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  • John Sarna

Riots no way to instigate social change

I have but one sentiment now . . . . we have a government and laws and a flag, and they must all be sustained.” (Ulysses Grant, 1861).


Grant won the Civil War for the North, promoted a fair-minded reconstruction of the conquered South, prosecuted the KKK, and fought for Black voting rights.


Yet, in San Francisco on June 19, approximately 400 people gathered to take down a statue of Grant, apparently for having owned a slave. As a young man, Grant had purchased one slave, and, a year later, Grant gave him his freedom rather than selling him. Statues of Washington, Lincoln, and pioneers have also been torn down in Portland and Eugene. Even statues of Mary, mother of the supreme pacifist, Jesus, have been vandalized.


I don’t’ see how people can defend these scofflaws who hide among protesters. Certainly, peaceful protests are protected by the constitution, and, as a Viet Nam veteran, I empathize, having protested against that war in Washington D.C., though going home after hearing organizers promote “monkey-wrenching.”


Some justified the vandalism and looting by saying “life is more important than property,” but that’s a slippery slope. There’s a legal process to prosecute those responsible for police brutality. There’s a political process in place to remove statues. I condemn any talk of the other alternative, rioting and looting to enable change, that’s extortion.


Then, we have the Gazette-Times editorial (Agents are to blame in Portland, July 31) calling federal agents stationed in Portland “thugs.” These are agents following orders, orders which come out of laws set forth by Congress, in particular, 40 U.S. Code §1315, stating the Secretary “shall protect the buildings, grounds, and property that are owned, occupied, or secured by the Federal Government,” and agents may “make arrests without a warrant for any offense against the United States committed in the presence of the officer or agent or for any felony.” Vandalism of federal property causing damage in excess of $100 is a felony.


The actual thugs are those hiding behind the protesters, with high-power lasers, illegal fireworks, and bricks to hurl at law enforcement. These weapons have caused them permanent eye damage, burns, and concussions. It’s time to actively find and actively prosecute these thugs, not castigate trained law enforcement agents who take an oath to defend the constitution.


Finally, the “As I See It” (July 29) approach to law enforcement, or lack of it, asks why police should have the authority to arrest people for minor crimes. That’s another slippery slope. Lax enforcement gave Portland more homicides in the last month than in the past 30 years.


In Benton County, we will have a choice of which path to pursue, perhaps as early as next year, under the Criminal Justice System Improvement Project. Should we defund, reduce or eliminate the police, replacing them with popular social programs? Should we allow “minor crimes” to go unpunished and thus unrestricted? Should we allow those who believe in a popular cause to break the law? My choice is NO – the rule of law should be enforced fully and uniformly.


I support the Sheriff, the Police, State Troopers, and federal law enforcement. Each day, they must uphold the law equally, while exercising good judgement and compassion. As a disabled veteran, I empathize with the animosity they now face, since I too was labeled with undeserved words like baby-killer on returning from combat in Viet Nam. I can only say to law enforcement that we need you, and the vile insults you now must face will eventually go silent for you as they since did for me.


As published in the Gazette Times, Aug 19, 2020 with photo of me and byline: John E. Sarna is a retired engineer and Army veteran who lives in Philomath. He is running for the Position 3 seat on the Benton County Board of Commissioners.

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