Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Recently, and for obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about people and their response to unjust laws. Before we delve into this topic, though, I should mention the laws of which I am thinking. Not specific laws, but rather, the broader scope of formal and informal laws. There are many unwritten laws, decisions made by politicians and those in power, policy and decisions on how things will be done, and what is considered acceptable and unacceptable.
We see it in things like police procedures. Nowhere is it written that minorities are to be treated brutally, with violent procedures to suppress them during arrest that could lead to their death, or longer prison terms than for white males. In fact, official policy, no doubt written and cataloged, is that everybody is to be treated equally, but if these policies were truly meaningful there probably would not be protests across the American landscape. The problem isn’t written policy; it’s more likely the training, and unofficial at that. I’m guessing that even in the formal police academy training the new recruits learn about the written policy of racial equal treatment. Then, fellow officers and their actions demonstrate the true and unwritten, unofficial policy, further supported by official policy to protect officers and their actions performed “in the line of duty”, presumably designed to prevent frivolous lawsuits and protect the reputation of the precinct. Unfortunately, the unwritten policy is to take this policy of protecting the officers is all too often taken way too far, the result of which is civil disobedience being played out in demonstrations quite literally around the world.
The inspiration of this post, believe it or not, are not these police procedural policies so much as the “peaceful” unwritten laws of statue placement. Two recent events have brought this to mind, the first and most poignant (in my opinion) being the demonstrators taking down and burning the statue of General Albert Pike in Washington, D.C.
The choice and placement of statues is not written law. It’s policy, the choice most likely of the community leaders. Albert Pike was a general in the civil war for the Confederate army. If we’re going to be bluntly honest, he was a general for the traitors fighting to suppress black rights so white men can keep slaves. As blunt as it is, this is the essence of the war, and if it seems harsh or offensive, perhaps it’s because we’ve been tiptoeing around the truth for too long.
In essence, these are statues of generals that fought against America in the civil war. It’s akin to erecting statues to Hitler or Hirohito. An argument can be made that, yes, technically they were born Americans, but it’s a citizenship that they rejected, and although Pike did a lot post-war, the statue was not for citizen Pike, but rather, General Pike. These statues are so ingrained in our societal consciousness that we often don’t really think about them. They’re just statues, but because the war was to suppress minorities, they are a painful and vile reminder to many Americans who view them as having the purpose of reminding them of their “place”, a notion that we should have outgrown long ago.
For years, the citizens of this nation have been requesting, through proper channels, to have these statues removed. Some communities have seen the wisdom of these requests and have bowed to the will of the people as politicians should by removing some of these monuments of oppression. The statue of Traitor Pike in Washington, D.C. was never removed.
When laws, or policies, are in effect for too long, people are eventually forced to put things right. This happened in the American Revolution, when colonists had had enough of unfair British Rule when they imposed yet another tax and still did not allow for political representation of the colonists in the government. Shortly thereafter, the French people initiated the French Revolution and overthrew their entire government, overrunning the Bastille and literally executing the royalties.
Not long ago, the citizens of America were forced to take matters into their own hands. In an act that was condemned by the president, the people, fed up with making requests through proper channels, toppled the statue of Pike and set it on fire. This is what happens when citizens have to take matters into their own hands. After making their desires known, and after being ignored for too long, they eventually had to make the requested changes themselves, making a significant, and unfortunately violent, statement in the process. The police, wisely, stood back and watched without interference.
Politicians need to take this statement to heart. They work for us, not the other way around, and when the will of the people are suppressed for too long, something has to happen. Like blocking water in a pipeline for too long, something will break, and it will be bad. In New York City, the Museum of Natural History are doing the right thing. They are listening to the people, albeit later than they should have, who have been complaining about the Theodore Roosevelt “Equestrian” statue. Theodore Roosevelt himself is not controversial himself, but the statue depicting the president on a horse includes two people, one a black man and the other a Native American, on foot on either side of the president. As one might imagine, this is perceived as putting these people in a subservient position. People have been asking to have the statue removed because it is offensive, and the museum has decided to bend to their will. Wise decision. Now the statue can be stored, and perhaps even displayed along with information on what it was intended to mean by the artist, and to put the controversies surrounding it in perspective. The Pike statue is just gone.
The British government lost control of the colonies, and the French government quite literally lost their heads. Presumably, the citizens of the US can express their will through elections. Unfortunately, laws of voter suppression have become the lay of the political land of late, with the removal of voting locations, laws requiring ID’s that target minorities, gerrymandering to elevate the importance of white votes, and most recently the politicization against mail-in voting in the face of a deadly pandemic means suppression of that very voice of the people.
And the pressure continues to build.