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Questioning the power of police in Utah echoes our founding documents, George Pyle writes

Declaration of Independence cites uncheck police power as justification for revolution.

(Charlie Riedel | AP photo) In this July 22, 2005, photo, German workers Gerhard Buchar, right, and Winfried Hagenau, left, along with National Park Service employee, Darin Oestman, use pressure washers to clean around the face of Thomas Jefferson at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

The Declaration of Independence

The bulk of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration is less a philosophical statement than an indictment — charges and specifications — alleging in detail “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” that justified the unprecedented act of the 13 colonies finding the British Crown unworthy of their allegiance.

You remember. All that stuff about taxation without representation.

But a lot of the indictment of the Crown was the 18th century version of Defund the Police. Antifa in powdered wigs.

The rebels were unhappy, as noted above, that the Brits had given their generals in America the power to act without any deference to colonial governors, assemblies or courts. The list of offenses also included the fact that the British maintained a standing army in the colonies in peacetime and that soldiers in that army were shielded from prosecution “for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.”

The British view of all that, while never expressed so eloquently, was that Parliament and the Crown had spent a good deal of blood and treasure defending the colonies from the French, as well as from Native American nations who somehow never took kindly to having their own lands and societies usurped without their consent.

Seen from London, the American Revolution was the act of a bunch of ingrates and malcontents who didn’t understand the clear need for an army to keep the peace and protect the colonists from violence and invasion. And who weren’t willing to pay the taxes necessary to maintain the forces that were there for the Americans’ own good.

The bad feelings continue to this day.

On his Twitter feed, British comedy icon (and Utah Jazz fan) John Cleese described July 5 as “Apron Strings Day in Britain, when we celebrate that we finally cut ties with our clingy American cousins, who demanded military protection without being prepared to help pay for it. The United States then proclaimed itself the World’s first democracy ... despite the fact that England held its first Parliament in 1265, and doggedly refused thereafter to gerrymander, to introduce the filibuster, [or] to challenge legitimate elections.”

Now, some Americans are chafing at the apparent ability of the standing army of police officers, officers who continue to be forgiven “for any Murders which they should commit.” While the Tories among us seem to argue that anything other than an unquestioning deference to nearly all police actions can only result in chaos, anarchy and levels of street violence that will inspire the next film in “The Purge” franchise.

Among the more gruesome examples of police violence locally, which we know about thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Salt Lake Tribune reporters to pry loose police video of the incident, is the moment when a DUI suspect, already in custody and in handcuffs, was shot and killed by a West Valley City police officer who took the time to say, “You’re about to die, my friend,” before pulling the trigger.

The man who died was agitated and combative, and officers seemed to think he was trying to pull a gun out of one officer’s belt. (The gun never left its holster.) But the man appears to have posed a threat only because officers seemed content to ignore his clear suffering and not heed what, in retrospect, was the victim’s entirely reasonable demand that he be taken for mental health services.

The matter has been under investigation by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office for almost two years. No matter what winds up happening, that’s two years more than any civilian would be allowed to walk around like nothing had happened after killing someone on video. And that’s two years of a clear signal that police officers don’t enforce the law so much as stand above it.

A less fatal example of how today’s men in blue can sometimes seem more like the Redcoats is the absurd application of Utah’s hate crimes law to the case of a 19-year-old California woman, arrested in Panguitch for allegedly wadding up a “Back the Blue” sign and “smirking in an intimidating manner” toward a police officer.

That, like the short-lived attempt to add a life-sentence gang enhancement to charges against people who protested another police shooting by spreading gallons of red paint around the Salt Lake County D.A.’s office, gives nothing but the impression that some in positions of authority in Utah think that it is, or should be, a serious crime to question or protest the actions of police officers.

It’s not that individual police officers accused of wrongdoing don’t deserve the same vigorous defense that everyone else is entitled to. The kind of defense that made the name of a young John Adams when he was counsel for the soldiers accused of perpetrating the Boston Massacre in 1770.

It’s just that we must never forget that the police work for us, not us for them, and we have every right to set high standards for those who are sworn to enforce our laws and hold them to those standards.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) George Pyle.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, was pleased to read that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was prepared to uphold the civil power, rather than hold himself above it, in preparing to put down the anticipated coup of Jan. 6.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter, @debatestate

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