The entire Marion Police Department raised the Marion County Record on Aug. 11, 2023. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)
In the grand scheme of things, if such a thing exists, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone cares all that much what happens in Marion County. The fact is, most people — most Kansans, for that matter — couldn’t find it on a map.
I’ve read dozens of stories in national and, now, international media about the ill-advised and probably unlawful raid last week on the newspaper there, which not only infringed on the rights of the paper, its staff and the community it serves, but also claimed the life of the nonagenarian co-owner, Joan Meyer.
Most stories omit even a general description of where Marion County is: It’s that far from a meaningful landmark or national point of reference. “An hour or so northeast of Wichita” hardly captures the man in the street’s attention, and why should it? Marion County is a vaguely pleasant jumble of farms, ranches and teeny businesses in tiny communities along two-lane roads where nothing ever happens. Why do the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times — whose editors are whiling away their summers at glittering lawn parties on East Hampton — give a rip about a little newspaper in a nowhere town that no one has bothered to read before?
Answer: Because even in rural Marion County there are lines.
When they get crossed — or trampled on — the excrement rightly and squarely hits the ventilating system. This is America, jack: Some things are a step too far no matter where they happen, duly signed warrant or no. It is a question of our national backbone, one that reminds us that some truths, by God, are still self-evident. Because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. “We are caught,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
I believe that to be true no matter where you find yourself, be it Darfur, Dachau or El Dorado.
And here we are. Presented, as always, with a series of difficult and worthwhile questions that demand answers.
Who is it that has the power to check unchecked power, to confront the ignorant jackboots who think a gun and a badge impart a superior and unquestionable morality?
– Andy Obermueller
To wit: What do we do about the barbarians at the gates? Can we get the toothpaste back in the tube? Who is it that has the power to check unchecked power, to confront the ignorant jackboots who think a gun and a badge impart a superior and unquestionable morality? Where — and how — do we go from here? As my daughter would say, with her teenage sigh, that’s … a lot to unpack. Let’s try.
The barbarians, to one degree or another, have always been at the gates. That’s the inevitable downside of building a city on a hill. And let’s be clear: Marion County is decidedly that. Maybe it lacks a measure of culture or erudition, but it is nevertheless full of awfully decent people who work hard, play fair and teach their children well. You can leave your wallet on the dashboard and your keys in the ignition on Main Street. The worst that might happen is a neighbor will roll your windows up for you if it looks like rain.
Yet one person — in this case, a local restaurateur — has emerged to demand special treatment for her own interests. This is neither new nor interesting. It still ain’t the ethos around these parts. You may thank your lucky stars for that.
Can we get the toothpaste back in the tube? No. It’s not possible and never has been. This country is unidirectional: We can’t ever go back to The Way it Was. But we can move on.
How do we go from here? The same way that our friends in Maui will. We rebuild. We realign with the values that truly define us. We try harder. We put our collective shoulders to a cause greater than self. We affirm that which the community decides is good, right and salutary. That’s how small towns are. That’s what they do. Without any help from the Times, thank you.
Which leaves unchecked power. In an era where such tactics grow normative, what can we do about that?
Simple: We check it. We take what is ours. We tell it like it is.
We run the police chief out of town on a rail and thank heaven to be quit of him. We address through open discussion and if need be due process the might-is-right culture that pervades law enforcement in towns large and small. The smart answer always is to raise the standard and lift all boats. To go high, as Mrs. Obama reminds us, when they go low.
We say, simply but firmly, that this is a.) not good enough and b.) just not the way things will be done here, period, amen. We lean into the mutuality King mentions. We resolve and then further resolve that any and all public office necessitates a higher standard and never a blind eye. We remind ourselves we can always do better and that everyone is subject, if not to review, then to each other.
Which is the ethos here. We look carefully into what happened, we label it what it is — a series of grave mistakes — and hold people accountable to the degree we can.
Then we call Eric Meyer, apologize and thank him. We laud his efforts to bring unflinching journalism to our community because it is right. We emulate him in Lincoln, in Ulysses and Overland Park. We cheer him in WaKeeney and Independence and Atchison. We support his paper. Because it’s really ours. And because it matters.
Andy Obermueller lives in Salina. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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