Corrupting the Morals of a Nation 

Corrupting the Morals of a Nation 
Adam J. Smith, Associate Director,

As the corruption scandal involving the Los Angeles police
department widens and deepens, it is essential that our leaders
recognize and confront the issue of our crumbling system of
justice.  That system, and the institutions charged with
maintaining it, must have the full confidence of the citizenry
if the rule of law is to be maintained.  Placing the integrity
of the justice system at risk, especially at the level of risk
inherent in a policy of unenforceable prohibition, is nothing
less than a total abdication of responsibility on the part of
our legislators and executives.

When the rule of law ceases to exist — that is, when the
confidence of the public in the persons and the institutions
charged with enforcing the law and dispensing justice is
shattered — the government itself becomes illegitimate.  Where
but to the rule of law can a nation turn for order?  Where but
to the rule of law can a people turn for assurance of the
continuation of civil society?  To which but the institutions of
the law can one generation point in teaching the next what can
be expected, and what will be expected of them as they move
through their lives?

Do we overstate the case?  Do we over-dramatize the impact of
the cancer that has metastasized in the LAPD?  When sworn
officers of the law — agents of the state — frame the
innocent, beat, maim, and kill, steal, cheat, and lie, disregard
the Constitutional foundation of society — can the root causes
of the problem be responsibly ignored?  Are we to believe,
blindly, that this scandal is in any sense an isolated incident?
Or would we be better served to view this as a symptom of a
much more widespread and malignant disease — one that we fail
to ameliorate at peril to the life of the republic?

Early in the 20th century, alcohol prohibition, that so-called
noble experiment, had a similar corrupting influence on American
law enforcement.  Payoffs, rip-offs and violence undermined
public confidence in our institutions of justice.  In 1933, the
18th Amendment was repealed, a decision not insignificantly
informed by a growing intolerance of widespread corruption.  It
was an unavoidable choice in that to further countenance the
ills of Prohibition would have likely done irreparable damage to
the rule of law, and society as a whole.

Today, our own prohibition threatens — in fact delivers — the
same fate we tempted then.  Is it time one must ask, for our
leaders to confront the folly of this second noble but ill-fated
experiment?  Is it time to face the fact that to charge our
institutions with this sisyphian task, one whose absurdity is
publicly underscored with every consensual act of transfer or
use of a banned substance, is to undermine their very
legitimacy?  Is it time for our leaders to stand strong in the
face of all the moneyed interests — both licit and illicit —
which profit from this terrible game, and to call an end to the

It is time.  It is past time.  In fact, to do otherwise would be
to acquiesce to the dissolution of the rule of law and thereby
to the downfall of the legitimacy of the very government those
leaders represent.  We have a word for such acts of acquiescence
— whether they are achieved by commission or by omission.  We
call it treason.  And if our leaders, elected and sworn to
defend the Constitution of these United States of America, fail
to find the courage to name and to oppose the most dangerous
enemy of justice loose in the land today — Prohibition — we
will have no choice but to declare them guilty of that most
serious offense.