Thin blue line


Our police are the thin blue line standing firm to prevent lawless and wrongheaded people from breaking down the walls of democratic civilization and destroying citizens and structures. Police work is dangerous. Scores of officers are killed in the United States each year while on duty protecting citizens and democracy in the United States. We hear incessantly about the few police who overstep legal protocols. Such reports attract prolonged attention, while news about the dangers police face each time they leave the station quickly fades away. Even so, we call 911 first when danger lurks.

Just behind police sit a black line of the court system. Judges and lawyers, as officers of the court, try and adjudicate charges based on data the police gather. Judges are charged to protect the constitutional and legal rights of the accused and pronounce just punishments or not guilty. Those in the black line are human and make mistakes. A system of appeals rules on any disputed decision.

A red line of legislators enact laws, and executive officers, many elected, are charged with administering them. Current division in our political system makes passing of any law difficult, including both just and unjust laws. Citizens are badly divided, and the will of the people is stillborn.

A green line of mediating institutions extends behind the blue, black and red lines. Scores mediating institutions form interwoven networks in every community. Those include service organizations, social welfare structures, mental institutions, and medical personnel. They provide structures for learning and engagement in activities to mediate disputes before they reach the black or red lines. Unfortunately, such mediating institutions are weakening and withering.

A purple line of institutions enable and inspire free individuals to decide their ethical and moral beliefs and commitments. Schools, churches, religious institutions, youth organizations and others. The employees and volunteers that serve these organizations are poorly paid and rarely recognized for their contributions essential to every community.

The final line is a white line that is the moral and ethical backbone for each individual, which provides the foundation for a meaningful life and a flourishing community. A worldview of beliefs and commitments along with an internal compass that directs the individual toward what is right to do are indispensable. It takes an expanded community and intricate social network to enable an individual to build and adapt both to physical, emotional, and social changes. The founders of American democracy believed that without a majority of
citizens who have moral and ethical strength, the republic will fall. That is the reason they stressed freedoms of speech, religion, and thought. Fortunately, most of our neighbors live above the law.

Because we as individuals are free and because our community is made up of finite individuals and flawed institutions, opportunities abound for positive improvements along with negative decline. Our future might improve, or it might experience disorder, disaster, or final termination. The future, at least locally, is partially in our hands.

It is no secret that every one of these defense lines is stretched, almost to the breaking point. We are fortunate that in Crawfordsville and Montgomery County the lines are relatively sturdy and have not yet broken apart. The lines are the local social infrastructure that preserve our freedom, justice, peace, security, and life.


Raymond Brady Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.