Saturday, August 23, 2014

I saw the Magna Carta and then the country imploded

One Friday a few weeks ago after a meeting in town, I dragged my kids to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The real Magna Carta was on display in a special exhibit and I thought we absolutely had to go. How often do you get to see a document that is, at least in part, the foundation of the democracy in which you live. Or be near something that survived so much: strong desire for oppression, wars, and time.
Image via
Sure, it didn't all work out at the time, but the idea took root and finally, about 500 years later, some other men in a not-quite-yet country wrote another document demanding protection of their rights and property against a tyrannical king. This time, a Pope couldn't quash it and neither could a king. It is still the foundation for the United States today.

From is this crucial point:
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land."
Lately, I've had a feeling we are a little less concerned with the law of the land as it pertains to due process and more married to the idea of hastily constructed personal or media kangaroo court and vigilante "justice."

I looked at that document and thought about those nearly ancient barons. Sort of middle class, they were being bled dry (figuratively and literally) by the King. They just wanted some rights, some liberties. A little comfort. The idea that they weren't subject to the arbitrary whims of those in power, such as the King. I suspect they were tired and just wanted to be able to sleep peacefully at night.

They didn't want to worry about walking down the street and getting piked by a king's man because the king took umbrage to something they did or didn't do. They may also have been tired of having no sovereignty that seemed to pair logically with their status as freemen. These barons, radical as they might have been, no longer wanted what they had to be fair game for seizure on a King's whim.

King John signed it, and died the next year (1216) so who knows where the whole thing would have gone but truth is, most of it was revoked and other parts were amended plus sections were added. But that one original clause, later named Clause 29, stuck:
29. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
The Magna Carta, this long history, the barons, and because of my recent trip to Philadelphia, the founders of the US were heavily on my mind this month when another black teen was shot dead by a police officer in Missouri.

What happened from there told me we have utterly forgotten due process. Too many of us have subscribed to the concept of immediate lethal force, forgetting rights, forgetting there are alternatives to solving a situation without execution.

The news is full of tragic stories of terrified people leaping to lethal, excessive force first and suffering for it later: a police officer who mistakenly shot his daughter, a grandmother who mistakenly shot her young grandson, and so on. All believing that due to a noise they heard, they were at risk of their lives so had to kill. Ruled, harmed, by too much fear.

What happened from there also told me we have also forgotten the First Amendment: "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

We do have a grievance: people--statistically particularly black men and youths--are being deprived of life without due process of law.

There are a lot of details people are miring themselves in, about the right to bear arms, the right to protect yourself using lethal force, and how people who get shot probably deserved it.

The real conversation is the right to not walk down the street worried you will be deprived of life without due process of those sworn to uphold the law. It's important to know that as freemen and women we will not be condemned but by lawful judgment of our peers. Like the barons of old, we need to be able to walk down the street without fear of being piked by the king's men aka shot by police.

I say we because I do think it applies to us all. I say we because I stand with my fellow mothers who are forced to teach their children how to walk, talk and act in the presence of police because, without due process, they are outlawed because they are black. I stand with the fathers who send their teen sons out with added worry beyond the usual parental concern about youth out and about. I stand with my people--because we are all people together--who walk on the same streets but a different path because of skin color.

It's not okay. It's that simple.

I support the very understandable grievance and desire to air it to our government, whose representatives are too often acting outside of due process outlawing, exiling and depriving of life.

Leaders through time have stood consistently for justice, for rights and liberties of people. It was not easy for the barons in 1215 nor was it easy for the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. Both the Magna Carta and the Constitution have been fiercely debated ever since their inception. The Magna Carta was reconfirmed somewhere between 32-45 times.

It's okay that we need to have the discussion, the reconfirmation, but we NEED to have it and it needs to be now.

This is the basis of our civilization and our culture.

Before one tin soldier is all that is left to ride away.


Ginger said...

Brilliant Julie. I had not thought of the problem along such deep, historical lines, but now can not stop.

Julie Pippert said...

Thank you Ginger. There is a long history of struggles for rights, freedom and liberty, and viewing it through the long lens can remind us that this struggle has to happen periodically and progress can come from it. In my humble and hopeful opinion.

We just need to shake off the bias, prejudice, and unnecessary details. But mainly we need to shake off fear.