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Atheism, Theism, Violence.

Today there is a news story about a man who cold bloodedly shot and killed three Muslims students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A possible motive of the killer is that he is an atheist and hates religion. Regardless of the accuracy of this I find it interesting how many atheist blogs are saying that atheism has nothing to do with promoting violence and that this violence cannot be pinned on atheist beliefs as they can with theistic beliefs.

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A typical example of this line of reasoning is from a blog by Joshua Kelly titled Atheism Did Not Kill Three Young Muslims in Chapel Hill:

“I’m not entirely convinced that any motive that might be stated could criminalize the idea of atheism or the atheist community’s aims and goals, even if he were to outright comment something as blatant as: “I killed them for atheism.”
This sounds immediately like a hypocritical statement. But, while it is true that faiths like Islam have inked within their primary tenets of morality mandates to slaughter those who leave the religion or those who outright oppose it, as do Christianity and Judaism with equally horrific language, we must absolutely remember that atheism does not have a series of standard social doctrines. We do not have a Bible. We do not have a Koran. The atheist mentality is stemmed from the simple truth that there are no gods, and thus the individual acts on philosophical bases on his own choosing. This contemptible man, whether over a parking spot or because of an innate psychopathy or any other reason, cannot be said to have killed anyone because his non-god told him to do it. “

I have several problems with this sort of reasoning.

First, it seems to me he is arguing that beliefs do not effect behavior, or have consequences in our behavior. Or at least atheistic ones do not.

Yes, not believing in God does not in and of itself create or hinder a disposition to violence. However, neither does a belief in God. What does determine that is what else is attached to this belief or non-belief. And just as with theism, what is attached can be conducive to violence, it can be against violence, or it can be neutral.

And that is the other thing that bothers me about this reasoning. It treats religion and all religious belief as if they were all the same. But they are not. They are varied in their exact beliefs, in how they practice and manifest their beliefs and how they interact with society. And yes, there are violent passages and exhortations within most sacred works that atheism does not have. But then, there is also much inked into their sacred works promoting social justice, equality, love, and charity. Something atheism also lacks. How these contradictory strains within religion become reconciled and acted upon depends on a great many factors beyond just believing in a God.

Although atheism does not have a sacred work, the same process is at work.

To take just one example, as an atheist do you value rationality above all else and feel that irrationality is at the root of all evil? Combine that belief with the belief that religion is the height of irrationality and has done nothing but evil, and then combine that with a belief that all Muslims are terrorists and responsible for acts such as 9/11, and viola …you have the makings of a killer. A killer looking for a trigger. Or possibly a killer just looking for an excuse. But then many of the deaths attributed to religion are really nothing more than killers looking for an excuse.

And least you think this is all theoretical, I would say that something very like this has already played out in the real world, and not just once. The Soviet Union with its promotion of atheism and its discouragement of religion as an evil. Or Albania under the Soviet Union. Or Communist China. All of these regimes have jailed, tortured, and killed believers just because they were believers. For that matter, you can look at the French Revolution as another example of this.

Neither the belief in God or the non-belief in God by themselves promote or hinder anything. It is what is attached to these beliefs as it interacts with the personal situation of the individual that determines that. And to me, to dismiss Christians or Muslims or other theist’s explanations for why violence committed by their practitioners is not really their fault but then to do the same as they when the killer is an atheist is indeed hypocritical.

Which brings me to my final objection to this line of reasoning. It divorces atheism from being human. Humans are capable of both great and good deeds and also terrible and evil ones. This means that human beliefs are brought in to serve in both human capacities. To say that this cannot happen with atheism seems to me to push atheism out of the realm of human belief and into….I know not where. However, wherever it winds up it winds up then not having any relevance to our existence.

Science can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by science. Philosophy can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by philosophy. Medicine can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by philosophy. Religion can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by religion. All of human thought and experience can be used for good and evil and that good and evil thereby justified by those thoughts and experiences. Except for atheism apparently.

