Pubdate: Fri,  4 Jul 2003
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall


BY DECLARING INDEPENDENCE 227 years ago today, the Founding Fathers gave 
the United States of America its form.

But it is in meeting the continuing challenges to define independence that 
we give our U.S.A. its substance.

If we ever stop working to perfect the meaning of the terms in the 
remarkable living and breathing document, if we ever quit fine-tuning our 
understanding of it, if we ever relax our commitment to it, we surely will 
cause it to gasp and wither.

On July 4, 1776, some 20 percent of the 2.5 million residents of the 13 
colonies were slaves. The Declaration of Independence (drafted by Thomas 
Jefferson with changes contributed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and 
others) did not change that, even though it announced "that all men are 
created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain 
unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of 

Long struggle for equality It took a long time and an enormous, tragic 
struggle before "all men" was defined in such a way that none of us could 
claim ownership over others of us.

Many generations also passed before we defined "all men" as including both 
genders, thus declaring women to have the very same unalienable rights as men.

The U.S. Supreme Court only a few days ago struggled over the meaning of 
"equal" rights and handed down a ruling that affirms it as OK for 
universities to consider an applicant's race when deciding who should be 

Another definition wrestling match just finished in the nation's top court 
involved equal rights with regard to sexual orientation. That ruling, in a 
case that originated here in Harris County, struck down a 120-year-old 
Texas law as a violation of privacy.

Today's national anniversary observance catches us in the midst of 
independence crises in every level of government. We have experienced for 
years the erosion of individual independence and personal freedoms because 
of the failed war on drugs. Since 9/11, we've seen some of our rights fall 
victim to the fight against terrorism.

Locally, our police crime lab was exposed as having long been a threat to 
the freedom of people accused of crimes they did not commit. Seven long 
months have crept past, and still we don't know how much tainted or 
misrepresented evidence was used to win convictions. We don't know how many 
people remain in prisons unjustly.

A great many of us believe the most appropriate way to seek the truth in 
the police crime lab mess, and the best way to protect everyone's freedom 
and independence, is with an open public investigation. We want to know 
what went wrong so we can keep it from going wrong again. We want quick 
action to determine who is in prison but should not be. We want the 
innocent people freed.

When public officials fail Yet day after day, week after week, month after 
month, our public officials -- our district attorney, our mayor, our police 
chief, our judges -- continue playing us for suckers.

One of them, in the most righteous of tones, will call for one kind of 
investigation but say any other type won't work. Then another of them, in 
equally righteous tones, will say just the opposite. They blame each other. 
They posture and they pose and they postpone taking any meaningful steps to 
restore our confidence.

Today is a most appropriate time to reflect on the crime lab mess and what 
we must do about the officials who are failing us. Our national birthday 
party is an annual reminder that the authors of the Declaration of 
Independence charged us to carefully control all our government bodies and 
officials, to rein in their powers as necessary in order to protect our 

As Thomas Jefferson wrote when ill health forced him to decline an 
invitation to a Washington, D.C., 50th anniversary celebration of American 
Independence Day: " ... the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles 
on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred ... ." You may recall 
from your history lessons that was Jefferson's last letter. He died a few 
days later, on July 4, 1826.
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