instituted, but later abandoned, by the St. Louis police. Bostonâ€™s community leaders seem ready to give this a try because the program is supposed to be spurred by community interaction and tips to the Boston PD. It is interesting and instructive, however, to note that some reports about the demise of the St. Louis program claim that one of the reasons they shut it down there was because the St. Louis PD began to rely more on their own intelligence and less on community tips. Meaning, the community was no longer involved and the police there began to act as if it was solely their own resources that should support the program.
It seems the St. Louis PD shut down their program before it got completely out of hand, but the shift from a program based on community involvement to one that relied solely on the supposed powers and authorities of the police is an indication of where the program would have, must have, ended up â€” as an out of control program run by storm-troopers who imagined they had the right to kick down the door of any home they felt the desire to target.
In any case, whether the people of Boston allow police to roam through their homes or not, this is a clear violation of civil rights, illegal search and seizure laws, and the very Constitution itself. It is also a violation of principles that the Founders held dear, namely that man has certain unalienable rights that government cannot violate, no matter what. Apparently the Boston police donâ€™t much care about such rights.
But you should.
Of course, the idea of unalienable rights is enshrined in one of our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence. The document initially penned by Thomas Jefferson and polished up by a committee of patriots states that, â€œAll men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.â€
The Founders based their claims on the principles of natural law as theorized by philosophers such as John Locke and jurists like the famous Sir William Blackstone, whose books on the common law of England sat on the shelves of many of the founding generation.
Blackstone wrote: â€œThe Law of Nature dictated by God himself is Superior to any other. It is binding over all the Globe, in all Countries and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid derive all of their force and all their authority mediately and immediately from this Original. Upon these two foundations, the Law of Nature and the Law of Revelation depend all human laws. Human laws are only declaratory of an act in subordination to Divine Law.â€
Or, as Jefferson also wrote, â€œnothing is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.â€ So, to paraphrase a saying, what God has wrought no man can put asunder. God created these rights and because that is true, no mere government of man has a legitimate place to either assure or take away such rights. Whether you believe in these ideas or not, our entire system is based on this bedrock principle, so even if we do tell a cop he can rummage through our homes, our permission is meaningless in the face of the rights God gave us. Our liberties are neither ours to throw away nor for the police to violate. That â€œinvitedâ€ cop simply cannot conduct a search without a warrant. The cop has NO authority to search even if we say he can. Itâ€™s just that simple.
To counter the natural rights argument is a line of thought that imagines that in a democracy the people might legally vote themselves the ability to abrogate any particular rights(s) they have in lieu of attaining safety. Why not, after all? We are â€œthe peopleâ€ and we can vote in or out what we want, right? But, as Ben Franklin said, â€œthose who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.â€ We deserve no rights at all if we are willing to so easily give them away for temporary safety. Still, what we â€œdeserveâ€ by our inconsiderate treatment of our own rights is not at issue. Sure if we were to treat our rights so lightly we would â€œdeserveâ€ to lose them, but that still does not give government any right to take advantage of our stupidity or unconcern.
Regardless, the amount of safety we might attain for the loss of a right here and there would be temporary, indeed. While these frightened parents in Boston might be able to trust police to delicately search their homes for guns today, there will come a time when the police cease being so delicate, nor would any longer ask permission. Through constant use the police would grow to imagine that they have the right to conduct searches in any manner they desire at some point. Jefferson admonished us that, â€œour rulers will become corrupt, our people careless,â€ and this carelessness will cause the shackles upon us to get â€œheavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion,â€ unless we stay vigilant against giving up the â€œessential libertiesâ€ of Franklinâ€™s fears.
Another thing enters into this conversation of rights and what government has a right to do or not to do and that is the actual role of the police in this country in the first place. Contrary to what many imagine â€œto serve and protectâ€ is not their role. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that police agencies have absolutely no such legal duty as to â€œprotectâ€ anyone. In a 2005 ruling in Castle Rock v. Gonzales, for instance, the SCOTUS ruled that the Castle Rock, Colorado police department had no legal responsibility to protect a woman from her dangerous, estranged husband even though she had a restraining order out against him. In a 1982 case (Bowers v. DeVito) the 7th Circuit Court said in part, â€œâ€¦there is no Constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen.â€ These are not the only cases either. The courts have ruled quite a few times that the police are not obligated to â€œprotectâ€ anyone.
Since the police are under no obligation under the Constitution to protect you, they have no right to even ask to go through your home to â€œsaveâ€ you from â€œgun violence.â€ Keeping this in mind, then, you are putting your freedoms at risk inviting them in. Remember, once you allow them into your home, there is nothing to stop them from going off on a witch hunt looking into areas that have nothing to do with why you supposedly asked them to enter your home. They will and must begin to look for violations of any law they see fit to look into. In this case, homeowners are putting their own rights in peril by allowing these people to snoop through their private residences.
Lastly, this program lends itself to police intimidation so easily that it is amazing that anyone cannot see it. Imagine the fear that authorities instill in homeowners when they come pounding on their doors? Homeowners will feel both obligated to allow the authorities into their homes and afraid not to do so for fear of police retaliation. What homeowner wouldnâ€™t assume that refusing to allow police to barge into their homes wouldnâ€™t set them up for later targeting over said refusal? Who can doubt that many homeowners will allow the police into their homes for fear that refusing will mark them as â€œtrouble makersâ€?
The founders also wanted to make us secure in our homes and property and wished us to be citizens unafraid of our government and authorities. This program violates that very security.
To sum up, this new program by the Boston police department is wrong in every single way imaginable and should be vigorously opposed. In the end it is certainly hard not to see parallels between the actions of the Boston police and that of the worst authoritarian regimes of history. Except to say that the Boston police at least mean well at this time.
But how long with their good will last if they are given this outrageous power?
Warner Todd Huston is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets
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