SCOTT DREYER: A Tale of Two Cities

Scott Dreyer in his classroom.

A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.

–Proverbs 14:1 (New Living Translation)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,

it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,

We had everything before us, we had nothing before us,

We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – (….)

–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

These opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities sprang to mind the other day as I first heard news from Minneapolis, then from Roanoke.

First, Minneapolis:

On Sunday, June 7, the Minneapolis, Minnesota City Council voted–by a veto-proof majority–to disband its police department. Note: not just “defund,” but “disband.” The next day, CNN interviewed the Minneapolis City Council President, Lisa Bender. Here is one exchange:

CNN: “Do you understand that the word, “dismantle,” or “police-free” also makes some people nervous, for instance? What if in the middle of night, my home is broken into? Who do I call?”

Bender: “Yes, I mean, hear that loud and clear from a lot of my neighbors. And I know — and myself, too, and I know that that comes from a place of privilege. Because for those of us for whom the system is working, I think we need to step back and imagine what it would feel like to already live in that reality where calling the police may mean more harm is done.”

Note carefully what the Minneapolis City Council President is saying: being able to call 911 and get a swift police response to help keep you safe is a privilege. Not a right, but a privilege.  Try to follow Bender’s (twisted) logic: since she thinks being able to call 911 and get prompt help from first responders is a privilege, then she wants to take that “privilege” from everyone. Try to take her mindset to the next logical conclusions:

  • Being able to go on a fun vacation–be it to Myrtle Beach or Paris or elsewhere–is a privilege. If not everyone is able to go, then no one should be able to go on vacation.

  • Getting into a prestigious university–say UVA or William and Mary, etc.–and being able to pay all the expenses is a privilege. If not everyone is able to get in or pay for it, then no one should be able to go there.

  • Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA), who after 16 months still refuses to resign due to his racist photograph scandal, enjoys 24/7 taxpayer-funded police protection and the luxurious, 1811-built Executive Mansion. If not everyone gets a 24/7 bodyguard and free residence in an historic mansion, then no one should.

The list could go on and on, but you get the point.

Years ago I heard someone claim, “liberals want everyone to be equally miserable.” At first, I thought that was just some right-winger blowing off steam, but after years of observation, and now hearing these outrageous comments from the Minneapolis City Council president, I think that comment was close to the mark.

Bender is telling us, if some people in Minneapolis don’t feel safe, then nobody in Minneapolis should feel safe. In other words, rather than try to fix problems and make people who are vulnerable feel secure, she wants to make everyone who feels safe, soon feel vulnerable and threatened.

There is a quotation that is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president. He never said it, but it comes from William J. H. Boetcker, a retired Presbyterian minister: “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”  Yet from the CNN interview, that seems to be exactly what the Minneapolis City Council wants to do: weaken the strong and terrify the secure, in the misguided hope that will somehow help everybody.

Below, however, is a quotation from Lincoln that relates to us today:

“Property is the fruit of labor. Property is desirable, is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is house-less pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently to build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence . . . I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.”

Simply put, Lincoln claims we should create a free society where people can work as hard as they want to, be free to build a house, and be secure that no one else will be able to destroy their house.

Let’s examine this suddenly ubiquitous slogan: #defundpolice.  As a professional language teacher since 1986, I know words matter. “Fund” can be a noun or a verb, and since this hashtag is in command form, it is used as a verb. “To fund something” means to pay for it. The prefix “de-” means “down” or “away,” so “to defund” means to take money away from police forces. When you defund something completely, unless it has another source of funding or can function with volunteers, it dies. So don’t be fooled. “To defund” the police completely–by definition–means to dissolve all police departments.

The murder of George Floyd was horrific. Those involved in the murder should be brought to full justice. No one in their right mind questions that. But look at the response of many in our culture: “to end police brutality, the answer is #defundpolice.”

Let’s all take a deep breath and think about this.

Think about the field of medicine. In early 2018, many of us looked on in horror at the unfolding trial of Dr. Larry Nassar, the so-called “Doctor of Olympians.” USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University had employed him for decades and gave him access to countless girls who were aiming for Olympic stardom. He abused hundreds if not thousands of innocent minor victims.

