­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Patsy Neal: Will the search for justice lead to violence in America?

We cannot be reluctant to enforce the law because it might lead to violence.

(House Select Committee via AP) This image from video from a police worn body camera from the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, was played as a committee exhibit as the House select committee investigating the the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, held a hearing Thursday, June 9, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

For the first time in our history, a former president may be indicted more than once for crimes he has committed. The possibility of one indictment, or more than one, has raised fears of violence in our country.

Beyond the discussion of violence, some have suggested that Donald Trump shouldn’t be indicted at all because of the division and protest it would cause in our country. Others have said no former president should ever be charged with a crime. And many have voiced the opinion that an indictment for hush money paid to keep a porn star silent during the 2016 presidential campaign was too small a crime to prosecute. All of these thoughts should send chills through our bodies.

First of all, no crime is too small to prosecute. If small crimes are not prosecuted, our world would be full of small-time criminals out to make fast money at the expense of all of us.

Secondly, former presidents should not be above the law. Our legal system has been based on justice for all, and on the principle that we are all equal under the law. Once we place a few individuals above the law — whether a former president, a member of Congress or a Hall of Fame athlete — we have taken the fairness out of our system.

Even worse, when lack of prosecution involves individuals in the government, we have opened our governing system up to crooks with power.

We know from experience that power corrupts. If we refuse to take action against those who do break the law and who represent us at the highest level of our government, we open ourselves to the worse danger of all — losing our democratic way of life and replacing it with an authoritarian or dictatorship system.

We are already having problems with respecting and keeping our democracy. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, 59% of Americans were dissatisfied with how democracy is working in our country. This percentage may be higher today as a result of the many misconceptions, lies and conspiracy theories being spread daily in our country.

The hard question being asked today is whether violence should be considered when handing out justice. No one wants citizens fighting against each other, or innocent people getting caught between those who are resorting to the use of violence to further their goals. As long ago as the Civil War was fought — 1861-1865 — the dread of what can happen when a country is divided, is still with us.

What are the options? Some questions we might want to consider:

• Do we value justice more than dissent?

• Should law-breakers be ignored when laws are broken if it means violence when they are confronted?

• Do we want groups of people threatening individuals and our country every time they disagree with judges who hand out sentences and grand juries that decide to indict?

• Are there enough good people in our country to defend it against a large percentage of dissenters who are willing to destroy it in order to gain, or stay, in power?

There is a saying that when good men do nothing, evil flourishes. So the last question is: Do we have enough good men and women in this country to confront the ruthless individuals willing to bring violence to the fight?

We might want to think about these words by Abraham Lincoln: “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”

Something else to think about is the following quote made by a Minister, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, in 1916: “Nations do not die from invasion; they die from internal rottenness.”

All of us might learn from those who came before us.

Patsy Neal

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Patsy Neal has a master’s degree from the University of Utah, has published several books and has won four Freedom of Foundation Awards for Essays.