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Police vs. Protestors


I’ve read the chain emails sent to me from friends of mine, watched the interviews on cable, and viewed the articles online that present the protestors as “lazy”, “wanting free handouts” and “refusing to work hard like your parents did.”  Like any generalization I’m sure there are those that fit that description, but when we are talking about millions of Americans fitting those descriptions can that possibly define them in those terms?  The answer for this massive, growing, public discontent must be attributed to something more complex than plain old laziness. 

The Factors

When I wore riot gear and had bricks and bottles thrown at me it was because college kids, by the thousands, wanted to party all night, flip over cars (not theirs of course), commit felonious assaults on others and torch houses.  It all revolved around alcohol and immaturity.  That was in the late 1990’s.  My predecessors, in the late 1960’s, were having bricks and bottles thrown at them due to the national stressors of the Civil Rights Era, Vietnam, and mistrusts directed at the government and cops who represented it.  Today, the similarities between the riots, occupy movements and protests we see across America are reflective of what we saw in the late ‘60s.  We’ve reached a generational crossroad, people are pissed, everywhere.  

The Stare down

I can remember looking through my riot shield at the rioters and wondering to myself, “What the hell is wrong with them?”  I’m sure they were thinking the same toward me.  What I have come to learn is that the police are not particularly well trained in understanding legal philosophy of Natural Law (if they have ever heard of it at all) and our citizens are not educated enough about statutory law (a.k.a. Positivism), which is the legal turf cops operate on everyday.  Both believe they are right in their thoughts and opinions and as we’ve seen recently, this misunderstanding has caused clashes. 

The idea of Natural Law is much older than American Jurisprudence.  It’s about 4,000 years old and began with the Code of Hammurabi in Ancient Babylon.  Later it evolved into the analysis of human behavior that became binding in society regarding morality, in other words how people should act with civility.  Natural Law is the foundation purporting the belief that certain rights are inalienable (cannot be taken away) and universal.  Sound familiar?  Think of the opening statement of our Declaration of Independence; ”’We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…’”

Natural Law had a profound effect on the English Legal System and our Founding Fathers, who in many cases were English, trained lawyers.  English Common Law subscribed to the philosophical beliefs of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Richard Hooker, among many others.  As our legal system, being an offshoot of the English Legal System became more Americanized the elements of Natural Law remained.  Natural Law brought with it the idea of natural rights, which again are found in our Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, State Constitutions, and even those of different countries.  The Declaration of Humanity for The United Nations also identifies natural rights, stemming from Natural Law. 

Life, Liberty and being Happy

When citizens tell the police, “Leave me alone”, “You can’t enter my home”, “You don’t have a right to stop me”, or “I have the right to resist”, etc., their statements reflect their belief in Natural Law, whereby they are cautioning their exercise in natural rights.  Where did they learn about these so-called “rights”?  The American education system, especially those civics courses we never paid attention to in high school.  It’s also espoused by Christianity, “…the law is written on their hearts…” (Romans 2:14-15), for example, which were the religious principles our nation was originally founded on.  The moralistic belief of Natural Law is embedded not only in our society but also in many cultures around the World.  That’s how non-cops see the law in many cases.

Legal Positivism

This is how cops see the law.  Also known as Codes, Statutes, Regulations, Legal Precedent, etc., they are conceptualized, written or enacted by our public officials and in many cases conflict with what we’ve been taught and accepted as a belief.  I’m sure by now you can see the problems here.  Natural Law can be viewed as a much higher in authority type of law as compared to man made law.  Natural Law conflicts with Legal Positivism.  Natural Law is viewed as giving people freedom from oppression while Legal Positivism is viewed as being restrictive toward our citizens.  Where Natural Law gives freedom Legal Positivism takes it away.

Recent Example    

On January 17th, 2012, some “Occupy Congress” protestors were arrested outside of the U.S. Congress.  They were exercising their First Amendment Right of Freedom of Speech, Assembly, etc (Natural Law).  The U.S. Capitol Police made arrests for primarily trespassing (Legal Positivism).  So much for the belief that the U.S. Congress is the “Peoples House.”  That is why the police and the public won’t see eye to eye; it’s a legal polarization that isn’t going away anytime soon.


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About The Author:

Keith R. Lavery, M.A., CMAS, is a full-time criminal justice educator teaching at a public Career Center, University System of Ohio. He has facilitated and designed criminal justice, security, and law enforcement courses of instruction at the post-secondary level. Keith had a very diverse police career spanning nearly 20 years, working in urban and rural law enforcement settings with assignments ranging from patrol to specialized functions, to include HIDTA Drug Unit, CLANLAB Enforcement Team, SRT and Supervision. In 2008, Keith was awarded the Certified Master Anti-Terrorism designation from the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board. Academically, he has completed post-graduate course work dedicated toward a Doctorate in Education. Keith is currently the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Cleveland, Ohio, Chapter of ASIS International.