Sorry, not buying it. Not believing in God is a human thought, a human belief, and like all of humanity’s creations it can be linked up with other ideas to do both good and evil. To pretend otherwise is to delude and blind ourselves to reality.

Freedom of speech. Almost everyone lauds it as not only necessary for a functioning democracy and a free society, but as a positive good. In the United States this concept is protected in our first amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

However, some argue that there are limits on free speech. In fact, almost everyone, including me, agrees that there are limits on free speech, just as there are for all of our other rights whether it be freedom of religion or the right to own a gun. The more interesting questions though is what those limits are and who should be the ones enforcing those limits.

What brings this up today for me – and why this is not my next post on myths about the American Constitution – is that this has become a very hot topic with the murder of 11 people in the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by Muslim terrorists. Should speech that is hateful or strongly offends religious beliefs be limited?

Tribute To Victims Killed During Attack At Satirical Magazine Charlie Hebdo At Place De La Republique In Paris

Now, in the United States there are already many limits on free speech. For example:

– It is illegal to engage in speech that encourages others to commit specific and imminent illegal acts. To use the old (and outdated) analogy of shouting fire in a theater: shouting fire in a theater by itself is not illegal, but shouting fire when there is none that incites an unlawful and deadly or injurious riot would be. Relevant to this is the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio that ruled that inflammatory speech, even speech advocating violence, is protected under the first Amendment unless the speech “is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

– Child pornography and other types that may be deemed obscene.

– Libel and slander.

– Copyright laws are also a limitation on free speech.

– Laws regulating advertising are also a limitation on free speech.

– Statements made by public employees in the performance of their work can also be limited and are not protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

– Patent laws and laws against disclosing military secrets are likewise limitations to free speech.

– Laws limiting when and where public demonstrations can occur.

So, there are already several limitation on free speech in the United States. And that is not even considering the fact that free speech only applies to governmental actions. If you are working for a private business you have no right to free speech while working. Your employer can limit what you can and cannot say. For that matter, parents have the same power over their children.

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Now though many feel that we should be adding one more restriction to free speech, a limitation or law against Hate Speech. The American Bar Association defines Hate Speech as:

Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.

Before I explain why I am against hate speech laws let me first declare that I am against all hate speech. I would like it purged from society. Having said that though I must now make a critical distinction – there are different ways of accomplishing this, through government action or through the actions of people acting both alone and in groups.

All of our laws are a balancing act between the protection, preservation, and furtherance of a civil and fair society and the protection, preservation, and furtherance of individual freedom. This balancing act is necessary because a viable democratic society requires both a strong social structure and strong protections of individual liberties. Without both there can also be no stable, viable, democratic society. The catch is that both of these necessary values are also in a state of continual and dynamic tension with the other. In other words, they often clash. And when they do, trying to find the right balance is often not clear and almost always contested.

For myself, legislating hate speech and outlawing it is going too far. Yes, it is easy to point to examples that are clear hate speech; however, laws are not starkly black and white affairs. The world and the people who inhabit and live in that world are always faced with shades of gray – is a certain act murder or self defense or negligent homicide or unavoidable accident for example. How does hate speech get defined and enforced in those gray areas? Who makes the decision in those cases? It would be very easy for those in power or for a majority group to use a power to define what is and is not hate speech within the vast greys of reality to promote their own interests and values; to the detriment of minority groups and views.

For myself, when I look at how governments have tried to use legitimate concerns about society and the protection of our government to create and enforce laws that unnecessarily limit the speech of political opponents and of those who hold minority views, I think that making hate speech illegal would be giving the government too much power. Examples abound, from the Alien and Seditions Act of 1798 to the Smith Act of 1940 to the Communist Control Act of 1954 to our modern debate over Edward Snowden’s illegal leaks of classified materials.

