Racist Retreats

Imagine hundreds of men gathered at a remote Tennessee location for a "whites only" meeting, displaying crude signs bearing racist remarks and sporting T-shirts with degrading anti-black slogans. Sounds like the Ku Klux Klan? Guess again. This time it was none other than agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and other law-enforcement agencies. That's right-some of the very same federal officers who pledged to uphold the law of the land organized and participated in a blatantly racist "retreat" called the "Good O' Boys Roundup." And it is causing grave concern about the commitment of some of our lawmen to uphold the rule of law. The annual "Good O' Boy Roundups" included "skits" like the one with an officer dressed as a Klansman brutalizing a black man. The "whites only" nature of the event was made clear by signs at the entrance that read-I'll avoid the pejorative-"African-American checkpoint." T-shirts with Martin Luther King in the bull's eye were on sale, as were cruel gag "licenses" for hunting blacks. This is appalling! Let me tell you what's really happening behind deplorable affairs like the "Good O' Boy Roundup." We are witnessing a steady erosion of public confidence in our legal system. Whether it's racist lawmen in Tennessee, corrupt cops in Washington, D.C., or New York police going on a drunken hotel rampage, the effect is the same. People are becoming increasingly skeptical of whether those charged with enforcing the law can be trusted to act with impartiality toward all. But respect for the law is what makes self-government possible. In the early nineteenth century Alexis de Tocqueville described what made America unique. We do not, de Tocqueville observed, obey people. We obey justice-in other words, the law. We obey the law because no one is above the law, especially those charged with its enforcement. The law is the instrument of self-governance to which we consent-because it embodies our moral values. Offensive shenanigans like the "Good O' Boys Roundup" are serious business because they mock the most basic moral precept: the dignity of each person. Law-enforcement agents showed contempt for this fundamental biblical principle, which underlies the ideas of freedom and self-government. By doing so they have helped to erode the law's moral authority and, with it, our respect for the rule of law. Those charged with enforcing the law are obligated to set an example for the rest of us to follow. How can we ask people to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," which is at the heart of the law, if police officers-or political leaders, for that matter-won't abide by this selfsame rule? To his credit, ATF head John Magaw has begun an investigation into the matter, affirming that he has "zero tolerance" for racism in his agency. Good. We as citizens should likewise insist that our police and other law-enforcement agents exhibit the same fundamental respect for all persons that underlies the laws they are pledged to enforce. Any public servant who flouts that should be rounded up and sent packing.


Chuck Colson



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