Ronald L. DeGrove and Edward Lynn contributed to this report.
On this morning’s front page of the Florida Times Union, above the fold and in bold black the headline read the following. “Sheriff warns of ‘culture of death’”. John Rutherford is the Sheriff of Duval County, Florida. H’s held the office since first winning election in 2003, but due to term limits, he will step down in a few months. And in a way, his career and where he is as a person as he ends it, is a case study in the good and bad of American law enforcement over the past many years.
Rutherford is a registered Republican, and has never shown any sign of being mistaken for a liberal, “bleeding heart” or any other kind. He attributes this “culture of death” to the 1973 Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade ruling, legalizing abortion.
“We no longer believe in the sanctity of life,” Rutherford said. He went on to opine that today people “almost glorify death.. I don’t think these kids when they are killing each other understand they ain’t coming back. … This whole culture of death we have created, it’s a major problem.” He continued on, “Whether you kill a baby in the womb or a woman on First and Main, it’s the same thing. There’s no respect for that life”.
In the Times Union story, Rutherford credits his career in law enforcement with bringing him to God, which I assume influence his views on the “sanctity of life”. At least he is being somewhat consistent; he confessed in the article that he no longer supports the death penalty. That is a sign of enlightenment and offers a ray of hope
Perhaps that’s why, on February 1, 2013 Sheriff Rutherford (a man sworn to uphold the laws of our land) issued a statement that read in part, “With this proclamation (FSA 2013-1) I am affirming I will not support, assist, or condone any unconstitutional infringement of your right to keep and bear arms, as set forth in the Second Amendment”. So, while abortion is the cause of our “culture of death” to the good Sheriff, he has said he will defy any law to regulate the instruments used to deliver death to over 30,000 Americans every year.
This type of addle-minded thinking is typical of what is wrong with the GOP today. Let’s be clear about one thing… The Second Amendment does not provide a right for gun toting maniacs to terrorize citizens in grocery stores or at public parks and other community places.
The 2nd Amendment reads,
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
There are some important things to bear in mind here. First of all, those words were written hundreds of years ago, by men who spoke and wrote in a very different “English” language than any of the many varieties of Modern American “English” common in this country today. Words, phrases, and even punctuation had a slightly different meaning then, than they do now. But in those differences lay the intentions of the Founding Fathers. Second, those are not the only words we have to go by in discerning the Founding Fathers’ intentions, as there are other speeches, statements, and letters in the historical record, in which several of our Founding Fathers expound further upon the issues of arms and armie
And so, in pledging to refuse to enforce any “unconstitutional infringement”, the Sheriff might be missing the plot. Regulation doesn’t equal infringement, which is why the Founding Fathers specifically called for regulation, and yet against infringement, in the same Amendment. Regulation is when the government we elect makes the laws, infringement is when the same government ignores them, and denies us our rights even if we’re in compliance with the laws the government we elect makes. All too often, people (generally conservatives) conflate regulation with infringement, and that’s what this whole battle over gun control is all about.
And maybe Rutherford knows that, and is just a savvy politician with his eyes on a seat in the Florida House of Representatives, and who knows what else, and used a vaguely worded letter about the 2nd Amendment to shore up his political support, or even just put some minds at ease in his community. It’s hard to say, although the spirit of the letter would seem to be in keeping with the NRA’s paranoia, the clever wording could go either way.
Of course, that typical NRA conflation of regulation as infringement is nothing compared to conflating the legalization of abortion with some kind of dystopian present day “culture of death”, wherein suddenly violent crime is somehow a brand new phenomena that only existed starting in the year 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided in the Supreme Court. Such a conflation isn’t merely a sign of confusion caused by the evolution of the English language over the past few centuries, but rather is blindly delusional, and obviously plain wrong. Clearly, when people were killing one another with stones in slings, with spears, hacking at each other with swords, and stabbing each other with knives, shooting each other dead in the old west, and in the 1930’s during prohibition, that too, was a “culture of death” – and long before Roe v. Wade.
But Rutherford’s comments made other news, too. Not having to face a re-election campaign Rutherford felt free to express some views on policy. He noted that since the craze to cut government employees from payrolls, his department is down some 140 officers from its peak in 2011. Since the reduction of the force crime numbers are up. In 2011, there were programs in place through the Jacksonville Journey Initiative which provided funding for the 140 officers and about 90 community resource officers.
Rutherford noted that the low crime rates from 2011 did not result only from enforcement but through a community effort. He said, “It’s because there’s a lot of good people, doing a lot of god things in this community, but we need more of what we were doing”. What we were doing was providing funding for programs that help people. Programs funded with tax dollars, which have been cut or eliminated.
The Sheriff also pointed out that Jacksonville has a thriving philanthropic community but the state has created a chasm that the philanthropist can’t fill. He also pointed out that the next Sheriff will “have to support all of the things that are making a difference in this community”.
One thing the Sheriff mentioned which won’t be available anymore is the ability to seize money and valuable property under Federal authority, from those suspected of crimes. Something Rutherford’s department had done, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And which the Sheriff suggested had been put to good use. However as many police departments have used the ability to fleece anyone even suspected of crime to engage in what can be literally described as highway robbery and extortion, Attorney General Eric Holder recently put a stop to the practice.
All in all, none of this should be taken as a criticism of Sheriff Rutherford, his career, or his department. Certainly it’s a criticism of his statement about abortion. Possibly also of his letter about the 2nd Amendment. But of the man, the department, no. We merely find this man’s opinion, at this moment in American history, very interesting, and worthy of discussion.
The really interesting thing is that when you get right down to it, what the good Sheriff seems to be saying is that it’s about people respecting each other, and their lives, and their own lives. That it’s about people working together to do good things. That it takes a village.
Seems to us, we’ve heard that somewhere before.