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When Expedience Feels Like Wisdom

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When Expedience Feels Like Wisdom


“Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights.”

Sadly there are dozens of junctures in American history from which that shameful quote might spring.

It could date as far back as 1798 when President Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, making it illegal to criticize the U.S. government.

It could come from the 1870s when Southern Democrats used violence to bar black voters from the polls and Northern Republicans looked the other way.

It could have been said in the 1940s when Americans put Americans in concentration camps, or in the 1950s when Joe McCarthy saw red everywhere he looked, or in the 1960s when J. Edgar Hoover sat listening to Martin Luther King’s phone calls, or, also in the ’60s, when the Supreme Court gave police the power to stop and frisk (and harass and intimidate) without warrants or probable cause.

It could have been said on any number of occasions, but it was actually said just last week on Fox “News,” where Sean Hannity convened a panel to discuss the terrorist attacks in Paris. Fox is the First Church of the Perpetual Indignation, so you can guess how that went.

A Dr. Gina Loudon, identified as a “psychology expert,” claimed “80 percent” of the mosques in America advocate violence. Coincidentally, about the same percentage of facts spewed by Fox “experts” turn out to be pure equine excreta.

Hannity, meantime, worried that a Syrian refugee might go into a crowded theater and start shooting people at random. Right. Like we need Syrian refugees for that.

But it was left to Bo Dietl, a former New York City cop, to cross the line from the simply stupid to the downright chilling, as he called for mass surveillance of mosques. Unconstitutional, you say? “Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights,” he said.

It is a seductive invitation. When you are scared — and Americans seem to live in a state of permanent terror — you run toward anything that promises a quick resolution of whatever has you frightened. In such an atmosphere, “rights” can seem a frivolous abstraction and expedience can feel like wisdom.

The irony is, that’s precisely when expedience is most dangerous — and rights most important. In light of all the overreactions that stain American history, all the lives ruined and lost because we disregarded guarantees that supposedly define us, Dietl’s words should make thinking people cringe. Especially given how often acts of expedience and the abridgment of rights have proven needless and wrong.

We supposedly hold sacred the values inscribed in this nation’s founding documents. Yet every time the world says “Boo!” some of us are pathetically eager to toss those values aside as if they were suddenly a burden too heavy to bear. But if the things that make America America are so easily sloughed off — if they are that unimportant — then what, exactly, is it we’re fighting to defend?

Why does “America” even matter?

Sept. 11 damaged and destroyed iconic buildings and took thousands of lives. But it also shredded the Constitution and made America unrecognizable to itself. The government tortured. It disappeared people. It snooped through innocent lives. It created a secret “no-fly list” of supposed terrorists that included many people with zero connection to terrorism, at least one of them a U. S. senator; you could never find out how you got on the list and there was no effective procedure for getting off. It also gave the president unilateral power to execute American citizens suspected of terrorism without trial or even judicial oversight.

And after all that, here comes Bo Dietl. “Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights,” he says.

Here’s a better idea. Let’s start.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.) (c) 2015 THE MIAMI HERALD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Photo: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. @HawaiianTater November 22, 2015

    It’s sad day for America when people willingly give up their rights out of fear.

    1. stcroixcarp November 24, 2015

      It is even worse when you give up your humanity out of fear. American is becoming a nation of bigoted cowards.

      1. @HawaiianTater November 24, 2015

        Sad but true.

    2. David November 24, 2015

      Including the right to bear arms.

      1. @HawaiianTater November 24, 2015

        Shut up, David. No one cares what you think.

        1. David November 24, 2015

          Apparently, you do.

          1. @HawaiianTater November 24, 2015

            Someone tells you one thing and you hear the opposite. Yep, classical case of conservative logic. Thanks for playing. Your stupid entertains us all.

          2. David November 24, 2015

            Typical…you have a hard time reading and understanding. Maybe you should go back to Common Core. If you didn’t care, why respond?

          3. @HawaiianTater November 24, 2015

            Your Pee Wee “I know you are but what am I?” Herman defense is entertaining, to say the least. Please, go on.

          4. David November 24, 2015

            “Pee Wee”? Please. Is it necessary for you to talk about your genitalia on this site?

          5. @HawaiianTater November 24, 2015

            It is entirely unsurprising that you would think of genitalia when getting called on using the Pee Wee Herman defense. It fits with your maturity level of using the Pee Wee Herman defense to begin with.


  2. Sand_Cat November 22, 2015

    As the bumper sticker says, “Ignore your rights and they’ll go away.”

    1. David November 24, 2015

      We agree!!!! Let’s start with the 2nd Amendment.

  3. Insinnergy November 22, 2015

    As I’ve said before: Stop being such cowards.

    There’s much more than military might involved here… there’s also moral courage.
    The thing that stops you undermining all the things you stand for because you’re scared.

    Isis deserves your derision and steadfast determination to maintain your culture, and principles in the face of those who have none.
    They do not deserve your fear and immediate abrogation of your ideology and history because it’s expedient. You end up becoming the thing you fear.

    If you only believe in your principles when you’re safe then what you have is a marketing brand, not an ethos.


