TPOL frequently comments on police. Our recent commentary on an alternative to 21st Century policing and police forces received several comments which led to examining some of the topics in more detail. I appreciate the comments and the thoughts that they generate.
One key point is that there is a difference between “law enforcement” and “peacekeeping.” A very big difference.
(I tend to avoid the term “peacekeeping” because today, that term is generally applied to nasty UN-sponsored and -funded military occupation forces, usually more concerned with suppression and restoring or “enforcing” the peace than what a traditional Western American peace officer did during the 1800s.)
In 2020, in the United States, we combine these functions, and the priority is ALWAYS “enforcing the law.” Which means, all too often, that the peace is NOT maintained. Indeed, police forces are more likely to disturb the peace than virtually any other group of people – including criminals. (Admittedly, the organizations Black Lives Matter and AntiFa in recent months to set new records and even try and outdo the police, even in their own particular jurisdictions.)
An example is the recent school board meeting in Mitchell, South Dakota. The two cops were NOT there to “keep the peace” but to enforce a “law” that was probably illegal, certainly immoral, and not really even in their jurisdiction to enforce: they were “city cops” not “school cops.” But that is a relatively low-harm example.
From disrupting the smooth flow of traffic to stop and ticket scofflaws to no-knock raids on suspected (or mistaken) drug venues totally disrupting the normal peaceful life of an entire neighborhood, police often do seem to accomplish little enforcement of the law, BUT do many things which do NOT keep the peace. And all too often their actions of law enforcement lead to needless deaths, injuries, damage to property, and increased tensions leading to still LESS peace.
Making matters worse, in the Fifty States, we have a huge collection of law enforcement agencies. For example, many schools DO have their own band of merry uniformed thugs eager to disturb the peace while enforcing the “law” by taking down students for wearing the “wrong” teeshirt or having a knife to cut up their apple. We have local constables and marshalls, town and city police officers, sheriff’s officers, state police or patrols, bureaus of investigation, and the myriad of fedgov cop agencies. All concerned with law enforcement and very few with actually bothering to keep the peace.
And then, to boot, we have all those agencies and organizations and such SUPPORTING law enforcement: we have city attorneys with their prosecutors, we have county and district and state and federal attorneys, all with the power to decide that someone MAY be breaking the law and therefore go to OTHER attorneys (judges) to get pieces of paper (warrants). Which are then used by police to “enforce the law” and disturb the peace.
And we must not forget the legislators, assemblymen, commissioners, councilors and other various lawmakers (and regulation inventors) who MAKE UP all these laws that must then be enforced. And whom of course PAY the law enforcers, with money stolen from taxpayers. Or should we forget the voters that put these people into power, sustain them IN power, and say nothing. Because they have been taught that government is good and that the same moral rules that apply to you and me as private people don’t apply to government.
Theft, for one. But especially the idea that initiating force, aggression, against someone is just moral and fine, if it is for the purpose of “enforcing the law.”
There is one more problem on top of these: Many voters, legislators, and public officials constantly EXCUSE people who do not obey laws. They excuse them by blaming society, claiming their thefts attacks on properties and others, and all the rest are not their fault, but that of society or of other groups in society. In other words, law enforcement is to be selective: don’t go after those with too much power or influence, and don’t go after those that are disadvantaged and therefore not responsible for their actions.
Is it any wonder we have turned the police into even more of a nightmare for them and the rest of society?
This commentary was originally published on 22 September 2020, and is now republished with minor changes. Please keep your comments respectful and free from excessive cursing and contempt.