Today, we celebrate the 243rd anniversary of the founding of this great nation. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, and 88,753 days later, Americans gathered at fairs and festivals, ate too much apple pie, drank one too many adult beverages, applied too little sunscreen, and marveled at the fireworks show put on by the local volunteer fire department.
For some, Independence Day holds very little meaning other than the abovementioned activities, but for me and a good many of my friends, it's deeply meaningful. It is my favorite holiday of the year.
It marks the moment in history when an extraordinary group of men stood up and essentially dared the strongest military on earth at the time to a battle for their freedom. They codified and made official what had been undeniable since the Battles of Lexington and Concord more than a year prior in April 1775—in the Declaration of Independence they essentially declared war.
Ultimately, after seven years of fierce battles on land and sea, the 13 colonies—represented by the ring of 13 stars on Betsy Ross's flag—did something few entities in the history of the world were able to accomplish: they defeated the British Empire.
It's impossible to overstate how monumental this accomplishment was.
It's impossible to overstate the audacity of even attempting such an endeavor.
The courageousness of writing and signing the Declaration of Independence is incalculable.
These were men of means and education—many of them wealthy beyond imagination.
They risked everything they had—for something they believed to be right.
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British and declared to be traitors. They were then tortured until the time of their death.
Many others had their property seized or destroyed.
Many of the other signers died in total poverty.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence is a really big deal, and amid the fun and fireworks today we should all take a moment to recognize the gravitas of the day.
Okay, preamble over—let's get on with today's proceedings. Let's contemplate the words of some of the people who helped shape this great country.
Simple, Powerful Words
As I spent time with family on the day before my favorite holiday, I came across an image of George Washington on the Internet. It included the quote:
"I have no other view than to promote the public good, and am unambitious of honors not founded in the approbation of my Country."
One element in that quote jumped right out at me: "To promote the public good."
I immediately thought of all the first responders who could not enjoy today's festivities with family and friends because they were on duty doing precisely that—promoting the public good.
A few months ago, I posted a column in which I presented a series of quotes—some of which are famous and some of which are somewhat obscure—with some thoughts on how they might apply to law enforcement. The passages were from people like Jack Welch, Winston Churchill, Peter Schutz, Zig Ziglar, Michael Jordan, and others.
Seeing that picture and that quote on my buddy's phone prompted me to look for quotes from men and women from American History that might also have some meaning for police. Here's what I found.
"Diligence is the mother of good luck."
In a fight—or really, in any endeavor—a person doesn't rise to the occasion. They sink to the level of their training.
An officer who is constantly working to improve their skills—from inter-personal communications and personal defense to gunfighting and report writing—is putting themselves in position for success. An officer who fails to diligently pursue improvement is setting themselves up for failure.
"Determine never to be idle...It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing."
We've seen in the nearly five years since the fatal officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson a trend toward de-policing in America, with officers not engaging in proactive policing.
In cities where use-of-force cases have caused violent protests and confrontations with police, Terry stops have been discontinued and traffic stops have fallen drastically in number.
Sadly, the practice of proactive policing is in danger of becoming lost to history. This trend has to be reversed and proactive policing must be restored.
"A house divided against itself cannot stand."
The political and civil division in this country is as bad as it's been since the time when Abraham Lincoln occupied the White House. The extremes—and the extremists—have completely taken over the airwaves of the national mainstream media and dominate all the social media platforms.
The anti-police sentiment is as bad as it was in the 70s, when domestic terrorist organizations like the Black Panther Party and the Weather Underground openly carried out violent attacks on police officers.
Today, groups like Anonymous, Antifa, and BLM are carrying out their own attacks. I don't know how, but we in this country need to find the middle, mend ruined relationships, and once again be "one nation, under God."
"Speak softly and carry a big stick."
This one reminds me of a familiar quote I've heard from the lips of many of my friends on the Thin Blue Line: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."
In the overwhelming majority of police interactions with citizens, the only tool an officer uses to gain compliance is their voice. They listen to the subject and they reason with them. They literally talk thousands of people a day into handcuffs.
However, an officer's ability to use nothing but verbal communication is lost when the subject—or subjects—is unreasonable, irrational, and resistive.
This is when a larger stick must be deployed—a TASER, a baton, impact rounds, or deadly force—in order to resolve an incident.
"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
Said differently, 1*.
Police officers—all first responders, really—put their lives on the line every time they put on the uniform. Sadly, nowadays they're even in peril off duty as violent offenders are increasingly attacking officers in their civilian clothes.
Every officer I know would risk their lives for their fellow officers. They'd also willingly do so for a civilian like me. They do it every day for people they've never met, conducting bold acts of heroism that all too often go unheralded.
I carry with me two copies of both documents that form the foundation of this great nation—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. The CATO Institute sells little books—for just one dollar each—containing their full texts.
One little book is totally tattered, having traveled with me to myriad cities in the commission of my job as a civilian writer on police matters. The other is brand new, ready to be gifted to someone with whom I discuss either document.
Reading and re-reading these documents regularly inspire me.
I'll leave you today with another preamble—the first words of one of my favorite pieces of writing.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
May you all have all three.