    1. JPHALL November 22, 2015

      Compare the US with France. They refuse to let ISIS change their values. We just lost our values and our minds!

  4. Dominick Vila November 23, 2015

    We are not the only society that blames the consequences of our decisions on everything and everyone but ourselves. That defense mechanism is more widespread than we all care to admit. Instead of admitting that our financial or professional limitations are caused by our failure to seek a college or trade school education, working hard, and making sacrifices to get ahead, we blame our Presidents (regardless of party affiliation), we blame Congress, we blame the illegal, foreigners, and given a chance we would blame extra terrestrials. Why? Because admitting that our problems are for us to solve would require doing something about it, or may result in depression and taking placebos to live with ourselves.
    From a political perspective we blame the evil foreigners, who dependent on the times and circumstances could be the Japanese, Irish, Italians, Spanish, Iraqis, the super human Syrians, commies, or Muslims in general. It doesn’t matter if most ISIS members, especially its leadership, are not Syrians. In the convoluted world we live in since they are fighting al-Assad in Syria they must be Syrians. Nothing wrong with being simpletons. It doesn’t matter if many of them are Coptic Christians. it doesn’t matter if most of the refugees are escaping the brutality of ISIS, and fleeing their homeland to save their lives. They are all guilty by association and, besides, they are an easy target for those who need someone or something to deal with their paranoia and fears.
    I wonder who the net boogeyman will be after we get rid of ISIS. Would we go back to the Mexican criminals and rapists, even though according to the INS one million of them left the USA, most of them voluntarily, between 2007-14? Or will we focus on the largest influx of immigrants from China, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. The latter are not interested in picking strawberries. They get the best jobs our economy has to offer, and they would rather see us picking fruits and veggies for them…and they do it with a smile.

  5. David November 23, 2015

    What is astonishing is to see all the libtards race to post here that we should not let attacks by ISIS cause us to give up our civil rights

    1. Grannysmovin November 23, 2015

      They don’t say let’s do away with the 2nd Amendment, they ask for better gun safety laws ones that will help keep guns out of the hands of people on Terrorist Watch Lists, Domestic Abusers, Mentally disabled and children etc. The consistency for conservatives to twist the facts to meet their narrative is damning.

      1. David November 23, 2015

        Define what you mean by “gun safety laws”? You people amaze me. On the one hand you tell Republicans not to be afraid of “orphans and women”. On the other, you have no problem with TSA groping 3 year olds and grandmothers.

        1. Grannysmovin November 23, 2015

          I did define what I meant by gun safety laws. Refugee process takes 18 to 24 months before they are allowed entry in our country, However the Visa Waiver Program that exists with 38 Countries including some European countries allows people to come here for 90 days with no visa. How many of those have stayed beyond 90 days? Which way do you think a terrorist would attempt to enter, as a refugee under heavy vetting and taking up to 2 years or under the Visa Waiver Program within hours and no vetting? 9-11 the suicide bombers where all here legally through visa’s. All would be able to buy guns with the loopholes in our current laws. So yes people coming and going on airplanes who may or may not have visa and may have had no vetting, yes the TSA must do their jobs, if they don’t do it with dignity and respect for the individuals fire their ass. So yes I am against the comments and actions being done and said towards refugees and yes I support TSA doing their job for every passenger boarding a plane – it is pragmatic.

          1. David November 23, 2015

            No, you did not define “gun safety laws”, but I know you mean that the Federal Government should outlaw the private ownership of firearms. “Loopholes in our laws”? Please identify which loopholes your referring to.

          2. Grannysmovin November 23, 2015

            You make an assumption and you know what they say about people who assume things. FYI my husband has guns and is a licensed conceal weapon carrier. So no you don’t know what I mean. Your tirade just proves you don’t have a legitimate argument.

          3. The lucky one November 23, 2015

            It’s clear that Granny is not advocating that the Federal
            government confiscate all firearms. She could have been more specific but her comment “The consistency for conservatives to twist the facts to meet their narrative is damning.” Is both clear and accurate. I have been patted down by TSA numerous times. Every time the person was courteous and I never felt “groped”.
            Nor did any of the many others I saw frisked show any sign of discomfort.
            Personally I’m not in favor of banning guns, it would be futile in this country. But the regs for acquiring guns should be national, strictly enforced and violators harshly dealt with. Would that “solve” the gun violence problem, hell no, but it would at least keep guns out of the hands of some nutjobs.

          4. stcroixcarp November 23, 2015

            No, gun safety does not mean banning private ownership of fire arms. It means sane regulations. I would like to see gun registration and liability insurance on all firearms. Since a vast majority of fire arms in America are not used to harm people or property, the cost would be minimal, but at least victims of criminal use of firearms could have their funeral or medical expenses paid for.

