The media is reporting some police involved (induced?) deaths recently, and I am not going to espouse any opinion on the specific incidents. Instead, I think it is more important that people focus on the common themes in these incidents (one in New York and one in Missouri) and many like them that occur each year. It is also important that we remember the role of law enforcement in our civil society and the culpability we all have in how we act, vote, and engaged with our society.
So here is a common order of occurrence in these recent incidents:
1. Someone other than the police officer was allegedly breaking the law and acting without regard for civil society.
2. Police intervened to enforce the law and restore civil society. (Remember, police do not judge the laws, they only enforce them).
3. Resistance by the alleged transgressor to police intervention ensued.
4. Someone died (in these cases, not the police offer; although, that happens as well).
Instead of questing for guilt on the part of police, perhaps it is time for some introspection and thoughtful regard for the role police play in our society. First some introspection: would I resist arrest, even if it were an unjust action? No. Because I don’t want to get wrestled down or shot by police. If the arrest is truly unjust, then the courts should throw it away and clear it from my record. Should anyone resist arrest? Probably not, for the exact same reasons. Hence our three branches of government – legislators whom we elect to make laws, executives whom we elect to enforce laws, and legal arbitrators (judges), who are appointed by our representatives to judge both laws and alleged violations of them (both by civil members of our society such as individuals and organizations, and by the government itself).
What about the “tyranny” of government and our constitutional rights that the government is slowing eroding? Should that precipitate or even necessitate violent opposition to arrest? This is where the conversation of the role of police in a democratic (federal republic at the federal level) is important. Police are law enforcers. Period. They are not judges, arbitrators, litigators, prosecutors, lawyers, policy makers, or elected representatives. Next time you think: “the police should have exercised discretion in making that arrest” you had better be more thoughtful about how much discretion you are giving to police. I would much rather have an honest police force that enforces every law as it is written than a police force composed of hundreds of arbitrary policy makers introducing uncertainty into the legal system. Allowing for selective enforcement opens up the floodgates of corruption. If you want to change the “tyranny” of our government or reduce violence by police, then vote to change the laws or the legislators – you don’t like the taxes that the police were enforcing? Vote against your mayor and governor. You don’t like the growth of the police state in which our government is involved in every facet of our lives? Vote against those who would impose it upon us. The change people seek will not be found in resisting arrest, it is in the ballot box and the court system – it is in our system of checks and balances, a system that voters are letting get skewed by selective enforcement, political corruption, and poor ballot decisions. If you don’t like the laws or think that their enforcement is unjust, then vote against the politicians who impose them upon us. No amount of money in politics can tell an informed citizen how to vote. Period.
Additionally, at the heart of any law or tax in any social order is the threat of government violence. It is the last backstop against the collapse of civil society. When people knowingly break the law and then resist their consequences, they knowingly open themselves up to government sponsored violence. A society with laws but no ultimate enforcement mechanism is just anarchy and chaos. It is not a civil society. So before breaking the law, you should acknowledge the potential consequences and recognize that the government has the sole monopoly on legal violence within our country. If you don’t like the laws they enforce with violence, then you should vote against those who impose them upon us, not get angry at those whose job it is to enforce them.
If you are concerned about police violence against citizens, then your anger should be directed at politicians. If their were fewer laws to violate, if government were less intrusive, if corruption of enforcement were not available, then the police would have fewer opportunities to use violence against citizens. In other words: police violence is an unintended consequence of government interventionism and regulation.