In the case of hate speech, a much better balance is to leave illegal speech connected to imminent violent acts where it currently is, illegal and enforced by the government, and to have hate speech be denounced and protested against by private individuals and groups.

human-shield-300x200For example, having the hateful speech of the Westboro Baptist Church members being met with counter protests or campaigns to raise money for billboards with the message that “God Loves Gays” or having other protesters screening mourners at funerals being picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church with their own bodies and signs of support.

Or this, from the Division for Public Education of the American Bar Association:

Here’s how one community recently approached an incidence of hate speech by calling attention to it rather than attempting to suppress it—by encouraging speech that pointed out how out of place the hate speech was in a community that values the dignity of all.

Matt Hale, a notorious racist, was recently asked to speak at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Hale is the leader of the World of the Creator, a white supremacist group. His presence on campus was controversial. Several students, faculty, and community members thought that the university should cancel his appearance. Instead, he was allowed to speak. Hale’s audience was not impressed. He came across as having a confusing set of beliefs that were out of place in a democratic, multicultural society. Several faculty and students spoke out against his message of hatred.

By allowing Hale to speak, the university recognized free speech rights but also provided a means for community members to respond. Communitarian and libertarian goals were both met.

Yes, hate speech needs to be opposed. However, using governmental laws to accomplish this societal good carry too much risk to individual rights. A risk that in the end could pose a greater risk to a democratic society than allowing hate speech would.  Provided that individuals and groups continue to oppose such speech.

I have finished reading Constitutional Myths by Ray Raphael. And just as reading the beginning sparked thoughts about our Constitution, it origins, and how it is regarded today that was the basis for my blog “Our Flawed Understanding of Our Founders and Our Constitution”, the reading of the rest of this book has continued to strike sparks. Enough so that it has resulted in more fires in the form of more blogs.

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As I said in my previous blog, while in broad terms I was familiar with much of the information given in this book, the details were often new and illuminating. As was the way it was organized, an organization that helped to highlight and clarify some of my own thoughts from earlier readings about this subject and time.

Let’s start this fire by looking at what most of the framers at the Constitutional Convention were working towards. In other words, what sort of national government did most of the framers of the compromise document now known as our Constitution seek? This is of special relevance today with our debates over how powerful the national government should be and over what powers it should have. Many of those on the side of a very limited national government cite our founders and their words as support for their views and arguments.

Before moving on to the question of what our framers were trying to accomplish in terms of government, I should mention something about the use of quotes by all sides. Context.

In regards to properly understanding a quote and what its speaker actually thought, context is everything. And I mean context in the broadest possible sense of the word – who is speaking (someone speaking against the Constitution such as Patrick Henry), where the words were spoken – in private, as part of a campaign speech, etc. – and how old was the speaker at the time – the framers views and opinions often changed over time. This context is something that I will discuss later one. For now though, just be aware of how important context is in understanding the framers and founders words.

A Weak or Powerful National Government?

What most miss in America is that in creating the first large Republican government in the world (something widely thought to be impossible by most of the world at the time) our founders were concerned not only with limiting government but also, seemingly paradoxically, in creating a strong national government. From Constitutional Myths by Ray Raphael:

“Whereas the framers believed that government without restraint would inevitably lead to tyranny, they also thought that government without strength would lead to chaos and anarchy…To turn the nation around, they needed to fashion a strong central government, and to justify that brazen move they would have to base their new government on sound civic principles.” page 58

“The framers did not totally abandon Whig principles, which had been formulated to check magisterial rule, but they adjusted them to suit a republic. Government was still suspect but, following Montesquieu, they created mechanisms within government that would keep liberty secure. They did not think at the outset, ‘Let’s see how we can restrain government’ but rather, ‘Let’s see how we can create a strong government with some set of internal checks, so it won’t tyrannize.” Page 61

“The restraint principles embedded within the text also need rebranding. “Separation of powers’ and ‘checks and balances’ are not distinct principles, and if treated that way, they contradict each other. To check on another’s powers, the allegedly separate branches actually intermingle… In fact, separation of powers and checks and balances aren’t exactly principles but strategies in service of a more general goal: diffusion of authority to prevent concentrations of power….By distributing authority within the federal government, the framers were able to give that government greater powers than it dared grant to a single body. As protections grew, more powers could be added – that was the framers’ basic strategy and crowning achievement”. page 62.

