Like many libertarians, I am appalled at what’s happening to our police forces in this country. Like many conservatives, I am saddened that people have lost trust in law enforcement.
I was furious that Kelly Thomas’ killers were set free. While I agree with the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown shooting, I wonder why that cop had to chase a cigar thief. When I watched the Eric Garner video, I was stunned that a stupid cigarette tax escalated the way it did. Finally. watching a Cleveland cop shoot a 12-year old boy with a toy gun disgusted me.
But two of NYPD’s finest got gunned down in cold blood this weekend. Assassinated, execution style. That is unacceptable.
I respect police officers but like so many other American my age wonder how these cops turned into these cops. I have a ton of theories (post 9/11 security craze, federal funding of local police, breakdown of the American family, escalated ‘war’ on drugs, union protection of “bad” cops, etc.), but the fact remains that today’s police departments exhibit an “us v. them” mentality rather than a “community policing” attitude.
Right here in San Diego County, our newly re-elected top cop refuses to comply with a court order to follow the Constitution; he doesn’t “trust” citizens with their individual, God-given right of self defense. The San Diego School District Police Department wanted an urban assault vehicle. A Chula Vista cop slammed a parrothead’s face into a car, because he didn’t “respect his authoritah.” As ridiculous as these actions are, I maintain that a majority of our law enforcement officers are good cops, extraordinary people, and dedicated public servants. I want them to succeed. I want them to be respected by the community.
The assassination of Officers Liu and Ramos had some predictable responses; horror and sadness are felt by most people. Some radicals thought it was appropriate revenge, some people blamed it on Al Sharpton’s rhetoric, and most of NYPD’s finest have turned their back on Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The best response I’ve seen, however, came from (surprisingly) a union boss. In an email describing the NYPD going into “wartime” mode, he prescribes a “peacetime” policing policy:
“IN ADDITION: Absolutely NO enforcement action in the form of arrests and or summonses is to be taken unless absolutely necessary and an individual MUST be placed under arrest,”
Libertarian think-tank REASON Magazine took some pokes at cops but agrees with me:
Returning to the email, the advice to make arrests and write summonses only when “absolutely necessary” is excellent advice, not just for officer safety but public safety too. Police interactions ought to be as limited to the explicit laws meant to be policed as possible. In Staten Island, Officer Daniel Pantaleo and the other cops involved in the death of Eric Garner were ordered by their supervisors specifically to hit the street and find sellers of loose, untaxed, cigarettes. It’s a “crime” not worth Garner’s life, or a cop’s.
This is the conversation we need to have with Sheriff Gore (and his District Commanders), and Chiefs Zimmerman, Bejarano, McCoy, Redman, and Waller. Political calculus is putting pressure on cops to be super heroes and that pressure is causing our police forces to suspect ALL of us, the people whom they are charged to protect. Law enforcement officers are NOT the enemy but neither are “We The People.”
As always, it comes down to the use of force with me. Are you willing to kill someone for breaking a law? If not, it’s probably a bad law in the first place:
The problem is actually broader. It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand.
Government is force. Laws are backed by the threat of force. Law enforcement officers are the instrument of that force. It’s time to give our cops a break and stop putting them in situations which must end up in a violent encounter. We need less, not more laws and we need to get law enforcement back to policing the communities.
Give our cops a break, politicians! I don’t want to get shot for using a plastic bag and no cop wants to be put into the situation to do just that.
May God hold Officers Liu and Ramos in that special place, in the palm of His hand, reserved for the sheepdogs.