          5. David November 23, 2015

            Let me get this straight….you think there should be insurance to pay for the intentional/criminal acts of someone? Even if that somehow could be instituted, what would be the cost of the premiums for such insurance? Gun registration? Right…let’s have the Government know where every firearm is located. Makes confiscation so much easier! Just ask Hitler. That is what he did. Not gonna happen to this man. Molon labe

          6. stcroixcarp November 24, 2015

            Who the hell cares how much it would cost in insurance premiums? If you want guns bad enough just get a second job to pay for the insurance. Yes, registration! The government knows who each and every automobile belongs to and knows when it is no longer in use. Although automobile accidents cause many deaths and injuries, the purpose of the automobile is to provide transportation. Yes, it would be easier to confiscate guns from criminals and terrorists. And don’t we all want safety first? We don’t want to aid refugees because they MIGHT harm us. Don’t we want to know how, where and who is providing guns to terrorists, neonazis, KKK, demented murderous young men who shoot up churches, shopping centers, movie houses and schools? Or is it ok with you that guns are used by murderers to kill innocent people? I have had it with being bullied by the Second Amendment into tolerating violence!

          7. David November 24, 2015

            People who are prepared to sacrifice liberties for added security wind up with neither.
            Having an automobile is a privilege. Having a firearm is a right. Are you clever enough to understand the difference?

          8. stcroixcarp November 24, 2015

            And David, that Hitler reference is a crock.

          9. Irishgrammy November 23, 2015

            David, YOU are being willfully ignorant. Turn OFF the Faux noise machine. Only they promote the continuing lie that “liberals” want to take away you damn guns. It is not, nor has it ever been true. There are millions of Liberals who own guns to ever advocate such an insane idea. But the NRA and Faux News love to push this divisive lie, keeps the nuts, like you happy, and perpetually angry, and the Gun makers really happy…… All anyone with any common sense at all wants is to make it a little more difficult to obtain a gun, let alone a semi-Automatic weapon or armor piercing bullets, for those who have “issues” shall we say, which Grammysmovin enumerated and yet you refuse to acknowledge! AND certainly more difficult for someone with “terrorists” proclivities to do the same. Right now a terrorist, even on a watch list, even one that is an American Citizen, can go into any gun show and buy any weapon known to man or order online any weapon and as many as he desires, buy any kind of ammunition, at any moment in time and if you are OK with that, then this is a pointless argument and proves your utter hypocrisy……….. And by the way your insults are weak and inane and serve no purpose other than to let you vent your ultra right wing ideology based on lies, made up conspiratorial untruths, and anger at, whatever floats your boat……………………..For God’s sake, isn’t there enough evil and terror in the world, to have to tolerate people like you that go out of your minds to create more with your hateful words and insane conspiracies trying to blame fellow Americans, who simply do not agree with your political ideology, of being in cahoots with the bad buys or having some “evil intent”……WHAT I do know is your specious arguments are very tiresome as you and a few of the usual suspects on TNM elicit continuously that are just as tiresome, imbecilic and meaningless, based predictably on lies and exaggerations and outlandish hyperbole promoted by conservative outlets and the NRA. What an enormous waste of time.

          10. David November 23, 2015

            Candidly, reading your reply is a “waste of time”. However, let’s take a look at what you said. Many liberals do, in fact, believe that the 2nd Amendment does not apply to private individuals and desire the disarming of our citizenry. Frankly, I have not Googled to see if there has been a poll to determine the number having this belief. You haven’t either. Secondly, you apparently think that there is something sinister about a “semi automatic” weapon. Why? Because you can shoot faster? A terrorist can kill with any type of weapon. Third, do you honestly think that you can go to a gun show and purchase “any weapon known to man…”? or that you can “order online any weapon and as many as he desires…”? If you do you are completely ignorant of our current laws. My arguments are specious? Really, well as T. Roosevelt said, “Conservatives are made angry by being told lies. Liberals are made angry by being told the truth.” Molon labe

          11. dweav November 25, 2015

            I’m guessing the moment you said “truth” lightning struck you so we have one less jackass foaming at the mouth.

          12. David November 25, 2015

            Why would lightning striking me cause you to no longer be around?

          13. cthetruth November 23, 2015

            Grannysmovin, you make sense to me, while David has some issues. No one in this country is advocating doing away with the second amendment as David is imagining. We want a waiting period and background checks , so people can be vetted, so we do not give criminals or the mentally ill weapons. Now we know there will always be a black market, but we can make sure our gun shows and mail order is tightened up. Also we should have national laws that are all equal and not state to state laws. That in itself is a loophole as it stands today.

          14. Grannysmovin November 23, 2015

            Also private sales should have background checks as well, because honestly we only know what our friends, family and neighbors want us to know. Look at those who have committed Mass shootings as schools, movies, churches they had family friends and neighbors who didn’t know what they were capable of or what would be their trigger.

  6. Kurt CPI November 23, 2015

    If there’s one thing we should be afraid of it’s losing our rights, or being coerced or frightened into giving them up willingly. The Homeland “Security” Act is a perfect example of that in practice. Power is an intoxicant and people with power over others always want more. Our system of government was designed with the full realization of that being the case. It is through our own ignorance and apathy that we will see that vision slip away.

  7. stsintl November 23, 2015

    Benjamin Franklin: “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and loose both.”

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt: The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism ownership of government by an individual, by a
    group or any controlling private power.”


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