Large majorities – according to polls – believe Michael Brown was the aggressor and Officer Darren Wilson shot him to protect the public and his own life. Yet protestor-rioters – from Ferguson, Missouri, to Oakland and Berkeley, California, know better; they self-righteously keep burning and throwing makeshift weapons at police and anyone who crosses their path. Other polls show 60% of Americans – including nationally known pundits on both left and right – believe the grand jury got it wrong in the Eric Garner case. Is this democracy in action or a mob mentality that forgets we are a nation of laws and legal processes?
In the Old Testament, Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did as he saw fit.” The upshot is no one held people accountable to the ethical standards of their covenant with God; without these standards, there is no real commonwealth. But the Israelites got themselves a king who was no better than they were, and the situation remained chaotic. Covenant – and for that matter, commonwealth – depend on shared commitment to values larger than ourselves, coming from a Superhuman Source. Our American Constitution and its body of law is a covenant. Mob rule – even where the mob is democratically grounded – is the antithesis of covenant. Yet the mob has ruled in Ferguson, New York City, and the other places where might makes right these days. It never ends well.
Mobs have burnt Asian-owned businesses in retaliation against white police officers for killing blacks in self-defense in cities in which the incidents to be avenged did not take place. That defines mob operations–incoherent rage that achieves nothing but greater injustice. It was the same in the day of the Klan, and when mobs of the army and militia groups massacred Cheyenne and Arapahoe at Sand Creek in Colorado and Shasta and Wintu people at Etna and Natural Bridges in California. Mobs always act in defiance of law, and even law – unrestrained by covenant or constitution – is no more legitimate than a hanging vote in an oak grove.
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Inciting to riot and making terrorist threats are illegal in every state, just as crying “Fire!” in a crowded theatre is grounds for arrest. Al Sharpton and every one of the other agitators who orchestrated shouts of,“What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now” should be in jail. This is not protected speech, except in cases where authorities are too corrupt or too cowardly to protect the innocent.
Mob rule is not always overtly violent. The teens demonstrating for Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Denver had no intention to harm anyone. Yet they knew they were supposed to be in school, as did the school officials who looked the other way when they left campus. So who should we blame for the serious injuries to four Denver police officers protecting the marchers when an SUV slammed into them? (The driver became ill and lost control of his vehicle.) And if the police are so violent and repressive as a species, why did they protect those kids at the risk of their own lives? It defies logic; but when the mob mentality takes over, logic is the first casualty.
There is simply no way mob rule and a republic can co-exist. The latter places reasonable limits on behavior so that all might have an opportunity to live in freedom. The former gives license to every impulse and endangers everyone by enslaving to injustice.
It is not a question of whether defiance of the establishment is acceptable. There would be no American republic had patriots not defied an establishment in declaring independence, abolishing slavery, and founding unions to address corporate injustice. But each of these movements was grounded in covenant from Declaration to Constitution to the laws emerging from it and amendments enacted to it. Mobs are grounded in rage, and the end of the line is always a reign of terror – whether in revolutionary France or Russia or China. Not all mobs go that far – thank God – but they have no other destination.
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There is an antidote found in the Christian’s default resource – the Bible. It is return – repentance – to covenant relationship between God and man and between man and man. It calls people on both sides to abandon rage and seek real life. It is more than ten laws; it is the relationship embodied in Micah 6:8–“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Covenant in no way precludes ordering a society with the punch necessary to do it. Under covenant, we support the police when they do their job and hold them accountable when they do not. The city of Cleveland – where it seems to be open season on citizens via a rogue police department – should be a case in point of the latter. Ferguson and New York are surely cases of the former. Covenant also means when we encounter one another across barriers, physical or spiritual, we speak the truth that is consistent with the facts; we listen to the other point of view whether we think it true or not; and we ask the Lord Himself to re-frame the conversation so that life is available to all sides. This approach leads from mob rule to authentic republic. It is both good and doable under God.
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