In other words, our founders were seeking the safest way to create a powerful national government, not a weak one. They had already experienced the self-destructive problems inherent in a weak national government under the Articles of Confederation; and rejected it. Indeed, many of them believed that a weak national government would lead to tyranny more surely and more often than would a strong one.

The trick, as they saw it, was how to create as powerful a national government as possible, but one that would not pose a danger to liberties and rights. The accomplishment of that trick was the diffusion of this power over several branches, each having established ways to impact the other.

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Moving on now to the next issue:1222111235.91

Interpreting the Constitution – Narrowly or Broadly

In regards as to whether the Constitution is meant to be interpreted narrowly or broadly – the correct answer seems to be yes.

Reading the details of the debate on what would eventually become the 10th amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” finds this debate centered around whether to include the word “expressly” or not – as in “The powers not expressly delegated…..” . This word would have emphasized a strongly narrow view of how to apply the Constitution.

Many were for adding this word. Many were against adding it. Madison for example, argued that “It was impossible to confine a Government to the exercise of express powers; there must necessarily be admitted powers by implication, unless the constitution descended to recount every minutia.”

In the end more were against it and so “the First Federal Congress expressly decided” not to include expressly in this amendment. As Raphael says,

“the Tenth Amendment was in fact a compromise. Federalists, although accepting the principle of enumerated powers, would have preferred to keep that principle implicit, while critics of the Constitution had wanted a stronger statement. Both sides bent, but both also won….The government should not be too closely confined, Madison argued, and his view prevailed. ‘Powers by implication, ‘ as he called them, should be allowed.” Pg. 67

It is this compromise that has led to the ever on-going debate on whether the Constitution should be interpreted narrowly or broadly, whether anything not in the Constitution is also not allowed or if there are implied powers. The Constitution is sending “mixed messages” about this, purposely so.

“The framers refused to declare unfalteringly for ‘strict’ or for ‘broad’ because either choice, unmodified, would have been untenable. Without enumerating powers, the Constitution would permit the indefinite expansion of federal authority, yet without the flexibility inherent in implied powers, Congress could allocate no funds to help build dikes, dams, or airports; monitor weather to warn people of tornadoes; finance research for the eradication of smallpox….; operate the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institutions; or stage celebrations on the centennial and bicentennial anniversaries of the framing and ratification of the constitution.” pg. 68

Just as our Constitution was created out of strife, debate (often heated), and disagreement it was written in such a way that this volatile process would be on-going as it was applied to new and different situations.

I am currently reading, and greatly enjoying, a book by Ray Raphael titled “Constitutional Myths”. It looks at various beliefs many if not most Americans hold about the Constitution, its creation, and the founders and evaluates how much truth there are to these beliefs –Taxes, Politics, Principles, etc. It generally finds a kernel of truth, or has so far, but finds that for the most part these myths do not hold up well to the reality.

Now, having read quite a bit about the origin of our Constitution, I knew, in broad outlines at least, a great deal of this information. But this book is providing a great deal more details and also puts it together in ways that made me more aware of things that in my previous readings I had just passed on by.

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Given our current political climate, I thought a few comments on these might be of interest.

First and foremost – the Constitution was a compromise from beginning to end. I doubt that there were any of its writers who were satisfied and happy with it. Madison, Washington, Hamilton, and others have written letters stating this. Gouverneur Morris said that although he continued to have serious objections to this plan he would “take it with all its faults”. This was a common refrain.

Next, was the sheer amount of politics involved in this – politics at its worse. We often portray the founders are dealing solely with great principles of government and being guided by reason and a concern for what is best for all. However, the reality is that while that was partly the basis of their deliberations there was an equal, if not more, amount of self-interest, regional politics, and political wheeling and dealing and bluster. Issues such as how to best ensure representation for both small and large states, slavery, and other issues almost scuttled the whole process many times. In fact, the vitriol and rancor involved in these deliberations was probably almost as great as what we see today in Congress. Their saving grace though was a willingness to make a deal and compromise.

