The Rule of Law and Midnight raids #OWS November 17, 2011
Rule of law is important. It’s paramount.
Our country, the United States, was founded on the Rule of Law.
The Rule of Law means that no person is above the law. The law applies to the President of the United States as both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton found out (the hard way.) This applies to everyone in the country... everyone who sets foot on the US soil (except diplomats) is subject to the same Rule of Law, the same Due Process as everyone else.
It really made me angry the way the NYC police evicted Occupy Wall Street from Liberty Square. This is not an argument about the substance of the eviction. This is an argument about the process.
Now, it’s supposed to be in the United States of America that there are a bunch of laws that are published (either as statutes or as common law decisions made by courts.) While there are exceptions to this rule (which is not the subject of this rant), in general, we all know what the rules are.
Now, sometimes there are disagreements about what the rules are. And when there are disagreements about what the rules are, people go to court and, in the light of day, in front of the entire public, parties argue about various sides of the issue. Sometimes, the issues are simply matters of law (both sides can agree of the facts) and a judge can make a decision. Sometimes there are facts to be found, in which case, the issue is presented to a jury, the jury finds the facts and then based on the facts that the jury finds, the judge applies the law and issues a ruling.
After a judge issues a ruling, then, and only then, may the police act.
Let’s contrast this with what happened at Liberty Square.
At Liberty Square, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have been sleeping in tents and occupying the area. The OWS folks have been engaging in what they call political speech and that speech is the very essence of what the First Amendment protects.
So, we’ve got some facts that need to be found. We need to figure out if the time, place, and manner rules that govern camping in Liberty Square are in fact neutral or as a matter of fact, is the act of hundreds of people pitching tents an act of political speech. This is a fact to be determined. This is not a matter of law, this is a matter of fact.
Why does it matter?
Well, if we’re a government of laws and we believe in the Rule of Law, then New York City would have followed reasonable procedures before evicting the OWS folks from Liberty Square.
Given that the OWS folks have been camping in Liberty Square for many weeks, there’s no argument about exigent circumstances requiring the removal of the OWS folks from the park on a particular date. Given that the OWS movement is represented by lawyers, it would have been both trivial and correct for the city of New York to sue the OWS movement to remove them from Liberty Square.
The city of New York should have demonstrated, by example, that it follows the rules, the Rule of Law, and respects every citizens’ rights. The city should have filed suit to evict the OWS demonstrators from Liberty Square. The city should have followed reasonable legal procedures.
The discourse about wether the OWS movement’s encampment in Liberty Square was political speech or not should have taken place in public, in court, and, in my opinion, in front of a jury that could have found facts.
If the city received a ruling from the court that upheld the city’s right to evict the OWS demonstrators from Liberty Square, then, and only then, should the city have engaged in eviction. That eviction process should be done in the light of day, rather than as a midnight raid. The eviction process should be done under the scrutiny of the press. The eviction process should be done via patience rather through the use of force.
The OWS movement is reminding me about what is means to be an American. We use our words. We share our perspectives. The General Assembly is what democracy, Democracy, is about. We discuss and debate and patiently work through things until we get a result that generally works for all involved. The OWS demonstrators are a reminder that patience and words and unity is what the United States is all about.
Trying to break up OWS with a lawless midnight raid where the press is excluded simply underscores what OWS is protesting against. The United States and New York City are supposed to be governed by laws that apply to everyone and are applied with Due Process. When Bloomberg ordered the police to act in a lawless manner, he showed that he is no more than the petty dictators and despots that our nation has sent our army into Iraq and other places to depose.
So, I am very, very angry about what Bloomberg did in New York. He did not follow the Rule of Law. He did not respect what makes the United States awesome and beautiful. The cost of following process and working in the light of day is low and the cost of midnight raids is huge.