Yet another federal judge has issued a nationwide restraining order on the president’s unlawful executive order regarding immigration. However, people shouldn’t necessarily get their hopes up about this latest ruling from a member of our federal judiciary. Trump has already willfully ignored four other rulings from the judiciary branch regarding this law. He has proven that, under his government, the separation of powers that is a fundamental constitutional element of our government and the sole thing that keeps the presidency from being a dictatorship, doesn’t exist anymore.
However, this ruling (and the rulings before it) do matter if they can mobilize the left and any liberals who are finally willing to recognize that Trump has no respect for the rule of law. I sadly don’t know how many liberals are willing to reject legalism for personal/radical moral reasoning and resistance.
That said, here’s a thing that I 100% mean and might go to jail for saying: it is a deontological right (which is not the same thing as saying it is something that is the tactically/consequentially right decision for reasons that I’ll elaborate on in a moment) for any citizen to conduct a citizen’s arrest of any law enforcement official who refuses to comply with this latest court ruling. They are deliberately flouting the law.
They are tasked with “law enforcement” but their actions say that they have no respect for the law. It is written into the marrow of our Constitution that the courts are tasked with deciding any disputes that arise because the actions of the executive/legislative branches have called the constitutionality of those actions into question. Any law enforcement official that does not side with the judicial branch in these moments is declaring its disloyalty to our Constitution.
Now, we reach the practical/consequential part of the moral reasoning of this conversation which is the part of the conversation that is more about how you “should” act as opposed to how you are metaphysically morally justified to act. Both conversations are important to consider but it is this latter area that should determine how you behave.
There is obviously no practical way for citizens as things exist right now to commit a citizen’s arrest of rogue law enforcement. Law enforcement has access to lethal force that citizens do not have. And it would be a catastrophically poor tactical decision at this stage in events to wage all out war on law enforcement agencies that choose despotism over their actually duty of defending the Constitution and the citizens/residents of this nation. They would crush any and all resistance.
But, rhetorically, it must be on the table that if law enforcement embraces lawlessness, it is on the people to take law enforcement back. And, if it is on the table rhetorically, it then follows that folks who believe this to be true must begin organizing so that they can take law enforcement and our nation back if/when we reach certain flash points of oppression. You must decide for yourself when those lines have been crossed.
This shouldn’t be a radical position. But people seem to think law enforcement is infallible when it is, in fact, the home of most of America’s most virulently white supremacist and pro-authoritarian impulses. If they begin to flagrantly flout the law, you have no obligation as a citizen to respect the power they claim to wield.
I’m not an anarchist. I’m not a communist. I just want American citizens who are capable of questioning and standing up against oppressive institutions even when American citizens have historically understood those institutions to protect them. Although, the only people you have to talk to in America are people of color and queer people and trans people to know that, as an institution, the police have never cared about the well-being of large-swaths of the American population.
But, to counter-balance my discussions of consequential moral reasoning, you should never have to ask yourself the question “if I defend myself against a dictatorial power play, will the tyrant oppress me more?” Those motherfuckers do not need an excuse to oppress you. They want you to sit back and do nothing. What they are actually scared of is a movement of solidarity that is willing to do whatever it takes to defend itself.
The lives of people of color are at stake right now. The lives of queer people are at stake right now. The lives of women are at stake. If anyone in those groups or an ally decides that they’re making the right decision to use carefully considered and consciously escalated force to defend those lives, that is just decision making.
We aren’t talking about some anarchist revolution. We’re talking about an honest recognition of what it means when the government betrays its duties to protect its people and usurps more and more power illegally for itself and what the duty of citizens then becomes if they are serious and honest about protecting themselves and others from despotism.
This is the honest truth. Great masses of people will die if we sit back and do nothing as this administration flouts the law. Muslims will die. More people of color will be killed by the police domestically with no consequences. Queer youths will die under the guise of “religious freedom.”
And I promise you that if I have to choose between being painted as a “thug” by the current administration and weak-willed “liberals” who don’t understand that the very core of their values is at stake versus defending myself, I will defend myself to the last breath.
I make no apologies for this.