The tensions between the public and the police have reached a boiling point of sorts. Like in most public discourses, the true issue is buried under emotions, tribalism, and the inflammatory words of public figures, politicians, and opportunists.
The public backlash against police brutality started late last year with the deaths of people like Micheal Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of the police. While the details of these cases are important and widely debated, I want to focus on the mistrust of law enforcement that these cases brought into the public spotlight.
Obviously, this mistrust and frustration with law enforcement has been accumulating for a long time. Past and current legislators around the country and in Washington have put the police in an impossible situation. Law enforcement officers are charged with enforcing thousands of laws. Many of these laws are frivolous and even immoral. The laws in America are so numerous that it has been calculated that the average American commits 2 or more felonies a day. This drives law enforcement agents deep into the lives of otherwise peaceful people.
This creates a legal environment where the heavy hand of the state/police can and does injure it’s citizens whether intentional or not. Then, too often, when officers overstep their bounds or outright assault or murder an individual they somehow avoid punishment for their actions. Instead of increasing police accountability and protecting the rights of citizens, the police are often given more invasive authority. For example, the Supreme Court recently ruled that an officer is within his authority to arrest an individual based on the officer’s misunderstanding of a law. An officer can make an illegal arrest and not be punished for it. It is also well known that there is a vast surveillance infrastructure used by law enforcement that clearly violates the 4th Amendment. It is no surprise that the people would eventually get fed up with the police as they enforce the whims of busybody politicians and bureaucrats. All the while being protected from any wrong doings. The informal motto of law enforcement is “to protect and serve”. It is clear that law enforcement in the US has been shifted away from that ideal.
Outlawing voluntary actions between people is immoral. This includes the commonly referred to victimless crimes like drug use and prostitution. Two areas where laws prohibiting them have only introduced more violence and risk into society from both the police and criminal elements. Banning the sale of loose cigarettes is a similar example. That law can now be said to have killed at least one person. All because the state of NY wants to punish those that don’t give them a cut of a sale.
Not all laws outlawing a peaceful activity results in overt violence or coercion by the state and it’s law enforcers. It does however, reenforce the idea that citizens do not own their own bodies. For instance government licensing is the assertion by the government that you can not provide certain services to your neighbors without the government’s permission and the payment of a tribute in the form of a licensing fee. Almost one in three workers in the US need a government license to work in their chosen profession. A man cannot be considered free if he must bow and prostrate himself before a bureaucrat before he can engage in his trade.
Ok, I think I’m getting a little off track. Back to the point.
We have become the wards of the state who must stay between a set of arbitrary lines and ask for permission to do anything of importance. What role does this kind of environment put the police into? It puts them into the role of enforcer. A role far removed from that of “serving and protecting.” It should be no surprise that the public is growing tired and in some cases hostile to the position that police officers find themselves in. Especially when some in the law enforcement vigorously and enthusiastically enforce immoral laws and abuse their positions.
There are a number of groups that have sprung up that are dedicated to exposing police corruption and brutality (CopWatch, CopBlock, KilledByCops). There has been extensive documentation of police corruption and brutality and the ensuing coverups (I’ve listed some at the bottom of this post). Society needs services like security, protection, and criminal investigation, but we cannot allow those legitimate services justify the immoral laws and activities of law enforcement agencies.
All of this might make it sound like I dislike cops. That is not the case. I greatly value the services that brought their profession into existence. I am alarmed at how their role in society has been perverted. I want to see the tensions between the police and the public reduced and a mutual respect restored. Obviously, the most important step is for the ego maniacs in lawmaking bodies and bureaucracies across the country to legalize all peaceful and voluntary activities. Outlawing and regulating them only violates our human rights and creates a conflict between the people, the government, and law enforcement officers.
Law enforcement officers need to take a long objective look at the state of their profession. I have seen many examples in the past couple months of police officers (and other like minded individuals) embracing the police’s role as mindless enforcer. The overall message is that law enforcement officers are not to question the laws that they enforce and that you should follow the law if you do not want to be assaulted or injured by a police officer.
I can see the comfort an officer might get from deciding not to question the laws he has been told to enforce. It would be very painful to fully recognize that you are enforcing any number of immoral laws. “I’m just doing my job” is not a valid justification. Would we accept that excuse from the police working for violent and oppressive governments? Is that a valid reason for the police the enforced the Jim Crow Laws? Or the laws allowing slavery? No.
The police should be angry at legislators and bureaucrats for turning their profession into something that is at odds with the people. They should be angry that they are charged with violating the natural rights of the people that they are supposed to be protecting. Instead they are encouraged to find any reason they can think of to invade an individual’s life to see if that individual is carrying around the wrong kind of plant in his pocket. If that individual is carrying a banned plant then the police will likely use civil asset forfeiture laws to steal everything they can get away with including cash, vehicles, and even houses. This is actually another huge problem with the justice system (See links below for more info). If law enforcement officers want to be redeemed in the eyes of the people it must question the laws it is told to enforce. They must resist the ones that restrict voluntary human interaction. They must not let themselves be used by the state to strangle the liberties of the people. The state is turning the sheepdogs into wolves. Will they realize it before it’s too late?
Police Protections and civil asset forfeiture:
Last Week Tonight – Civil Asset Forfeiture: