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Civil Liberties, Personal Freedoms, and US Law Enforcement Essay

Americans would like to believe that they have freedoms that are available to people in no other country on earth. In a very real way, this statement is true. We are free to criticize the people who govern us in a manner unavailable in most countries, without expecting retribution. Public access is available to many, if not most government buildings. The American process of governing is relatively transparent. All of these things have created a great expectation of freedom, or at least liberty, in this country.

And yet, the nature of liberty and freedom, as well as how these thing interact with law enforcement, are not well understood by many Americans. Freedom vs. Liberty Although the concepts of liberty and freedom are related, they are not the same. The United States of America, as noted above, allows many kinds of freedom. There is freedom “from” things, such as absolute government control of lives and freedom “to” things, as in freedom to choose a school or a career, rather than having such a thing assigned. Freedom consists of the ability to move about at will, personal liberty, and civil liberty.

In philosophical terms, freedom is the “power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy, self-determination (“freedom,” n. d. ). Although liberty is used as part of the definition of freedom, they are not identical concepts. Liberty, however, is freedom from such things as outside control in an individual’s personal choices, from captivity, and “freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control” (“liberty, n. d. ”). It can be seen, then, that of the freedoms that Americans expect to have are composed of both freedom–the freedom to”–and liberty–the “freedom from. Without civil liberties, Americans would find themselves facing an increased number of forcible actions from their own government, as well as potential attempts to infringe upon those liberties from outside.

Americans and Civil Liberties Americans have always taken their civil liberties seriously. State seals and mottos refer to liberty. The New Jersey state motto is “Liberty and Prosperity,” while text on the Massachusetts Great Seal once read, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty. ” Patriotic songs refer to the nation as being the “sweet land of Liberty. From the beginning, then it can be assumed that Americans have expected “freedom from,” liberty, particularly freedom from tyranny. In today’s world, the concept of tyranny can take many forms. Racial profiling is often considered to be one form of tyranny, although it is not always simple to assess when it occurs (Barkan, 2005). Research from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research [IPPSR] indicates that Americans largely favor the protection of civil liberties, even when responding after a crisis.

However, the degree to which people are willing to accept changes to policies that affect civil liberty will vary based on race and ethnicity, political ideology, the area in which they live, and more (ISPPR, 2002). One significant influence on whether these changes should occur is that of trust in law enforcement (ISPPR, 2002). According to xxxx (2002): citizens with low trust in local law enforcement give 6. 7 (out of 8) pro-civil liberties responses, while citizens with moderate trust give 5. 4 pro-civil liberties responses, and citizens with high trust give only 4. 7 pro-civil liberties responses. p. 4) These findings are significant to this paper in that the lack of trust in local law enforcement seems as if it is often both the cause and the result of the effects of policing on the community.

If people have contact with policing agencies that allows them freedom to do something, then they feel comfortable with the amount of civil liberty that they have and may consider adjustments to that liberty. If individuals in a society feel as if they already have little freedom, then they will necessarily feel as if the amount policing that is permitted should not vary, at least not by increasing it. New Policing” The methods for policing seem to be changing worldwide, shifting from public policing to private policing. These changes seem to be occurring primarily in democratic societies, which have looser control over individuals’ lives. According to Ashcroft (2001), democratic governments can accommodate diverse centers of power, whereas authoritarian regimes cannot. Democratization facilitates restructuring by providing political space into which it can grow.

As political pluralism increases, so too do the auspices that want to share responsibility for policing. (p. 28) Why, then, are democratic nations more difficult to police than others might be? The answer appears above: authoritarian regimes maintain control of their citizens by coercion and force, which does not permit decentralized policing of their nations. They do not have the freedom from, not in many capacities, and for this reason their citizens are not at liberty to act or to decide what changes that the government that can affect their lives. ecause they do not have the freedoms “from” that Americans have, the government can decide what police actions must be taken, when they will be taken, and what form these actions will take. The reason that Americans are so shocked by such events as the Kent State actions, the actions taken at Ruby Ridge or those taken against the Branch Davidians, is that they appear to be so totalitarian. Americans expect better of their leaders and respond with words that indicate they feel betrayed and, sometimes, those betrayed feelings result in votes being withheld.

Democratic nations are so difficult to police because their policing mechanisms are so diverse and are so dispersed. In addition, actions taken against the citizens require a reason and a precedent, unlike policing actions in authoritarian or totalitarian states, which need no apparent precedent to act. Conclusion Democratic nations require balance between the citizens, their government, and their policing agencies. Citizens must feel that they have value and that they are safe from unprecedented police actions, even from their own government.

Such nations are difficult to police because only authoritarian nations is it possible to have access to the “easy” method of policing that involves force. While it is not impossible even for a democratic nation to have policing actions that involve force, they incite comment because they are unusual and frequently cause outrage. Policing a democratic nation is difficult because democracy is hard. To accept policing that negatively affects either freedom or liberty–or both–results in a nation that has fewer civil liberties, as well.


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