Freedom Watch

The Constitution Lives in Ferguson

Michael Brown, James Foley, and the rule of law.

By 8.21.14

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The Constitution lives. Even as the news is brutal — it instructs for those willing to pay attention.

American journalist James Foley has been beheaded by ISIS. And an American teenager named Michael Brown was shot dead by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer named Darren Wilson.

In the case of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri remains in an uproar. The town is awash in protesters, both from Ferguson and outsiders. There has been a steady diet of rioting and looting. The President of the United States is involved. The Attorney General of the United States is involved, going to Ferguson personally just yesterday. The governor of Missouri, the lieutenant governor, and attorney general of Missouri are all involved, as is the head of the Missouri State Police and the state’s National Guard. Both of Missouri’s U.S. senators have weighed in, as have members of the state legislature. All of this in addition to the mayor of Ferguson, and the Ferguson police chief.

And the media? They are on it. There is FOX, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. The Associated Press is there, the New York Times, the Washington Post and more from the Old Media. Breitbart is there, the Huffington Post and other Internet outlets as well. The social media exemplified by Facebook and Twitter are everywhere in evidence. And talk radio? Rush is on it, Sean, Mark, Glenn, Laura and on and on goes the list. All discussing, all analyzing, interviewing, televising, reporting and tweeting. Don’t forget either that some store owners, their private property threatened by looting mobs, have used their Second Amendment right to bear arms to stand guard over their property. 

Now comes word that American journalist James Foley has been beheaded by ISIS. The President of the United States is informed — after the fact via YouTube. His counterpart in Iraq? Doubtless he knows… but he can’t do a damn thing. The Iraqi equivalent of the U.S. Attorney General? Who the hell is that, anyway? The local equivalent of an American governor, lieutenant governor, local attorney general or head of the regional police? The equivalent of the mayor of Ferguson or the Ferguson police chief? Nothing. Zip. 

So Mr. Foley is now as dead as Michael Brown, his throat literally slit on video for all to see. And as with Michael Brown, his story will only now, post-facto, fill the air waves and print.

Question: What is the difference between the deaths of Michael Brown and James Foley?

In a handful of words? The Constitution of the United States. Law and ordered liberty.

How many protesters are swarming Iraq this minute, walking through the place where James Foley was beheaded — shouting “no justice — no peace!”? Is Al Sharpton there? Is Jesse Jackson? How many TV cameras are bringing the name of the person who beheaded James Foley to world television audiences? The suspected killer — whose face was covered in the infamous video of the crime — is believed to be a British Islamist. What is his name? All of America and beyond knows the name and now the face of the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who killed Michael Brown. The officer’s name is Darren Wilson. Even if known, who will bring the man who killed James Foley to justice? Is he in custody right now? Or temporarily suspended from his job? Does anyone even know what that person looks like under the black hood?

Yet in Missouri? An investigation into the death of Michael Brown is now in motion. There will be a grand jury. A prosecutor. A defense lawyer for Officer Wilson. Then a jury and a judge. There will be Al Sharpton and protesters, and Wilson supporters and counter-protesters. There will be the inevitable wall-to-wall media coverage until resolution is reached. The governor has issued a statement pre-judging Wilson, instantly infuriating his already vocal critics.

And in the case of James Foley? There will be none of this. No grand jury, no prosecutor, no defense lawyer, no judge or jury. In fact, there will be no accused, because Mr. Foley’s killer has already vanished into the ether. One wonders whether his body is even retrievable. Bet on the fact that famed forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden nor anyone else will be conducting an official autopsy.

So what’s the difference with these two cases? One never-commented on difference? That would be the presence of the Constitution of the United States in Missouri — and the total absence of anything remotely resembling it — in the wilds of the Islamic State.

Everything about the Michael Brown case showcases law and ordered liberty as provided by the Constitution. The Constitution does not provide — as no constitution can — for human perfection. The Constitution exists precisely because human imperfection is a reality of life everywhere. 

The Federalist Papers, that classic historic document in defense of the then-proposed Constitution authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, repeatedly discusses the imperfection of human beings and thus the need for a Constitution that can provide ordered liberty to the citizens of the aborning United States of America.

Madison wrote in Federalist 14 of the need for a constitution that would serve:

… as the conservator of peace among ourselves, as the guardian of our commerce and other common interests… as the proper antidote for the diseases of faction, which have proved fatal to other popular governments, and of which alarming symptoms have been betrayed by our own.