Thankfully his evil was exposed and a judge put him behind prison bars for 175 years. “I just signed your death warrant,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina snapped. Nassar was rightly sentences for his crimes, but nowhere did I see a swell of #defunddoctors or #defundolympics flood social media.

No angry mobs threw bricks at innocent doctors or burned clinics to the ground. The chattering classes at news desks did not yammer about how all doctors or the Olympics pose an existential threat to our liberties and social justice. Why not? In other words, we dealt with the individual, not the entire field.

Now think about education. I am a teacher. It pains me to see people who think New Mexico is part of a foreign country or who can’t name the sitting vice president. Frankly, the rising tide of ignorance should concern us all.

However, do you ever see a  #defundteachers or #closealltheschools movement? In fact, we have the opposite. It seems the worse our schools perform and the less our students know, the more we are told we need to spend MORE money on education, not less.

When I was a student at William and Mary, a man who mentored me issued this challenge: “Don’t just look at surface issues. Consider the assumptions behind what people say and do.”

For us today, consider the worldview and assumptions about human nature behind this “Defunding the police” movement. It goes something like this: cops are “armed and dangerous,” with itchy trigger fingers just looking for a chance to execute innocent people at random, but basic human nature is good, so if we can just get rid of all police and laws, everything will be hunky-dory and we will all live in peace and harmony, forever and ever, amen.

Do you believe that? Do you believe, with nobody to enforce rules or defend the powerless, “humanity’s flawless nature” will rise to the top and all will be well? A quick look at the recent murders and mayhem in Seattle’s lawless “Capital Hill Occupied Protest” (CHOP) exposes that lie.

For Minneapolis, this recent #defundpolice development is truly frightening. I feel sorry for the many good people in that city. If this passes, what will happen? Imagine if someone is at home, an intruder tries to break in at night, and that resident calls 9-11 only to hear a computer voice: “we’re sorry, but we are unable to complete your call at this time. Please try again later.”

I had a tiny taste of this recently. We found a good deal on a used car, but it was in Northern Virginia. So, the next day my wife and I took a day trip to Chantilly to give it a test drive. On the way, we were on I-66 just south of D.C., with 4 lanes in both directions.

Even though it was past rush hour, the traffic was still heavy. Suddenly, I saw an aluminum step ladder lying in the middle of the interstate! Thankfully I was able to dodge it, but trying to be a good citizen and live by the Golden Rule, I thought of other motorists. Knowing it was a hazard that could possibly cause a deadly crash, I asked my wife to dial 911.

I explained the situation to the dispatcher, who said she had to connect me to the State Police. The line then rang and rang several times. Feeling snarky, I quipped, “What’s happened? Have the Virginia State Police already been defunded?” After a few more rings the State Police picked up the call, I explained about the ladder and its location, and went on about my trip. But it made me think. For me, waiting for a few rings to report a ladder on the highway just took a few moments, but for a person in a life or death emergency, calling 911 and not getting an answer or help could be terrifying…or deadly.

Now, contrast this with Roanoke.

Addressing this issue in the wake of Minneapolis’ breathtaking decision, Mayor Lea said:  “The police officers play a critically important role in our city and I want the citizens to know that we’re not talking about what they’re doing in Minneapolis with regards to eliminating police. That’s not on the drawing board here.”

Thank you, Mayor Lea, for being an adult in the room.

In other words, Roanoke will NOT be defunding or disbanding the police any time soon. Everyone should have the right to feel safe and secure. Thank goodness we live in a community that still maintains a certain level of common sense and reason.

This is a time to discuss and plan how to improve police training, public safety, etc., but abolishing law enforcement will not bring us safer communities. Since this is Independence Day Season, we celebrate living in a free country! If anyone in Southwest Virginia happens to hate the police and loves anarchy, they should “vote with their feet” and move to Minneapolis or even CHOP in Seattle. There they can enjoy first-hand the benefits of living in a lawless zone. Let’s keep Roanoke and our region for those who value order, safety, fairness, and rule of law.

Happy Independence Day! Let Freedom Ring!