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The Rick Perry Veto and Ferguson: Holding the Police State Accountable

There is no obvious connection between the juxtaposed headlines about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s indictment for demanding the resignation of a district attorney with statewide responsibility for prosecuting political corruption and the police violence in Ferguson, Missouri. But it’s there, stark and unyielding, in the video of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s booking the night she was arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level almost three-times the legal limit.

Given her unique position of public trust, its reasonable to expect that Lehmberg would take responsibility for her actions, express remorse for the danger she caused, or at the very least, cooperate with the booking agents. Instead she behaved as a corrupt politician whose political status makes her untouchable.

She denied: “I wasn’t drunk.”

She threatened: “You all better do something quick ‘cause you all are gonna be in jail, not me.”

She dismissed: “That’s your alls’ problem, not mine.”

She resisted: “Yea I did [kick and pound on doors].

She demanded: “Get these cuffs off my arms.”

She questioned: “What is wrong with you people.”

She belittled: “Because some cop pulled me over.”

She blamed: “You’ve ruined my entire political career.”

But most importantly, she told them who she is, repeatedly: “I’m the district attorney, so you should listen to me.”

And who she believes she can’t possibly be: “Look at me, I’m restrained like a criminal.”

Lehmberg is not unfit to prosecute political corruption because she made the mistake of driving while intoxicated. She is unfit because she holds the belief that earned the Ferguson Police Department national scorn: She believes she is above the law.

Her seething contempt for those who hold less power than her is palpable. She derisively refers to the arresting officer as “some cop” and is incredulous that she is being treated “like a criminal” by “you people.”

Her disbelief that her crime indeed makes her “a criminal” is reflective of the “systemic problem with today’s law enforcement” identified by Senator Rand Paul in his essay about the events in Ferguson. Law enforcement is becoming a class apart, a class who believes that crimes are committed by other people, people who don’t wear blue. The result is an unprecedented escalation in police violence, prosecutorial misconduct, and a steady erosion of civil rights that is infected with bigotry.

After Lehmberg abused her political power in an attempt to avoid prosecution for her own crime, it was just for Governor Perry to demand her removal from the office responsible for prosecuting political corruption on a statewide basis in Texas and to veto funding for the office if his demand wasn’t met. Yet Lehmberg remains in office and it is Governor Perry who has been indicted for an abuse of power.

Perry’s indictment is a political stunt to protect a corrupt democratic official. There is no dispute that Perry had a legal right to demand Lehmberg’s resignation or that he had a legal right to veto state funding for Lehmberg’s office. If he had “cut the funding without saying anything” about his reasons, his actions would have been unquestionably legal. His alleged breach of ‘ethics’ was openly telling voters the truth about what he intended to do.

When the Governor of Texas is prosecuted for making a public stand against an out-of-control prosecutor, it sends a clear message to law enforcement agencies across the nation: You are unaccountable.

Ordinary people get the message as well, particularly in communities that have been hit the hardest by our emerging police state. The feeling of betrayal resulting from racial and economic disparities in our criminal justice system makes the outrage in Ferguson understandable. If law enforcement officials can tread on the law without consequence, everyone feels less bound by its constraints.

Giving military weaponry to law enforcement is not a solution to widespread disrespect of the law in a democratic society — it is part of the problem. Our form of government requires that respect for the rule of law be earned through equal application of its protections, not through fear caused by machine guns or politically motivated prosecutions.

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