Tuesday, September 6, 2011

If libertarians are selfish, how do you explain him?

Libertarians are selfish, self-centered, mean people only out for themselves. Well, that’s what I’ve heard. Critics on both the left, and the right have said so. It must be true. But how do they explain John Perry?
John Perry, like President Obama, is the offspring of an interracial marriage. And like Obama he had a strong interest in politics and even went to law school, befriending John F. Kennedy, Jr. there. It hadn’t always been clear that John would go to law school, or any university for that matter. As a child he was believed to have a learning disability. He was nine before he learned to tie his shoes or to read. But he discovered a passion for learning. After studying French he went to learn Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Swedish.

After law school, John and a friend specialized in helping immigrants find their way through the legal labyrinth constructed by xenophobes to keep them out. John helped many of them file for political asylum. Then John did something odd, he went to the police academy and became a police officer, taking a job investigating police abuses after his graduation. He became active in the New York Civil Liberties Union and a board member. Executive director Barbara Bernstein remembers him as a passionate defender of the rights of others. She said: “At board meetings… he sort of out libertarianed us. If someone thought it wasn’t the right timing or wasn’t winnable, he was an idealist. He made us justify what we were doing.”

One life-long friend, Alfia Wallace, said: “John simply had a heart of gold. He gave and gave, never expecting anything in return.” She was right. In addition to his work with the local ACLU, John volunteered with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children as an investigator.  Wallace said that when she became active in the campaign for adoptee rights John joined her to help hand out flyers because it was important to her. Wallace, no doubt, found John’s wedding gift to her a bit odd—a copy Human Action, the economic masterpiece by Ludwig Mises.

Other kindness was more obvious. When a friend found himself in trouble with accumulated parking tickets he thought calling a cop for help could get matters “taken care of.” John told him not to worry; he’d handle it. Only later did the friend learn that John paid the $1,700 in fines himself. When John befriended a homeless man he allowed the man to move into his apartment so he would have a roof over his head. And, in his spare time, he did bit roles in various TV shows and movies, including Die Hard III.
An avid opponent of the war on drugs, John was often urged to run for office as a Libertarian by his fellow party members. But as a police officer that wouldn’t have been prudent. But John decided to retire from the force and even had a new job lined up at a Manhattan law firm so maybe a candidacy would be possible.
John went to 1 Police Plaza to turn in his badge and finalize his retirement from the force. All he had to do was sign the papers and leave. That was when the first plane hit one of the Twin Towers on 9/11.  In civilian clothes, with a new job awaiting him, John took his badge back and quickly bought a police shirt that he changed into. From there he rushed to the Tower to help evacuate civilians from the burning building.

He entered with two other police officers and they began ushering panicked civilians to safe exits—directing them away from the main plaza where falling debris of bodies could kill them. An older woman had fainted and John was helping her, but she couldn’t move quickly and John would not desert her. It was then that the tower above him collapsed. That was the last time he was seen. The two other police officers, just ahead of him, got out safely but John stayed with the woman and lost his life.
To be a libertarian is to respect the rights of others. It means nothing less than that. John Perry spent his life, and died, doing precisely that. When he worked to rescue abused children, he was respecting the rights of others. When he volunteered with the ACLU, he was respecting the rights of others. When he campaigned against the war on drugs, he was respecting the rights of others. And, when he rushed into the Twin Towers he was respecting the rights others. He lived consciously as a libertarian and he understood what it meant, even if so many critics are clueless.
And, if you would like to honor John, do what he would do. Fight for the rights of others.  

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article. You should link his name to this page: