Each of us has rights and obligations, as both individuals and
part of a group. The balance between individual rights and obligations to
protect the group defines the discipline of the society. The creation of laws
and the enforcement of those laws define this balance. Enforcement often
involves a negative: giving up individual liberties. Is that loss offset by the
creation of a positive benefit for the entire group - the body the enforcement
is protecting? It all depends on trust of the individual in society's ability
to treat all with fairness and integrity under the system of law. The value
system is cultural in nature, changing with situations and the times. Ethical
fairness of enforcement and the motivation behind the act of enforcement holds
the key to trust. It determines the willingness of society to limit its
Do actions taken out of conscience, protect or do they simply
show power? These are the questions of cultural value - perceived through each
individual's life circumstances. For example, centuries ago, the perspective of
Thomas Hobbs on the need for security, after years of war, was different from
those of an economically centered, dominant America in the 1950s. Vigilance is
necessary - sensitizing society to make logical cultural choices. Vigilance
must be used to also ensure that the enforcement process is driven by
conscience and not convenience.
With the significant changes in the nature of the world due to
the rise in terrorism, perhaps no issue is more important—or possibly less
understood—than the balance of enforcement in society. As a sheriff, my father
had a perspective that law enforcement was not so much about putting criminals
in jail as it was helping build a support for law enforcement in the
community.In guerilla warfare, a guerilla without the support of the people is
like a fish out of water.Just so, a criminal is at a disadvantage when he is
opposed by an active and dedicated citizenry. Similarly, an informed citizenry
that recognizes and cherishes its rights provide a culture to protect them.
The Texas Peacemaker Award
The Texas Peacemaker Award given by the Sheriffs' Association of
Texas in remembrance of Dad notes that he had the physical abilities and
toughness. However, on the other hand, he was a Scoutmaster before he even had
kids. He did not allow his deputies to ever show arrogance of doing things a
citizen could not do. And he had a unique record of convictions of almost all
the cases he brought. The community knew that he tried to help lost youth, but
if he had a felon that was different.
At that time, trust was a key component of law enforcement since
it led to confidence and support. In a time of instant media when too often the
police have become almost militarized with S.W.A.T. teams, these concepts need
to be revisited. Dad has been dead over thirty years, but I can never forget
the importance of the emphasis he put on personal dignity. It was not just the
rights that a man had, not just his safety, but something far more in the
all-inclusive concept of dignity. He needed self-respect and should expect the
courtesy of respect from others until he made himself undeserving by violating
their dignity. But he also understood that dignity had to be gained by
accepting responsibility. Rights and respect were not given; they were earned.
So he focused on the culture of the community.
There are a number of examples throughout history of the many
systems for enforcement of the laws that set the basis of a society's culture.
At one end is the repressive form like a balloon where the helium molecules are
restrained by the surface. The opposite example is a bar of steel that holds
its own shape because the molecules are not separate but are closely bound
together.In our example, cultural values make that tie.That is why terrorism
and the changes to protect the group will change the balance of rights.We see
it in airline security with new laws and limitations and also culturally. We
have to distinguish between conveniences and basic rights just as we must
recognize that the Golden Rule is present here. We give up some conveniences
for others just as they give them up for us. If it is not present, and others
do not do so it should be questioned.
But the more the police function can be in the form of a
Peacemaker function rather than a law enforcement function, the more personal
dignity will be retained and the more support law enforcement will achieve.
There is not a loss of efficiency in being courteous, explaining needs, and
building public support for when it is needed. Dad was six foot three, two
hundred and forty pounds with tremendous physical abilities. It is why the
Texas Rangers nicknamed him “The Peacemaker.” But he always started with a
handshake, a smile and a sincere heart unless the situation made it
inappropriate. He could become serious quickly and always carried a gun and an
eight cell flashlight called "the light of enlightenment" to help his
persuasion. His point was that you could threaten and succeed but you won few
converts to your way of thinking long term.
As we enter this new age, we will see this on a more global
basis. The West has long had a tradition of law based upon the individual and
his rights. The East has had a different history, possibly because they have
dense populations and looked not to the individual but to the rights of the
group. Yet culturally the East has had much more of an appreciation of
individual dignity in its traditions of courtesy.
Over a period of time, due to the terrorism threat, the world
will change but in uncertain ways. What characteristics will dominate? The best
for society is one that remembers personal dignity and builds trust while
allowing substantial police authority to protect the group. That comes from
cultural values that make the laws and define the dignities. As this site
develops we hope to gain insights from others as to the critical issues
involved and how culture can best adapt to a new world without losing the best
of the old world. Please review the article on this subject in the
Transcending Generations Section.