So let’s talk “black lives matter”/”all lives matter.”

When a weak point in an army’s line of defense is under heavy fire, and the commanding general seems oblivious and unconcerned, someone must point out the weakness, as insistently as necessary for the weakness to be addressed. If the general’s response is “the whole line matters” he is, in his unassailable correctness, missing the point.

“This man has insulted me!” said Syme, with gestures of explanation.
“Insulted you?” cried the gentleman with the red rosette, “when?”
“Oh, just now,” said Syme recklessly. “He insulted my mother.”
“Insulted your mother!” exclaimed the gentleman incredulously.
“Well, anyhow,” said Syme, conceding a point, “my aunt.”

“But how can the Marquis have insulted your aunt just now?” said the second gentleman with some legitimate wonder. “He has been sitting here all the time.”

“Ah, it was what he said!” said Syme darkly.

“I said nothing at all,” said the Marquis, “except something about the band. I only said that I liked Wagner played well.”

“It was an allusion to my family,” said Syme firmly. “My aunt played Wagner badly. It was a painful subject. We are always being insulted about it.”

“This seems most extraordinary,” said the gentleman who was decore, looking doubtfully at the Marquis.

“Oh, I assure you,” said Syme earnestly, “the whole of your conversation was simply packed with sinister allusions to my aunt’s weaknesses.”

“This is nonsense!” said the second gentleman. “I for one have said nothing for half an hour except that I liked the singing of that girl with black hair.”

“Well, there you are again!” said Syme indignantly. “My aunt’s was red.”

“It seems to me,” said the other, “that you are simply seeking a pretext to insult the Marquis.”

“By George!” said Syme, facing round and looking at him, “what a clever chap you are!”

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday ch. x (1908).

1. When the government declines to license, endorse, use or participate in any conduct, opinion, or symbol, it does not follow that it has “banned” that conduct, opinion or symbol, nor that it has violated your right to participate in that conduct, hold and express that opinion, or use that symbol;
2. When retailers, service providers and broadcasting networks decline to sell certain products or services, or broadcast certain programs, that does not mean that anyone is violating your rights — unless you have paid for and/or entered into a valid contract for those particular goods, services or programs;
(3) If someone proffers an opinion you find disagreeable, or contradicts something you say, he is not violating your rights. He is exercising his. You may join him;
(4) If any of the foregoing principles bothers you, there is a good chance that you have an exaggerated idea of your own rights and an underdeveloped view of your neighbors’.

This morning I visited the Appomattox Walmart, which is located not two miles from the old Appomattox Court House where Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and the Federal Army.

Earlier this year, in light of the sesquicentennial of that event, the store stocked a bunch of “Appomattox 150th” t-shirts. This is a picture of one such shirt:

Appomattox 150 shirt

Today, upon orders issued by Walmart corporate HQ, because this shirt contains a picture of the Confederate battle flag, it is being removed from the store immediately — despite the fact that the flag’s significance on this shirt, at this time, and in this setting cannot possibly be misunderstood.

Context, people. A flag signifies one thing when it is raised over a Capitol dome in anti-Civil Rights defiance, quite another when it appears on a shirt marking an important historical event — where, significantly, the various parties, victors and defeated alike, acted with respect, dignity, and grace.

A Lurid Living History

Well, you have to credit them for getting to their talking points.

President Obama said of Charleston killer Dylann Roof: “He had no trouble getting a gun.”
Rick Santorum said: “This was an assault on religious liberty.”
Rand Paul said: “There’s something terribly wrong, but it isn’t going to be fixed by your government.”

The Charleston shooting is unspeakably sad. It is not, however, a case where we’re left to wonder what caused it — or to answer “why?” with politically useful speculations. Mr. Roof was quite clear: “I have to do it. You rape our women, you are taking over our country, and you have to go.” The images are right out of lurid antebellum nightmares about bloody slave insurrections, the editorials and speeches of the fear-mongering newspapermen and politicians of the Reconstruction-era South, and the thousands of false indictments of black men handed down in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th.

The echoes of the long centuries when white Americans clung to their European ancestors’ most unpleasant legacy — White Supremacy — have not yet died. Sometimes the echoes grow fainter; on other days they resound like thunder. It’s been a while, though, since I’ve heard the echo with such revolting clarity as today.

Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, recently-departed members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church: Rest in peace.

Christ, have mercy upon us.

In open battle, when you attack an established position, incremental advances are of little or no tactical significance. You take the position; you drive your enemy from it. If you cannot do so in short order, you retreat.

Take Gettysburg. On Day One, Ewell et al. made advances against the Union positions that Buford and Reynolds had established. But the Rebels needed to do more right then, before more Union forces could arrive to reinforce the Federals’ (excellent) position, held by Hancock. The Confederates did not; and so all their gains that day went for little to no tactical advantage.

To apply this principle to the aptly-named culture wars of today: conservatives need to stop being surprised or offended at the zeal and audacity of the so-called Social Justice Warriors. At present the culture wars are not in a quiet season where incremental, strategic stealth maneuvers are the order of the day; this is a moment of open battle. Whatever one thinks of the aims or strategies of SJWs, we cannot misunderstand their tactics, which as tactics are eminently rational. They are doing what all forces that assault established positions must do, what the Confederates should have done on Day One at Gettysburg: press for swift and total victory while the momentum and conditions are favorable. For when the ground is against you, you cannot take the chance that the weather might also turn against you, or that Hancock might receive reinforcements.

So let’s talk Baltimore.

It makes all the difference in the world whether one recognizes the central fact about the Fourth Amendment, namely, that it was a safeguard against recurrence of abuses so deeply felt by the Colonies as to be one of the potent causes of the Revolution . . .

United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, 69 (1950) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting).

The Fourth Amendment, of course, protects the right of the people to be secure in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Violations of those rights — e.g. general warrants, heavy-handed law enforcement tactics by the Crown’s agents — were the recurring “abuses so deeply felt by the Colonies as to be one of the potent causes of the Revolution.” Let that sink in. One of the most learned men ever to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States wrote that these abuses were “potent causes” of the Revolution — the armed insurrection we celebrate every July 4.

Right now, in Baltimore and across the United States, there is a class of law enforcement officers — not all, not most, probably not even many, but some — who have perpetuated recurring abuses that are, if anything, more aggravated than those “so deeply felt” by the Colonists that they took up arms against the British Crown. The Colonists, in Justice Frankfurter’s telling, objected to “searches without warrants and searches with warrants unrestricted in scope.” Bad stuff, to be sure, but not in the same class as, say, shooting a fleeing unarmed burglar in the back of the head.[1] Or — to bring this home to what just happened in Baltimore — seizing a non-violent suspect merely for fleeing, and that suspect suffering a severed spine while in police custody.

Significantly, many of the officers who transgress against the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens will have their actions rationalized and justified. Rather than having the fruits of their unlawful searches and seizures suppressed at criminal trials, those noxious fruits are routinely admitted via doctrines like reasonable suspicion and the so-called good-faith exception. Rather than making lawless officers face investigation or prosecution, law enforcement departments and prosecutors all too often close ranks to protect the worst offenders among them. Even in civil actions under the Civil Rights Act, the judiciary clothes the transgressing officers with a “qualified immunity” that protects them even from being sued in all but the most extreme cases. These doctrines make the Fourth Amendment hollow, and impotent to protect the rights it was crafted to protect.

What does all this mean for what’s happening in Baltimore?

I’ll start with the obvious: it does not justify the worst results of the Baltimore protests — e.g. the wanton destruction of private citizens’ property, and personal injuries to innocent bystanders. Most people want nothing but to live peaceful lives and make an honest living, molested neither by lawless law enforcement officers nor by the rioters who say (in weird unison) with the badge-carrying thugs: “I am the law.” That anyone in Baltimore has suffered personal injuries, or loss of homes or livelihoods, is deplorable. One evil does not cure the other.

But as a matter of principle, and as a matter of realpolitik, Justice Frankfurter’s dissent in Rabinowitz should give the police apologists and the critics of the protestors — the vast majority of whose protests, incidentally, have been nonviolent — pause. When Fourth Amendment rights are regarded as “technicalities,” and when transgressions of those rights are repeatedly rationalized by police departments, prosecutors, attorneys general, and judges across the land, revolution is not far behind.

[1] Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985).

[2] Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. at 70.


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