In fact, the electoral college was one of those comprises between intransigent groups. It was mainly between those small states who wanted one state one vote and the larger states who wanted votes based upon a state’s population, What I found interesting in this is that they also tossed in the House being the only one who could initiate money bills – something that had been defeated in an earlier vote establishing the Great Compromise on the Senate and House representation. This was tossed in to sweeten the deal for the larger states so that they would buy off on a Presidential election system that somewhat favored the smaller states. Today too many are willing to stand totally on principle and then condemn those who would work to find compromises.

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Also, in light of how many are touting state’s rights and pointing back to the founders, I found it interesting how many of them not only were not strong supporters of state’s rights but also saw them as a danger to the nation. Madison and Washington (along with one other delegate whose name escapes me right now) before the convention had corresponded about some ideas of what should go into a new Constitution. One such idea was that the national government should have the power to review laws passed by the states and veto them if they found them inappropriate. At the end of the convention both Madison and Washington still considered the lack of such a mechanism a great flaw in the Constitution.

In fact, Madison was against the Great Compromise that had the House being set by a state’s population whereas the Senate had each state equally represented regardless of population, and argued strongly against it. “Whatever reason might have existed for the quality of suffrage when the Union was a federal one among sovereign States, it must cease when a national Government should be put into the place.”

Another point that was made was that taxes were the reason for the Constitutional convention and was one of the main motives for the creation of the Constitution. To be clearer, it was the necessity for the national government to have the strong ability to tax and raise revenue. After seeing the results of trying to create a functional government under the Articles of Confederation and knowing how vital a sure revenue stream was for good government, the lack of such was a major failure of that government and a major reason for the convening of the Constitutional Convention.

Finally, although I have not gotten to the chapter about Originalism, what I have read so far just henrycc2reinforces my own thoughts from prior readings – the idea that we can interpret the Constitution based on what the founders originally thought is balderdash.

First, the word “founders” presupposes that all or most of the founders thought the same way and agreed. They most assuredly did not. As I mentioned, the Constitution was a compromise document in which most had serious reservations on at least part of its provisions (which part varied by person). Further, as soon as the Constitution was ratified and started to be applied to specific issues of the day you would find the writers of that Constitution lined up on opposite sides of almost each and every issue. If those at the convention who wrote and signed the Constitution together could not agree on how to understand and apply it, what chance does discerning original intent today have?

To make this even more complicated, thoughts about the Constitution and how to interpret and apply it changed over time. For example, Madison’s thoughts from just after the ratification of the Constitution and his thoughts at the end of his life about the interpretation of the constitution changed. So too, did many others.

Given that our founders did not speak with a unified voice and their thoughts and ideas on the Constitution also changed over time, the idea of discerning original intent seems more of a chimera than a rational and realistic approach. It will be interesting to see what Raphael has to say at the end of the book.

For those Americans who are interested in the origins of or constitution “Constitutional Myths” is not a bad place to start. I know I am greatly looking forwards to finishing this book.

“Self Explanatory”

An unnamed medical legal examiner who responded to the shooting testified before the grand jury that he or she had not taken any distance measurements at the scene, because they appeared
“self-explanatory.”

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Now that the Grand Jury has decided to no bill Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, to too many people, especially to too many white people, what happened in Ferguson on August 9, 2014 is “self explanatory”.
In the words of Elizabeth Powell’s letter to the editor in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

“I would dare say that after 70 hours of listening to witnesses and evidence and 25 days of courtroom time that the Ferguson grand jury came to a just and fair decision.

It obviously wasn’t made flippantly.

As law-abiding, responsible, intelligent people, they came to their decision not to indict. They made that decision based on facts and science, not emotion or hypotheticals.

