Saturday, March 18, 2017

GateHouse: Are freedom and fear compatible?

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
March 17, 2017
Are freedom and fear compatible? The U.S. Constitution provides people—-not just citizens—all people in America, with the freedom of movement, assembly, religion and speech.
How does fear play a role in exercising those fundamental rights? People go to great lengths to avoid being victimized. According to Gallup, more than one in three Americans say they are afraid to walk alone at night near their home.
The number of Americans afraid to venture out alone at night is lower today than when crime rates were soaring in the 1990s. However, fear has not decreased as sharply as the drop in violent crime. In fact, while violent crime is at a record low, the percentage of those afraid to walk alone at night has fallen only one percentage point in three years.
However, fear is politically powerful. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is warning that the U.S. faces "a dangerous new trend" in crime although he acknowledged that crime rates remain near historic lows across the United States. Mixed messages breed contempt.
Ironically, the unrealistic fear of crime has had an enormous impact on crime. Experts may not say it and the average American may not admit it, but decreasing crime rates have come at a precious cost — the sacrifice of personal liberty. John Q. Wilson, the late criminologist, wrote several years ago in The Wall Street Journal, "Another possible reason for reduced crime is that potential victims may have become better at protecting themselves by equipping their homes with burglar alarms, putting extra locks on their cars and moving into safer buildings or even safer neighborhoods."
Americans have slowly reinvented their way of life to protect themselves from the threat of violence and that evolution may be driving down crime rates in the process. More research is warranted, but it appears that the key to falling crime rates is not so much a matter of what we do, but rather what we don't do.
Most citizens are not even aware that some fundamental constitutional rights have begun to erode in the name of crime fighting. The Supreme Court of the United States has chiseled away at the Sixth Amendment guarantee of "effective" counsel; the Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure; and the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
How about freedom of religion? To be a Muslim in America is to be afraid. The president has signed his second executive order banning refugees from a number of Muslim-majority nations. In fact, the president's first executive order made exceptions for Christian refugees.
Jewish synagogues and community centers are under constant threat in recent months. Non-Christians are legitimately fearful about the inclusiveness of the First Amendment.
Those who choose to take to the street in that time-honored act of protest are fearful. The right to assemble has been met with force in some parts of the country. Police officers in military gear, confronting protesters in armored, surplus military vehicles is a frightening and unnerving sight and the prospect of using the National Guard to aid in immigration enforcement is equally frightening.
The executive branch of government has sought to minimize the press and muzzle freedom of speech. The ongoing assault on the mainstream media and the idea of "fake" news is a blow to the fabric of the most fundamental of freedoms, freedom of the press. The line between reality—"Russian influence on the election"—and make believe—"my lines are tapped"—is becoming blurred. The inability to distinguish truth from fiction is dangerous.
Finally, the Second Amendment and the indisputable right to bear arms. A handgun in a women's purse or strapped to one's side is not a sign of freedom—it is a sign of fear. 
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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