And just as Madison understood, like clockwork the need for a “conservator of peace” in Ferguson has appeared in the presence of state and local police, the National Guard, the FBI and alarmed federal, state and local officials. The very same people also appearing because of a need to have a “guardian of our commerce” — commerce being another term for “private property” — in Ferguson. The “diseases of faction” have appeared in Ferguson as well- in this case in the guise of race, protestors, outside thugs, local police the governor, Eric Holder and more.

All of these things speak to the immutable and eternal fact of human imperfection, as Madison also understood. Which was exactly why the ordered liberty of the Constitution was necessary — to deal with the inevitable and always present imperfections that in fact are right this minute on display in Ferguson, Missouri.

The peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson are protected by the First Amendment. As too are the media prowling the streets to cover the story. The Second Amendment is providing help for the armed shopkeepers. The duly elected government officials are involved as provided. The president, the attorney general, the governor, and the local officials are all holding their jobs with the consent of the governed, elected or appointed as provided by both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Missouri.

And in Iraq and Syria, the latter country where James Foley was captured? Lawlessness rules where ISIS rules. Mr. Foley and the second American journalist whose life is being threatened were in fact kidnapped and held against their will. They have no protection from law and ordered liberty. They were and are in the hands of savages.

All of which is to remind that what is unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri — however tragic, sad, unseemly, frustrating, messy, occasionally dangerous, and violent though it may be — is in fact the Constitution of the United States at work. Human imperfection — the alleged conduct of both Michael Brown and Darren Wilson — is once again on display. And instantly the Constitution is at hand to do exactly what it is supposed to do. Those who wish to protest are protesting. Those who are determined to act illegally are being arrested by legally constituted authorities and will receive their own day in court. The media not only have their right to cover the story protected — but when arrested (as has happened to Breitbart’s Kerry Pickett just recently and reporters for the Washington Post and Huffington Post) they have been quickly — make that sheepishly — released, with hell to pay in the world of bad PR for the cops and all being released to resume doing their jobs.

In a chapter titled, appropriately enough, “On the Constitution,” Mark Levin writes in Liberty and Tyranny

The Constitution is the bedrock on which a living, evolving nation was built. It is — and must be — a timeless yet durable foundation that individuals can count on in a changing world.

The world that is Ferguson, Missouri, is changing as the result of a police shooting. But the Constitution — the bedrock — is right there, the “timeless yet durable foundation that individuals can count on” in that changing world.

Liberals can’t stand the Constitution. No less than Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg advised Egyptians caught in the chaos of a dictatorship that “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a Constitution in the year 2012.” Former Justice John Paul Stevens has written a book titled Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, in which, as noted by Richard Wolf in USA Today Stevens would “reduce gun violence, abolish the death penalty, restrict political campaign spending, limit states' independence and make Congress more competitive and less combative.” And, of course, there is that now much cited 2001 radio interview with State Senator Obama in which he complains that “the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties.” 

Over at the National Journal writer Alex Seitz-Wald insists “it’s time to admit that our political system doesn’t work anymore” and suggests “blowing up the Constitution.” In the New York Times Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman urges “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution.”

In fact, as Mark Levin points out in his own recent book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, if there’s any problem with the Constitution it’s that Statists have gone out of their way to ignore it and “constructed a federal Leviathan, distorting and evading our constitutional system in pursuit of an all-powerful, ubiquitous central government.” It’s time for a “constitutional revival” — and Mark is quite specific about how to go about this.

In this corner a “constitutional revival” cannot come a moment too soon. 

Yet even in its current state of turmoil, what’s happening in Ferguson with the shooting of Michael Brown, contrasted with the murder of James Foley, is nothing if not a showcase for the Constitution at work. It isn’t perfect, as Mark Levin acknowledges in Liberty and Tyranny.

But there is no such thing as utopia, in America or anywhere on this planet — nor will there ever be. What there is, is a desperate need for a better appreciation of the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law and ordered liberty that it is providing — however imperfectly — right this minute in Ferguson, Missouri. Without it, it will not take long for America or any society to descend into a nation of lynch mobs. To become that what we profess — with good reason — to hate. That being a lawlessness association of savages — no better than those who ended the life of James Foley.

Is life in Ferguson difficult today? Yes. But make no mistake. The Constitution lives in Ferguson, Missouri. And thank God for that.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.