No, we don’t have to enforce all the laws – we can’t

One of the ways people justify evil things while still believing that they themselves are good people is to hide behind the rules.  “Yes, it’s terrible that families are being separated, but those parents *broke the law.*”

There are a thousand good counterarguments to that including that in many cases, no, they didn’t.  Seeking asylum is a protected legal right, even if a person came here illegally.  Not only that, but it’s illegal to punish an asylum seeker for coming in illegally if they can show good cause why they didn’t come the legal way.  Since the US has been sending asylum seekers away from official points of entry, and since the asylum application process at a US embassy can take years, it’s not surprising that people fleeing for their lives cross the border illegally.

But apart from that, there’s a stunning hypocrisy when “law and order” people wholeheartedly support a president who’s claimed the ability to pardon himself, and who has pardoned a sheriff for flagrantly abusing the law.  The law, it seems, only matters when you already don’t like the people who are breaking it.

In reality, most people break the law on a regular basis and suffer no consequences whatsoever.  Even if we set aside traffic infractions like speeding and jaywalking, crossing the border without permission is a misdemeanor.  Other misdemeanors include disorderly conduct, vandalism, underage drinking, and public intoxication.  If you drank before you reached legal age, or you’ve ever gotten into a loud argument in a public place or stumbled out of a bar to a waiting Uber or a sober friend’s car, then you are just as much of a criminal as someone who crosses the US border without permission.

The truth is, our system would grind to a screeching halt tomorrow if we decided that every single law on the books had to be enforced to its fullest extent.  For starters, do you really want to prosecute stranded hurricane victims for shoplifting food?  If my house is on fire and I run onto my neighbor’s property, should I be taken in for trespassing?

No matter how carefully rules are written, there are always going to be points when exceptions are needed.  Yes, we should work as many of the needed exceptions as possible into the rules themselves, to avoid favoring only people judges and juries find sympathetic (mostly white guys).  But that effort will never be perfect.

Not only that, but a certain amount of discretion is built into the system at every step. Imagine that every single person who’s pulled over for a traffic offense must be given a ticket.  No more letting people off with a warning, no matter how clean their record is or what other mitigating factors exist.  We’ll probably need to hire more cops just to keep up with the paperwork, and more judges for traffic court.

Now extend that further.  If all laws must be enforced, no exceptions, then plea bargains are no longer a thing.  The state now has to spend money prosecuting cases it can’t necessarily win, because there’s no motivation for anyone to plead guilty to a lesser offense.  If “all laws have to be enforced,” then they have to be charged with every single offense that the evidence supports, regardless of what they’ll plead guilty to.

This also destroys any concept of getting immunity in exchange for testimony.  If you’ve got to prosecute the small-time drug dealer regardless, he’s not going to give evidence against his boss or his boss’s boss.

So, no, we don’t need to enforce all the laws all the time.  We couldn’t possibly, and we’d break the system if we tried.


Show Up and Vote

Back on May 21, Jim Wright (@Stonekettle) posted a long thread about how Republicans control such a large portion of government because liberals don’t show up, or only show up every four years, and ignore the state legislatures who choose electors and establish voting laws.  He pointed out, repeatedly, that the only way to win is to show up.  The only way to reform anything is to show up and vote.  (I’d link the thread, but I’m not finding it in Google, and Twitter history doesn’t go that far back.)

And, yes, there are people who can’t vote.  They don’t have the cash to order their birth certificate from another state so they can get an ID that will be accepted at the polls.  Or their polling place isn’t accessible with their disabilities.  Or neither of their two minimum wage jobs will let them out of a shift to vote, because *they* aren’t scheduling them for the whole day, but when you factor in both shifts and transportation between the two, there’s literally no time in which they could vote that the polls are open.

These are all real problems.  For some people, they’re solvable problems.  There’s a nonprofit who will help them get ID or a coworker who’ll cover a shift or a friend who will drive them to their polling place.  For others, they aren’t.  It’s not my place, as a mostly (if not entirely) able-bodied white chick with my own car and a reasonable employer, to tell someone in one of these situations that they *can* vote if they just try hard enough.  It’s not my place to tell someone with a painful disability how long they *have* to stand in line outside to do their civic duty.

And yet, none of those completely real and completely valid problems changes the fact that if we don’t show up, en masse, we are all fucked.

Yes, there is all manner of cheating.  Gerrymandering and cancellation of early voting and closing of DMVs and polling places.  It’s abhorrent.  But the winning team picks the refs.  There is no higher authority we can realistically appeal to to make our elections fairer. (The UN observes, but has no power to *make* the US do anything.)  Either we win the game, we pick better refs, and we make the rules fairer, or we lose, the other team cheats more blatantly, and our chances of ever winning get slimmer and slimmer.

And, despite the analogy, this isn’t a game.  We lose, people die.  People are already dying because we lost in 2016.

So, if you can vote, you need to vote.  Every general election, every primary, every position.  The county commissioner and state legislator in your area have tons of power to affect your life.  Not only that, but being mayor or state delegate or holding some other local office is how people get the experience to run for Senate or governor or President.  If you want more women and POC in Congress, then you need more women and POC on the school board and in the state assembly.

If you’ve got hours to look up the candidates, great, do that.  If you’ve got ten minutes, spend that ten minutes on Vote411 or Ballotpedia and make the most informed decision you can.  These sites will let you print out a custom ballot to take to the polls.

If you can do more than show up, do that. If you can register people to vote, do that.  If you can drive people to the polls, do that.  If you can donate money to the NAACP or VoteRiders or the Progressive Turnout Project, do that. If you can run for office next year, great, do that.

Those of us who are able to vote need to show up.  Those of us who are able to help others show up need to do that.  This is made more urgent, not less, by gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Election Day not being a national holiday.

I’d also like to stress that not being inspired is not a reason not to vote.  Not liking either candidate is not a reason not to vote.  As a Quaker-flavored progressive Christian, I generally don’t feel it’s my place to impose moral duties on other people.  But I’ll make an exception for voting.  (Again, I want to distinguish between “can’t” and “don’t feel like it.”) It’s a civic duty, not a fun hobby.  And it matters.  It’s literally a matter of life and death for many people.  So, if it’s in any way possible for you, please, for the love of all things good and holy, show up and vote.