If all the facts and evidence result in that decision, then the public needs to accept it.

If the public doesn’t, then they are merely saying that they don’t care about truth and facts, they just want a decision based off of what they feel and want. This is tantamount to lawlessness.

We live in a society today that largely rejects any form of restraint and personal responsibility. These two ingredients make up complete lawlessness.

Truth must always be upheld, no matter what the cost.”

What the grand jury decided is the truth… “self explanatory”. No debate, no questions, no doubts. And her voice is far, far from the only one saying this.

As noted in my quote above, the Ferguson police did not feel that distances between Michael Brown’s dead body and the police car needed to be measured because what had happened was “self explanatory’. Fortunately some other law enforcement agencies felt that it was necessary and, perhaps, not so self explanatory.

The first police officer to interview Wilson about the shooting did not record that conversation, did not take notes about the conversation, and did not write up his memories about the conversation until much later. As he stated later when asked about this breach of protocol in police procedure – “I didn’t take notes because at that point in time I had multiple things going through my head besides what Darren was telling me.”

Even worse, Wilson had called this officer personally after they had both been interviewed by investigators and went over his account of the tragedy again. The officer stated that there were no discrepancies between Wilson’s first account and the one given over the phone. But, if his mind was so filled with items other than Wilson’s testimony during the first interview, so much so that he could not take the time to take notes on it, then how could he be sure that they were the same? A distracted mind and all you know. Or, perhaps, one now guided by the questions posed to both of them by the investigator who interviewed them.

broken-gavelBut then, what happened was “self explanatory.

Officers did not test Wilson’s gun for fingerprints. That is normal police procedure that was among many normal police procedures – such as measuring distances and recording interviews for example – that were not followed. Had Brown’s fingerprints been found then that would have provided more support for Wilson’s story. Had Brown’s fingerprints not been found on gun though…well, questions would have been raised. Now we will never know.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

Other violations of normal police procedures in shootings include:

– The initial interview being delayed while Wilson was sent to the hospital, in a car with a lieutenant colonel of the Ferguson police force and another Ferguson police officer. While initial interviews are sometimes delayed for medical reasons Wilson did not appear to need medical attention and later testified that he did not.

– Wilson not turning over his gun to a supervisor or someone designated by the supervisor but, instead, bagging it himself.

– Washing away the blood on him before samples could be taken.

– Not photographing the crime scene (fortunately another law enforcement agency was).

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

During the grand jury process more self explanatory happened.

In a highly unusual move, instead of arguing for one or more charges prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch made no argument for any charge. Instead of finding the best evidence for any of the possible charges he made no argument and overwhelmed the jury with all of the evidence, burying them alive in information.

Alex Little, a former federal prosecutor who spent six years trying violent crimes, including homicides, told Vox’s Amanda Taub in August that the strategy raised concerns about McCulloch’s commitment to seeking justice in the case:

So when a District Attorney says, in effect, “we’ll present the evidence and let the grand jury decide,” that’s malarkey. If he takes that approach, then he’s already decided to abdicate his role in the process as an advocate for justice. At that point, there’s no longer a prosecutor in the room guiding the grand jurors, and — more importantly — no state official acting on behalf of the victim, Michael Brown…

Then, when you add to the mix that minorities are notoriously underrepresented on grand juries, you have the potential for nullification — of a grand jury declining to bring charges even when there is sufficient probable cause. That’s the real danger to this approach.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

In another highly unusual move prosecuting attorney McCulloch had Officer Wilson testify. And did not cross examine him, letting his testimony stand as is. To have the accused testify before a grand jury is unusual enough in and of itself. To let him testify without cross examination or criticism amounts to letting the accused present his side and only his side to the grand jury – especially since prosecuting attorney McCulloch refused to fulfill his prosecutorial role at all, instead preferring to play the role of a passive defense attorney.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

