By Rod Miller, columnist
Wyoming doesn’t need to be a microcosm of the rest of the country if we her citizens don’t want that. There is no reason why a state as small and intimate as our should be whip-sawed by political events outside our borders.
We can and must craft a government in Wyoming that serves us, and doesn’t serve national interests. We must do that at the street level of government.
The business of our democratic republic is conducted on a personal level, every day and every night, on the streets of America. As citizens interact with police, it represents our self-government at the cellular level and we need to get it right.
The national debate over the enforcement of laws in our country, and the conduct of law enforcement professionals in their interactions with citizens, is timely and necessary. The national debate over lawlessness in the streets, and the conduct of citizens as they exercise their constitutionally-protected rights of speech and assembly is also timely and overdue.
Nobody gets a free pass to end run the Constitution, not citizens, not police. For either, or both, to act otherwise weakens that document and the rule of law. And it is not up to either side to make sure the other toes the line. Its up to each to keep themselves in line.
This is the Social Contract, to live together peacefully and safely through common endeavor. This, like any contract, requires hard work.
Its very simplistic to apply this to a nation of 350 million individuals in a time of great social turmoil, But it is much easier to apply to a state of around half a million which claims as one of its virtues neighborliness. Our Constitution is our social contract with each other as citizens and it demands our common labor.
The Wyoming Legislature took a look at a couple of bills on this subject, but decided to pass. Unwisely so, in my opinion. This debate is overdue. If this debate won’t occur at the state level due to legislative intransigence, then it is left to smaller, more local units of government to step up.
The City of Laramie has, as the result of a deadly shooting by a police officer, initiated a citizen oversight group wherein both law enforcement and the citizenry will, hopefully, work on solutions at the municipal level, where the rubber hits the road. Cheyenne has a similar citizen/police working group in place. Work like this will help make sure that we get it right.
We have damn little control, if any, over what happens between citizens and law enforcement in our major cities, or in our national capitol. We watch on the news, we get pissed off, and we spout off, but we can’t do anything.
We DO have control over how we Wyomingites interact with our citizens with badges, and they with us.
The city cops, the sheriff’s deputies, the game wardens, the brand inspectors and the highway patrol officers that are sworn to protect us are our neighbors They are not faceless D.C. bureaucrats who drink tea with their pinkies stuck out, nor are they some deep-state goon squad dropped from black helicopters.
The citizens of Wyoming are also our neighbors whom you see on the streets and in the stores, who always return a borrowed garden hose. They revere the Constitution and aren’t shy about expressing that reverence in the streets when they have a good reason to do so. They are not bused in from Portland to cause trouble.
We should be able, as neighbors, official and civilian, to sit down together and discuss how we collectively want our streets safe and our rights protected. I hope the Laramie and Cheyenne prototypes show us all how to do just that. Maybe we should take that model and run with it.
It has been several decades since Wyoming’s body of statutes that govern law enforcement has undergone a critical review. Perhaps its time to revisit that code, and to examine our statutes together as citizens and law enforcement professionals with an eye toward a legal framework that works for all citizens in 21st Century Wyoming.
If we can do this at the level of our Wyoming streets, then we inoculate ourselves from craziness and disorder outside our borders. We may not be able to convince 350 million Americans to fulfill their social contract, but we can make damn sure that we 550 thousand Wyomingites honor ours.
We need to get this right.