Wouldn’t that be an awkward conversation?
“Hello officer. I’d like to report a stolen car. It was stolen while I was helping to lead a demonstration.”
“The Eff the Police demonstration?
“Yes, that one.”
Not only is this deeply ironic. There really WAS a car stolen from a leader of a “F–k the police” demonstration in Ferguson. I expect Elizabeth Vega really did need to file a police report for her ‘98 Saturn, which (according to her tweet) was stolen while she was being debriefed after the “action”.
How uncomfortable do you suppose that conversation might have been?
Which leads us to ask: how carefully have these people really thought their ideas through?
Sure, they have unresolved grievances with what they consider a broken system. (That’s a topic too broad for the scope of this piece.) But supposing their grievances were completely valid, how, exactly, will these uprisings fix the problem?
Riots? Looting? Really? THAT’s your game plan? THAT will right the wrongs you say you’re upset about?
How’s that been working for you so far? Oh right. Your fearless leaders are getting their cars stolen by people who (gasp!) have no respect for authority or personal property. Maybe you should let that idea marinate a while.
Anyhow, that isn’t really the problem here, is it? There are two different problems that are tangled up together, and making a mess of things.
On one hand, is the problem of how to address police when they are perceived by the public to have broken faith. How should they be reigned in?
On the other, is the problem of recognizing what the role of the police really is. Who are they? What power are they invested with? Why should they have special status? And (as far too many fail to consider) what fills a vacuum in their absence?
Let’s begin with the second part of the question. Who and what are police officers? What role do they play? Should they get a special respect or status?
Simply put, the police are entrusted with upholding the law. Men and women from “the people” are chosen and trained for this task. They are not professional soldiers — intentionally, they are different. That is why they wear blue, rather than the red associated with British soldiers. This dates back as far as 1829 when London established the first modern police force.
Formal police are also better than the vigilante gangs that would “take justice into their own hands” sometimes creating bigger problems that the ones they were trying to solve. Sometimes, they even vent their wrath on people unconnected to any crime.
In railing against police, the angry public can forget (until it’s time to report a stolen car) that they serve a role in society nobody else can properly fill.
Police (and related federal agencies) have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. They can issue (lawful) commands and expect them to be followed. If those commands are refused, force can be employed.
In our Western systems of government, the officer of the law is commissioned to stand with the full authority and backing of an entire community of citizens, to protect the collective good, and that of private liberty and property.
When honest men and women — fully appreciating their role in society — wear that uniform, the phrase “protect and serve” is entirely fitting.
But police departments are composed of people. And ordinary people, we have seen, have a notorious habit of becoming saints and scoundrels. Eventually, bad men will wear badges. What then? Riot and burn?
Not so fast.
The police are, in a real sense, an extension of the will of the people. So, the political approach to power in legislating must impact cultural attitudes in how power is projected by those who enforce the law.
If the public are expected to bow and scrape to their legislators’ capricious whims, then the police will find themselves enforcing the law with that paradigm in mind. A culture is created. It isn’t just police that become overzealous control freaks in such environments. We can see it with customs agents, bylaw enforcement, environmental compliance agencies, the taxman and so on. The greater right they have to dictate to the public what can and cannot be done, the greater their chance of abusing their authority.
Conversely, where governments do not micromanage the lives of its citizens, I suggest that they will face less temptation to overstep their authority. People haven’t been conditioned to subservience, nor do authorities expect it.
What is the real solution to actual police misconduct? Certainly, you want to have effective measures in place to detect and punish it where it is found. But there is another, more proactive step that can be taken.
Create a different power–culture.
Stop electing lawmakers who treat citizens like cattle. Stop electing social engineers. Stop empowering lawmakers to use the carrot and the stick to make you conform to their idea of “right behaviour”:. The right size and type of car; flow rate in your toilet; snack in your kid’s lunchbox. Stop creating a culture where They rule Us.
Then the police won’t be at all surprised or alarmed by our independence, or refusal to obey unwarranted commands. In fact, they’ll defend it.