abolishing the police, agitators, D/S/Cs, defunding the police, eternal grievance industry, Executive branch, government and violence, gun violence, person sovereignty, police violence, politicians, President Trump
President Trump said Monday during a roundtable with law enforcement he’s going to discuss ideas to see how policing can be done in ‘a much more gentle fashion.’
And every police officer in America groaned.
We’re going to work and we’re going to talk about ideas, how we can do it better and how we can do it, if possible, in a much more gentle fashion,’ the president said. ‘A thing like what happened should never have happened, and plenty of things shouldn’t have happened.’
Despite an unfortunate utterance, Mr. Trump continues to have a grip on reality:
Trump said that the country could not give up the ‘finest law enforcement anywhere in the world.’
‘We won’t be defunding our police,’ he added. ‘I guess you might have some cities who want to try.’
Let us be clear up front: government governs through the implicit and explicit threat of violence, even deadly violence. Under the social compact, we agree to give government some degree of our personal sovereignty. We do this in return for many benefits of government of the people, by the people and for the people. But ultimately, government cannot govern if adherence to the law is optional.
A lawyer friend—a professor—always taught his students never to pass a law they weren’t willing to kill to enforce, because that’s what every law comes down to. Ask the survivors of any police officer killed on a “routine” traffic stop.
Every police officer knows the only reason they can do their jobs, the only reason they survive, is because most people are willing to obey most laws most of the time. They do it because they believe in the social compact, because they believe in right and wrong, and some do it because they fear punishment for law breaking, but they do it, and the social compact holds—as long as they are voluntarily willing to do it, and as long as the police are allowed to enforce the law.
We hear much of “police violence” these days, in much the same way that we hear of “gun violence.” The only violence done in these formulations is to the English language. We hire the police to do violence on our behalf that we may sleep peaceably in our beds at night. We hire men and women, expecting them to adopt the demeanor of a saint most of the time, but also expect them to instantly, and at precisely the right times and those times only, employ overwhelming, even deadly violence, yet shut it off like a light switch at the very fraction of a second the need for that violence passes. We expect them to endure vicious provocations, even physical abuse, to always keep their heads, and to make 100% correct decisions in fractions of a second under unimaginable stress, 100% of the time.
The police are part of the executive branch, the head of which takes an oath to see the laws are faithfully enforced–as do they. The police are the smiling heroes who save lives, and the in-the-instant warriors expected to take lives when they have to. There is a difference between lawful and unlawful violence. The police, acting under color of law, are not only allowed, but expected to use violence—so long as they do it lawfully.
Remember this: police officers are required to make arrests, and the law gives them the authority to use whatever force is necessary in making a lawful arrest, even deadly force. Of course, with that awesome power comes the moral and legal responsibility to use it reasonably.
We are told police officers routinely abuse people, particularly Black males. Any rational examination of the facts reveals this to be a lie. There is no institutional racism in policing. Police officers make millions, tens of millions, even more contacts with citizens every year. Virtually all of these contacts end without any use of force. Abuses of authority, potentially like that where George Floyd died, are noteworthy for two primary reasons: (1) They sometimes happen to members of D/S/C favored victim groups. We seldom, if ever, hear of white people similarly abused. We also virtually never hear of young Black men killing other young Black men in the war zones of our major cities like Baltimore and Chicago. (2) Such incidents of abuse, taken in context, remain, thankfully, uncommon.
Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to a nation without law enforcement, but for today, let’s explore police psychology. Imagine Steve, a 23 year old college graduate who wants to serve something greater than himself, and also the public. He chooses police work, and he’s smarter than average, but somehow gets hired.
Steve will quickly learn that while some portion of the public respects him, for most people, all they see is the blue suit. They’ll grudgingly obey whoever wears it, and automatically lift their foot from the accelerator pedal when they see a blue suit in a black and white. Steve works hard to be as friendly as people allow him to be. He seldom has to use force, but when he does, he uses it without restraint, knowing the more quickly he overcomes resistance, the less likely anyone is to be injured. He does not think everyone is out to get him, but knows that some are.
Steve also quickly learns the dual nature of humanity. He investigates traffic accidents where no one should have survived, yet some people walk away without a scratch. He marvels at the resilience of the human body, and also at its fragility when he investigates a man sustaining a single blow to the head in a fight that kills him. He learns that some people will fight the police, for no real, rational reason. He doesn’t want to fight with them, but he has no choice.
Steve sees people at their best, but all too often, at their worst, and it wears on him. He becomes more and more withdrawn from social life, and tends to associate only with fellow officers and their spouses, because they’re the only people who can possibly understand.
Steve wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, chased by the ghosts of all the victims, all the horror, all the ghastly things he sees people do to each other. The worst, the images that never go away, are the women and the children, the vile things done to them.
Steve sees fellow officers step over the line sometimes. He sees them lose their temper and use a little more force than might be absolutely necessary, but it’s not a clear, bright line, so he holds his peace. He files it away, and reminds himself not to allow himself to do that, but the stresses never end, the horrors never end, and demands for doing more with less and for perfection never cease.
