We like to say we’re a nation of laws.
It has a nice, noble ring to it. It suggests civility, safety, justice — some of the most important values that have kept our diverse nation together for more than two centuries.
But are we saying one thing and doing another? Are we eroding our own principles?
Look deep into your heart and consider these questions honestly. We won’t judge:
- The speed limit is a law. Do you follow it, or do you push it by 5-10 mph or more when the coast is clear?
- You need a burn permit to start a bonfire in rural Yakima County. Do you have one?
- While we’re at it, does your dog have a license?
You’re not hurting anybody, right? You haven’t committed murder or armed robbery or something. What’s the big deal?
We’re just talking about lesser infractions here — victimless crimes, you could argue. Maybe nothing worth worrying about.
Lately, though, it seems like our disregard for laws has edged up a notch or two.
Police are seeing it, too.
A news story the other day noted that more and more drivers are simply disregarding officers’ orders to pull over.
In the first four and a half months of 2022, Washington State Patrol records showed 934 motorists failed to stop when troopers turned on their lights.
“Something’s changed. People are not stopping right now,” WSP spokesperson Sgt. Darren Wright said. “It’s happening three to five times a shift on some nights and then a couple times a week on day shift.”
Local police and sheriff’s offices around the state echo that frustration.
Just this week, Chief Matt Murray described how a suspect fled from Yakima officers who realized the suspect and a woman were standing next to a stolen car on North First Street. In that case, the 30-year-old suspect opened fire on officers as he ran across North First — and he kept running even after he’d been hit when police returned fire.
It’s the fourth time this year local police have met violent resistance when confronting a suspect.
“There’s an alarming trend of violence against police officers,” Murray said.
A number of law officers blame a law the Legislature passed last year — House Bill 1054 — for the increased disregard of authority. The law, passed in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, bars high-speed police pursuits in most circumstances and attempts to curtail racial disparities in policing.
Many police associations and agencies say it goes too far, though — that it unintentionally ties law enforcement’s hands.
We certainly wouldn’t dismiss that possibility. House Bill 1054 is ripe for revisiting. But it seems like all this shrugging off of laws goes deeper than that.
Perhaps it’s symptomatic of a cynical, but widespread, national contempt for government, for laws.
After all, it’s been barely a year and a half since an angry crowd that refused to accept defeat in a fair election violently stormed the very seat of our nation: the U.S. Capitol.
On the other hand, what extremes might abortion-rights advocates go to if the Supreme Court formally overturns Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks?
It seems to us like it all comes back to that how well we’re living up to that “nation of laws” notion.
Truth be told, no matter what we say, deep down, most of us really don’t want to be told what to do. By anyone. Look at the collective meltdown mask mandates caused during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, we expect other people to toe the line — especially politicians, judges, business executives, church leaders and, of course, police themselves. When they don’t, it undermines everybody’s principles.
Our expectations might be hypocritical and unfair, but even so, the more laws we all ignore, bend or outright defy, the weaker our claim of being a nation of laws gets.
Maybe that’s the worst crime of all.