One aspect that always intrigued me about the Occupy crowd is: how is setting up tents in public and private places legal? The short answer is: it is not. At least it was not when the movement first started, I do not know if any of them had permits before starting to setup tents, but it is fairly reasonable to assume that they did not start that way in every city. Here at the Occupy DC movement their tents have been mounted underneath a sign from the Parks Service that explicitly forbids camping at McPherson Square as you can see in the picture.
There are four elements related to the lack of respect to the rule of law by the Occupy crowd that I believe are important to take into consideration: 1. goal is more important and above the law; 2. safety in numbers; 3. freedom of speech and association considerations; and 4. escalation of lawlessness. All these elements work to construct the rational behind the constant breaking of the law that has been observed such as rape, OD, or sheer violence.
The first element, that they believe that their goal is more important and therefore above the law, is one of the most dangerous ones. There are very few calls in the media for the forced dismantlement of the camps under the guise that they are violating rules and breaking laws. This means that there is an understanding among the participants of the tents that their cause is so important that they are allowed to break the law to advance those causes, whatever they might be. Most groups of interest believe that their cause is important, but not above the law. Even groups of civil disobedience that break the law tend to accept the consequences for their breaking of the law. Nevertheless, the constant nonobservance of the law indicates a belief that their cause is above the law of the land.
Another element of the lawlessness in the crowd is the concept that they would be safe to break the law because of the numbers that they have in their ranks. The concept is akin to elements of mob rule in which if there are enough people doing a certain activity it will be hard and costly for the law enforcement apparatus to stop that activity. A good example of it is that homeless people have been joining the occupy crowd so that they would not be harassed by law enforcement. This concept of safety to break the law in the numbers seems to be displayed through many of the public showings of the Occupy crowd.
A third element of the disregard for the rule of law is their reliance on the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Those freedoms are constitutionally guaranteed and are universal human rights that should be observed. Nonetheless that does not allow them to not observe the law that are in place to guarantee those rights not just for a crowd, but to everyone in the country. Not to mention that a group’s freedom of assembly should not infringe on another person’s freedom of movement.
The last element is the escalation of lawlessness that can take place among the participants of the occupy crowd. Once they break the law initially to setup their camp and judge that they can get way with it, it might empower them to break other laws. This has already started happening with the recent roadblocks at the Defending the Dream Summit or their blockage of the Brooklyn Bridge.
There is a good reason that the founding fathers created a republic and not a democracy. A democracy can lead to rule of the masses through voting that can lead to disrespect of human rights, leading to a rule of man, not the rule of law. As Bastiat famously put the rule of law is one of the most important aspects to assure that the rights of the majority and minorities are upheld. When the law enforcement starts to enforce the rule of law depending on the wishes of the officials or if the media agrees with a specific cause, it becomes the rule of men, arbitrarily applied and dependent on the personality of the people interacting. Where I’m from there is a saying that reflects the problems of weak rule of law, which says “for our friends, everything; for our enemies, the law”. I only hope that this does not become true in America via weak law enforcement.