Steve watches supervisors walk a fine line. They have to ensure the men and women they supervise are the perfect saint/warrior. Every officer knows the law, they’re continually trained on the proper use of force, and every officer has to know that when they have to use force to make an arrest, their superiors will back them—as long as they don’t step too far over the line. Steve asks for nothing more, only that when he has to use force, it be judged fairly and honestly, and the full context of the situation be taken into account. He expects to be disciplined if he screws up, and is willing to admit it, but if he cannot know he’ll be treated at least as fairly as any criminal defendant, he worries.
The line. There are general principals, but it’s situational. Context is everything. People do resist arrest. They do it passively and actively. They try to hurt officers, and all too often, they kill them. People sometimes see three or four officers trying to wrestle someone into submission and cry “unfair!” They’re wrong. This isn’t a sport; it’s real life, and the officers aren’t piling on not to hurt anyone, but to keep from having to hurt them. Police officers don’t do flying helicopter kicks; they have to use the minimum force necessary to arrest people who are trying to hurt, even kill, them.
But Steve is smarter than average, remember? He’s fortunate that in his mid-sized city, the police are supported. His agency does hand out discipline when it’s deserved, but gives officers that deserve it, the benefit of the doubt by thinking them innocent until proved guilty, but giving them full due process. He’s seen a few officers fired for losing it. He liked some of them, but agrees once that line has been crossed, you can’t be a cop anymore. Most officers agree with that, but they keep it to themselves– mostly. There are just too many agitators and politicians looking to use the police for their purposes and benefit.
Steve sees cities like Baltimore where officers aren’t allowed to use entirely constitutional tools like stop and frisk, where officers don’t dare enforce the law against favored victim groups, where they do the minimum, do nothing to bring themselves to the attention of politicians or prosecutors looking to hang cops for lawfully doing their jobs. He can’t imagine working in a place like that, and he keeps a careful eye out for signs of that sort of lunacy in his own town.
Steve knows cops with bad attitudes. He knows cops that treat people unkindly, and he doesn’t like it, but as long as they don’t cross the line, it’s a supervisory problem. He’s glad he’s not a supervisor.
One night on the midnight shift, after things quieted down a bit, Steve had a long talk with a grizzled old Sergeant who worked a big city in his youth. He learned how such places are entirely politicized. Unions and politicians are an unholy alliance that protect crooked cops and crooked politicians. Politicians give unions what they want, and unions give them campaign money. Caught at the bottom, where all the shit eventually rolls, are the working cops.
He got out, came to the land of the sane, when racial politics started dictating policy. Sarge still swears about the politicians that made it impossible for him to stop the Black predators that preyed mostly on poor, Black citizens. Those decent, honest people wanted police protection. They wanted the police to help them, wanted the dealers and gangsters stopped and frisked to get the guns and drugs out of their communities, but little by little, social justice replaced actual justice, and the people the politicians claimed to want to protect suffered most.
Steve understands the need to present a united front against unfair accusations, which are made against good cops all the time. He may not like it sometimes because he knows some of those cops deserve discipline, but he knows what it’s like to be all alone with the whole world coming unjustly down on you. He knows what it is to be considered racist, white supremacist, and guilty, always guilty just because he wears the blue suit.
Steve wants to do his job, feel like he’s done some good, and go home to try to relax, and maybe, just maybe, this night he won’t wake up screaming…
Steve, gentle readers, is most of the police officers in this country. No “reform,” no “transformative” training will change human nature. Some people wearing the blue suit shouldn’t. Some police officers will make mistakes. The stresses of the job, the horrors, the unexpected, everything that ages men and women too rapidly, will ensure that. Supervisors will sometimes fail to do their jobs. But any honest examination of the complete record reveals America’s officers do very, very well.
When officers cross the line, as they may have with George Floyd (innocent until proved guilty, remember?), they deserve to be separated from the fraternity of blue, even prosecuted, and that’s exactly what has happened in that case. That’s the right thing; that’s the best we can expect, until we can find or make a race of perfect saint/warriors who never make a mistake, are indestructible, and therefore, fear nothing and can take any punishment without complaint.
One final thought about the Floyd case. What one officer in particular did looks bad indeed, but that may not be enough for a conviction under Minnesota law. In order to win, the prosecution must prove each and every element of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Floyd was a career criminal, a big, strong man who was, by all accounts, resisting arrest. He was under the influence of meth and fentanyl, and had serious medical problems.
The prosecutor, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, is a race hustler and grievance monger. He has some skill at that, but those skills don’t translate into a properly run trial. It may be the defense will be able to demonstrate at least some of the officers charged really didn’t have any active hand—under the law–in Floyd’s death. It may be the defense will be able to introduce reasonable doubt about the cause of Floyd’s death, and if so, the officers should not—must not—be convicted, despite the mob clamoring for their blood. That’s real justice, not social justice.
Human beings are incredibility resilient and terribly fragile, but officers have to arrest them, not knowing if the person resisting them is resilient, or fragile.
I suspect, gentle readers, most of America’s police agree with what I’ve said. They agree it looked terrible. They agree those officers likely had to be fired (knowing they, like me, don’t know the whole story), but they also agree in the necessity of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and they’re concerned about how rapidly those officers were fired and charged, because they know complete, competent investigations just don’t move that fast—they can’t. And they worry this is as much, perhaps more, about politics than justice. And they, like Steve, can see themselves in that terrible position.
Perhaps you understand Steve a little better now? Perhaps you’re glad you’re not doing his job? Perhaps you know America’s police are not what the media, opportunistic politicians and the eternal grievance industry are depicting?