Roger Carlton, columnist for the Graham Starr newspaper, Robbinsville, NC
May 31, 2020
What a week this has been. Let's start with the morality of the South Bay Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California deciding to defy reasonable limitations on their assembly. The church argued that limitations placed by California Governor Newsom were unfair because other secular places such as factories and supermarkets were not subject to the limitations imposed on the church. The US Supreme Court decided the issue in favor of the Governor on a 5/4 vote with Chief Justice John Roberts breaking the tie.
Chief Justice Roberts' opinion was based on his belief that matters of limiting the right to assemble in a COVID emergency were best left to politicians and administrators in each locality.
Roberts wrote, "The precise question of when restrictions on particular activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement."
So, what appears to be a liberal decision by a conservative Supreme Court Justice is really a conservative decision that clearly favors limiting the powers of the court to intervene. This is an important nuance especially in Graham County. There are more than 40 churches in Graham County. That is a large number for a small population. Our folks need their ability to attend church in the normal manner. There is a renewal process that goes on in a religious service. To many, it is sorely needed in these difficult times. The morality of social distancing, mask wearing and caution is so clear while the loss of individual rights is so minute in relation. Thanks to Justice Roberts for breaking the tie and doing the right thing. Let's all respect the temporary rules as affirmed by the Supreme Court. Murder is wrong. We all know that. When the alleged murder happens at the hands of a police officer, the right and wrong of the situation becomes much more complex. First, a few facts. There are 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States. Since the first recorded police death in 1786, there have been more than 22,000 officers killed in the line of duty. There were 135 law enforcement officers killed in 2019 and 1627 in the past ten years. That is an average of one officer killed every 54 hours. This a tough and risky job without even considering the many injuries that occur while on duty. We should not forget that police officers and fire/rescue personnel are our first line of defense against the anarchy we all fear and are currently experiencing,
This does not mean that law enforcement officials can do no wrong. In fact, the pressures of the job, the need to make split second life and death decisions and the growing distrust and disrespect for the uniform cry out for more training in how to de-escalate situations and more transparency in how excessive use of force situations are investigated and resolved. The US Department of Justice provides a Community Relations Service to mediate local issues and deal with hate crimes. Its budget has been drastically cut.
There is searing pain and anger over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. There are honest people who want to peacefully protest and there are people who take advantage of this anger to loot in the guise of protest. Washington, state capitols and local leaders need to develop programs to reduce tension and provide positive channels of communication. It is appalling that the White House pours gasoline on these conflicts with comments like "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." This phrase has a racially charged history dating back to the civil rights protests. The excuse of not knowing the history of the phrase only speaks to not using it.
On a positive note, the successful launch of Elon Musk's Space X rocket in partnership with NASA returning launch capability to Cape Kennedy is nothing short of a miracle. During my career with Lockheed Martin, I was blessed with a tour of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where a shuttle was undergoing the 60-day turn-around process and an elevator ride up the tower where a shuttle would soon be launched. It was a defining moment to see what could be done when a message of hope and challenge comes from Washington and we all pull together. Frankly, it broke my heart when President Obama killed the shuttle program and we started paying the Russians nearly $90 million each time to launch our astronauts into space.
Right now, we seem to be sinking into a Sarlaccian abyss that threatens everything we hold dear. What comes to mind is Dante's Inferno and a group of politicians and bureaucrats casting about trying to emerge from a never-ending hellish fire pit. Come on folks. We expect our leaders to lead. We expect our leaders to put out fires. We expect our police to be guardians. We will survive until November when it will be possible to change course.