. . . That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .
Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence has no legal authority. But its moral authority to Americans is, I hope, indisputable. The purpose of governments, it states, is to safeguard everyone’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
To do so entails laws. The Declaration charges King George with having “refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good,” “forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance,” and “refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people.” Laws are necessary—as a means, not an end.
What changes when focus shifts from law enforcement (a means) to public safety (the end)? Instead of counting tickets or arrests, the measure of effectiveness becomes accidents averted, conflicts deescalated, homes and neighborhoods at peace. Officers need to know the law, both to stay within it and to protect the rights of everyone. If a law doesn’t help secure those inalienable rights, the law needs to change.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.