It was a dark, moonless night… the final few hours of a chilly Veteran’s Day.
The warden was parked on the side of the dusty dirt road. His window was rolled down, and the radio was off. The 31-year-old officer inside sat quietly, listening.
Around 11:30, he heard what he was waiting for.
A single gunshot. A drunken poacher had just put his pistol out of the window of his truck and shot a deer.
The warden did his job.
He fired up his rig and found the shooter.
Under the strobing red and blue lights, he could see two men in the truck. He radioed for backup. But because of the nature of the job, it was a long way off.
Only two men know what happened next.
By the time the local police department arrived to help, the Warden was lying in a pool of blood – a gunshot severely wounded his hand, and another went right through his neck.
The poacher, the cops later learned, was a convicted felon. He robbed a gun shop, and the system put him back on the street. But now, as the law states, he could not touch a gun.
He knew the Warden would run his record, find the pistol in his waistband and send him to jail for a long time.
So he killed the cop… with one handcuff already on his wrist.
An Ugly Beast
We never met the warden who was murdered. We were going through training at the time. But before we handed in our badge to concentrate on the project before you, we worked with the fellow who replaced him several times.
It was always awkward. A county has just one warden… and in this small one, everybody knew what happened to the last guy.
He got shot in the neck… over a deer.
It’s a terrible thing.
And despite all that we’d love to share with you about the moneymaking opportunities in the stock market or the new strategy that just landed a handful of our subscribers gains of more than 700%… we can think of no more important topic to write to you about today.
The rule of law is a complicated beast.
As we’ve penned before, it’s what grants us our Liberty and takes away our freedom.
It’s what keeps a nation equitable, just… and safe.
And it’s the gasoline that can either propel an economy and her businesses forward or, if things get out of hand, set it all ablaze.
We’ve seen it from the inside. We know its dark and ugly side. We also know its import… and the great good it does and can do.
So when we see governors declare war on their officers, hear of massive plans to defund police departments and see cops fearing to do their jobs… we pay attention.
It may disappoint you to learn we haven’t picked a side.
There are no sides.
To think it’s that easy is dumb… yet another symptom of a culture that focuses on left and right – and not up and down.
What’s happening in our nation today is a conversation that needs to happen. And, like so many important conversations, some voices may get out of hand.
Here’s our take… condensed into three short ideas.
From the Inside
We’ve lost the idea of community policing. The badge has become a shield for anonymity and emotionless arrests.
It allows for a void between the people and the police. Turn on the TV and you’ll see it.
We speak from the heart on this issue. We once handcuffed our childhood best friend and took him to the judge.
It was hard. Eyes were wet on both sides.
In a world of shadows and nameless policing, we could have let him go. It happens all the time.
But we lived where we worked. When you let one man go, you have to explain it to another.
If you can’t, the mirror will become the enemy.
We must get back to community policing, where the cop is proud to sit with his community in the church pew on Sunday morning… and the congregation is proud to have him.
Many cops in big cities these days commute long distances to work. They don’t want to live in the cities they patrol.
That says a lot.
Dressing the Part
Part of community policing, to our second point, means we must not dress municipal cops like wartime soldiers. That’s dangerous and antithetical to the idea above.
Since 9/11, we’ve taken our surplus tools of war and handed them to the local police department. The scope on our patrol rifle came straight from the boys in the Mideast. And we sighed in March when officials revealed their lockdown orders… standing in front of the local PD’s military surplus armored personnel carrier.
Uniforms that, not all that long ago, involved dress trousers and a tie, now feature tactical plate carriers, military camouflage and a baseball cap with the officer’s blood type scrolled on the back.
The war on drugs, it turns out, has crept into a war on petty theft, parking violations and speeding cars.
Get pulled over these days and you’ll think a member of the SWAT team is tapping at your window.
That’s no good.
Rules vs. Rulers
The third thing we beg Americans to ponder is much bigger.
Being a cop is incredibly hard work. No two cases are ever the same, and, dare we say it right now, nothing in law enforcement is black and white.
Judges get moody and toss out good cases. The system is rife with holes for the slippery to slither through (see today’s Rooster’s Crow for a stunning and disgusting fact). District attorneys turn political. And, these days, the unaccountable media spins a yarn to fit the narrative du jour.
It’s dangerous stuff. But one new law or one tweak to a budget line item will not fix it.
The issue is much, much larger than most folks think. It’s much more serious than a silly Instagram or Facebook update that makes the poster’s head swell for a minute but ultimately disappears into a sea of useless babble.
This issue is about the rule of law. The nation is – quite publicly and painfully – deciding how much it will rely on the heavy thumb of the government and how much it will rely on itself.
It’s finally seeing what we’ve been praying it would see – that a powerful government is a dangerous weapon.
Early last year, we debuted something we’re quite proud of.
In the pages of Manward Letter, we focus quite intensely on how issues like these affect our health and wealth. Longtime subscribers know we measure these key variables with our oh-so-unique “Gone to Hell” scale.
It measures five different aspects of our society – from education to taxation and even our financial safety nets.
The rule of law, though, is a leading category. Without a healthy sense of it, a nation is not a nation.
We’ve downgraded its score twice in the last 18 months. And now we’re on the cusp of moving it once again.
But we’re not ready yet. We’re watching… waiting… to see what comes next.
We may not like the actions or all the messages, but a revolution is indeed underway. From here, great things could blossom. Good news could come of this.
But we could also continue to slide down this slippery, dangerous slope… truly going where our scale gets its name.
We must have police. And we must have good police.
But they need good laws to enforce. They must have a good system to put offenders into. And that system must treat all – best friend or a different-looking stranger – equitably.
Anything else is trouble. Ask the warden’s family.
That’s what built this great land.
But do it with wisdom and thought. If we go down the wrong path now, there’s no turning back.