There were conflicts between Wilson’s testimony to the grand jury and his initial interviews. In the initial interviews he did not know that Brown was holding stolen cigarillos in his hand, noting only that Brown had handed something off to his friend before punching him. In fact, Wilson denied knowing that Brown was a suspect at all in the convenience store robbery. However, in his later testimony that changed and Wilson stated that he did suspect Brown was the suspect in this robbery and he did know that Brown was holding cigarillos.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

Wilson claimed that he feared for his life in his fight with Brown. Yet his injuries consisted of only a slight bruise…not much for a life and death struggle.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

More, much much more could be listed here. But by now it should be “self explanatory” what happened in Ferguson. At least for those who look at the evidence and the facts, the conflicting testimony and the gross negligence on the part of both the Ferguson police and prosecuting attorney.

It is obviously self explanatory that due to racial bias and prejudice, whether conscious or unconscious, and to the knee jerk reaction of the thin blue line to protect one of their own that a gross miscarriage of justice has occurred.

I do not know for sure what happened that day between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson. However, I do know that there is now a dead youth whose death will never be explained due to the fact that those in charge of the system decided to short circuit it and avoid a trial that would have examined in detail all of the conflicting testimony and evidence, argued it out in public and come to a conclusion about what really happened.

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Now we are left with suspicions and pain and suffering and the justified feeling on the part of the black community that once again they are denied even a chance at justice.

Why the Riots at Ferguson

Not surprisingly, Ferguson and the riots are dominating the news and the different forums I attend to. All condemn them, as I do too. All say that these riots do not help the situation and do not solve the problem. And again, I totally agree. However, where I strongly disagree with most, especially with the conservative commenters, is on why these riots are happening.

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These commenters put the rioting down to a various combination of reasons, ranging from people wanting to take advantage of a tragedy to loot and rob, a small group of agitators working up the crowd for personal glorification that often includes financial gain, ignorant thugs and so forth. While there are a very few who might be motivated by these reasons, that is not the reason why most are rioting though.

Why the riots can be a perplexing question if you are looking for a rational, reasoned explanation. However, reason and rationality are the wrong lense through which to view these events. Instead, to properly understand what is happening we need to look at emotions.

First, let me ask, have you ever become so frustrated or angry or both that you just had to do something physical? Throw a book or papers or pen down or across the room; pound your desk; hit the wall; yell obscenities and then take a very vigorous walk and woe to the person who interrupts it?

That is what these riots are – a physical expression of frustration and anger. ferguson-riots1

A physical expression of their frustration in dealing with an unfair and unjust system that they seemingly cannot change. A justice system that has, once again, verified their view that it sees blacks as being of less worth than whites.

A physical expression of their rage at the deaths caused and then ignored by that unjust system.

A physical expression of their anger at how so many…too many… whites do not believe them when they raise their voices in protest over the inequalities of our justice system and, instead, blame them, the victims.

These riots are not rational. They are not reasoned. They are emotional outbursts. Most importantly, while the expression of these emotions are totally inappropriate, the emotions themselves are totally appropriate and right.

Realizing that these are emotional reactions to the pain and anger and frustration created by an unjust justice system is important because too many are willing to just condemn the rioters as thugs and say tut tut and then ignore their cause. They are too willing to focus on the riots alone and are so busy condemning them that they never get around to condemning the broken justice system that was the true spark for this conflagration. Even worse, too many people not only condemn the riots but use it as a vindication of their blindness to the problems of our judicial system in regards to race.

Yes, these riots should not be condoned. Yes they should be condemned. And yes, again, it should be pointed out that these riots create no solution but instead make solutions harder to reach. However, the emotions propelling these riots needs to be acknowledged as does the fact that their anger, their frustration, their rage, and their fears are totally rational, totally reasonable, and totally appropriate to what is happening.

Condemn the riots, stop the riots but do not use them as an excuse to ignore the flaws within our justice system. If we do then stopping the riots at Ferguson will only be a futile gesture as they will erupt elsewhere when another grave miscarriage of justice occurs due to the race of the victim. And it will.

