Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Robert Earl Lawrence was, well, nuts. He was a sovereign citizen, and by definition, that places him squarely in the nutjob category. But that doesn’t mean he should die for it.
Lawrence, described as being a sovereign citizen, was attempting to turn over a stray animal at the Dothan City Animal shelter at around 12:30 p.m., Eggleston said, but he became disorderly after he was told he couldn’t leave the animal without showing identification.
The context here matters. Lawrence brought a stray animal to an animal shelter. That falls into the category of a pretty kind thing to do. He was being a nice guy. Even if his politics was off the wall, that doesn’t make him a bad guy, an evil person. He’s kind to animals. For a lot of people, that’s a pretty good indicator of the type of guy he is.
But apparently, the Dothan City Animal Shelter has rules, and one cannot save a stray animal unless one has identification. Sure, there is no inherent rule that all Americans must possess identification.
Indeed, it used to be considered one of the defining characteristics of America, that we did not need to show identification to enjoy a peaceful and happy existence in this nation. We still say that’s the case, except when it comes to saving animals in Dothan City, where they have rules.
And rules are rules, you know. Even when a stray animal is involved. It’s unclear what becomes of a stray animal (notably, the article neglects to mention whether it was a puppy or a kitten, not that it matters) when the person bringing it in lacks proper identification. Do they turn the animal out on the street? Do they kill it where it stands? After all, they have rules, and what good are rules if there are no consequences for non-compliance?
But Lawrence wasn’t your typical kind person and animal lover, who cared enough to take time out of his day to bring a stray to the animal shelter. No, he was also a sovereign citizen, which you knew was going to come back to haunt him. So when asked for identification, he did what sovereign citizens do.
Members of the sovereign movement don’t prescribe to the laws of the U.S. government and follow a common law.
Instead of ID, Lawrence showed shelter workers paperwork that identified him as a sovereign citizen, Eggleston said.
This, of course, made the person in charge of making sure all rules were followed very upset. Nowhere on the checklist did it say that paperwork that identified him as a sovereign citizen was sufficient to be kind to a stray puppy. Oh no, this was a very serious problem. And Lawrence responded to it as one might expect of a sovereign citizen who was kind to strays.
“After repeatedly being told to calm down, Lawrence was advised he was being placed under arrest,” Eggleston said. “A physical altercation ensued, to which Lawrence was shot in the abdomen (by an officer).”
The article fails to explain at what point the grocery clerk in charge of rules at the animal shelter felt it necessary to call police to deal with the guy with the unacceptable identification who sought nothing more than to turn over a stray animal. If Lawrence was so adamant about helping the stray, and the shelter was similarly adamant about refusing the stray unless Lawrence presented a government approved form of identification upon demand, perhaps they could have just taken the animal, after waiting for Lawrence to happily leave, out back and shot it.
No, this isn’t to suggest that stray animals should be killed, whether by bullet or otherwise, but to note the absurdity of a situation that involves nothing more than a wacky guy without identification who only wants to help a stray animal. This involves an animal shelter, a place whose sole purpose in existing being to protect and help stray animals. And rules.
So Lawrence failed to “calm down” upon command of the officer, which may mean that he persisted in arguing his nutty views as a sovereign citizen or that there was some deeper crazy happening despite his kindness toward animals.
For Lawrence’s efforts to save a stray, Dothan Police Sgt. Maurice Eggleston decided that he didn’t feel like wasting the time to either hear him out or defuse the situation, but to arrest him for saving a stray without proper identification.
That’s when a “physical altercation” ensued, which like everything else in this story, provides little clue as to what really happened. Did Lawrence refuse to cooperate in his arrest? Did Lawrence try to flee the shelter? Did Lawrence grapple with the officer for his gun? It’s fairly safe to guess that it’s not the latter, as that would have certainly been a primary talking point in the police narrative, as it offered some minor justification for shooting.
While Lawrence may not have been a particularly cooperative fellow, and certainly appears to follow a particularly nutty world view, his “crime” was trying to save a stray animal without having the requisite official identification.
And, as no doubt someone will point out, the situation devolved with Lawrence being non-compliant when a guy with a gun decided that the shelter’s identification rules, his commands to calm down, his decision to arrest Lawrence for not calming down upon command, and Lawrence’s ultimate “physical altercation” in reaction to his being arrested for not being sufficiently compliant, was the cause of his demise. Oh, the horror of noncompliance.
So a guy does an act of kindness by bringing a stray animal to an animal shelter and ends up dead. Even sovereign citizens, as crazy as they may be, don’t deserve to die for committing an act of kindness.
H/T Mike Paar
Update: According to this post by Nick Gillespie at Reason, it was a cat. Lawrence died for trying to save a stray cat.