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First, let me provide my definition of voter fraud. Voter fraud is the attempt to manipulate votes illegally to influence elections. There are many types of voter fraud, ranging from intimidation and vote buying to misrecording votes.

One type though is well known and is being abused by alarmists to support voter ID laws. This is the type wherein someone goes in person to vote who is not eligible to actually vote. This is the one that the current voter ID laws are targeting and that the Supreme Court has recently ruled on.

I, though, would like to mention another type of voter fraud, one that is much less talked about, and when it is, is usually not called voter fraud. This type of fraud involves keeping those who are eligible to vote from doing so.

And that is what all the voter ID laws I have seen so far are – voter fraud of this type.

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The proponents of these laws claim that they are necessary to prevent rampant voter fraud in the form of who actually casts the ballot on election day. However, this is not true. Several studies and reports have shown that this sort of voter fraud is so low as to be practically zero. Here is a link to one such study by News 21:

A News21 analysis of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 shows that while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.

In an exhaustive public records search, News21 reporters sent thousands of requests to elections officers in all 50 states, asking for every case of fraudulent activity including registration fraud, absentee ballot fraud, vote buying, false election counts, campaign fraud, casting an ineligible vote, voting twice, voter impersonation fraud and intimidation.
Analysis of the resulting comprehensive News21 election fraud database turned up 10 cases of voter impersonation. With 146 million registered voters in the United States during that time, those 10 cases represent one out of about every 15 million prospective voters.

This finding is replicated in several other studies. In fact, in my home state, the Great State of Texas, whose attorney general is a strong promoter of voter ID laws, only 51 people have been convicted of voter fraud between 2002 – 2012, see here and here. And of these 51only four were for voter impersonation, which is what the voter ID laws are supposedly targeting.

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In fact, even that bastion of conservative news, Fox News, has reported this:

Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott, a Republican, launched an investigation in 2005 to uncover what he called an “epidemic” of voter fraud. But reviews of Abbott’s investigation two years later yielded no cases of voter impersonation fraud. A Dallas Morning News review in 2008 found the 26 cases prosecuted were all against Democrats, most involved blacks and Hispanics, and typically involved people who helped elderly voters with mail-in ballots, but failed to follow state law by signing their names and addresses on the envelopes.

Abbot’s investigation was paid for with a $1.4 million Justice Department crime-fighting grant.

After a five-year hunt for voter fraud, the Bush administration’s Justice Department came up with little widespread fraud, finding mostly cases of people mistakenly filling out voter registration forms or voting when they didn’t know they were ineligible, The New York Times reported in 2007. But none of the cases involved a person voting as someone else.

I find it amazing and telling that those who promote voter ID as a way to prevent voter fraud and protect the integrity of the ballot box are not working to prevent the more common type of voter fraud, absentee ballots. From the News 21 study above:

There is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other categories. The analysis shows 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud. A required photo ID at the polls would not have prevented these cases.

What this tells me is that the true purpose of these voter ID laws is not to prevent voter fraud, but to instead engage in voter fraud. The purpose of this voter fraud by law is to promote partisan politics on the part of Republicans. Those who are most at risk from losing their ability to vote due to these laws are the poor and minorities who often do not have drivers licenses, cannot afford to divert money from food and shelter and medicine to purchase a copy of their birth certificate in order to get one and, even if they could, could not afford to take time off to drive to a Department of Motor Vehicles office to get a license (provided they can get someone to drive them there). The elderly who are living on a small fixed income and face health and other problems also are a group at risk of losing their right to vote. While the numbers of such people losing their ability to vote might be small, it is far, far larger than the number of fraudulent voters stopped by voter ID laws.

Let me ask – if one or two ineligible people are stopped from voting but 100 eligible voters are kept from voting, is this not a net loss for liberty and freedom and democracy?

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For those wanting a more in depth look at this issue, the Brennan Center of Justice’s “The Truth About Voter Fraud” by Justin Levitt is an excellent place to start. And at 32 pages is a relatively short as well as interesting read.

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