Over at National Review Online, A J Delgado points out that it is time that conservatives stop reflexively defending the police when they make errors:
…it’s time for conservatives’ unconditional love affair with the police to end.
Let’s get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way: Yes, many police officers do heroic works and, yes, many are upstanding individuals who serve the community bravely and capably.
But respecting good police work means being willing to speak out against civil-liberties-breaking thugs who shrug their shoulders after brutalizing citizens.
On Thursday in Staten Island, an asthmatic 43-year-old father of six, Eric Garner, died after a group of policemen descended on him, placing him in a chokehold while attempting to arrest him for allegedly selling cigarettes. A bystander managed to capture video in which Garner clearly cries out, “I can’t breathe!” Even after releasing the chokehold (chokeholds, incidentally, are prohibited by NYPD protocol), the same officer then proceeds to shove and hold Garner’s face against the ground, applying his body weight and pressure on Garner, ignoring Garner’s pleas that he cannot breathe. Worse yet, new video shows at least eight officers standing around Garner’s lifeless, unconscious body.
Who can defend this?…
No one can, of course. On the other side of it, Jack Dunphy – the nom de post of a police officer – points out, correctly (though involving a different case), that the police are often put in a very difficult position by the forces of the left: if they do something, they can be blamed and if they fail to do something, they could just as well be blamed. Pointing out that videos of alleged police misconduct are often either edited for dramatic (and political) impact or simply incomplete, Dunphy shows that the police do have a hard time of it in our modern, lawyer-ridden, political correct era.
First off, we conservatives do have to stop it with the rigid defense of the police. In our modern time as the police become more militarized (often via grants of federal money – which allows defense contractors who lobbied for the grants to sell military-style weapons to local police forces at no direct cost to those forces) and, at times, all too willing to ignore not just law but common sense, we conservatives dare not turn a blind eye to police errors. That said, the problem with the police is not so much with the police officers, themselves, but in what we’re not ordering them to do: be police officers.
The case of Mr. Garner is made doubly tragic by why the police were attempting to arrest him: he was out to sell cigarettes; cigarettes which hadn’t paid their due sum to the government before being sold. At the end of the day, Mr. Garner is dead because nitwits in government decided that smoking is so bad that we have to massively tax it to the point where a black market in the product is created – and in order to ensure that the taxes get paid, police officers are taken off police duties and turned into revenue agents for insane taxes. What Mr. Garner was doing was illegal – but it ought not to have been; had it not been – were we rational – then Mr. Garner wouldn’t have been tempted to enter a lucrative black market and the police would be out policing rather than acting as revenue agents and Mr. Garner would alive.
We did not create police forces for the collection of insane taxes; nor to be super-sleuths solving difficult crimes; nor to be robo-cops armed to the teeth for a drug raid (and all too often getting the wrong house); no, we didn’t create police for any of these things. We created them to keep watch – to prevent crime by being an armed force constantly on the scene. A force which by its existence on the streets – day and night – deters criminals from acting because of fear of instant arrest. The police are not supposed to be at SWAT training; they are not supposed to be gearing up for the drug raid – and they are not supposed to be putting Mr. Garner in a choke hold because he didn’t pay some bull**** taxes on the cigarettes he planned to sell. They are just supposed to be there – clearly uniformed, friendly, observant, deeply versed in the nuances of the neighborhoods they patrol (on foot! Not in cars!)…and ready at a moment’s notice to answer the call for a “bump in the night”; when some citizen believes there may be a criminal about to break in or attack.
Our police forces need to be reformed into their original purpose: to police our neighborhoods and be on the look out for the honest citizens in their homes and businesses. Doing this reform will be difficult – entrenched financial and political interests (some of whom are in the police forces, themselves) don’t want to go back to being old fashioned police. There’s no room for glory (or graft) in just keeping the streets safe. But it really does need to be done – and we also need a means of checking up on the police; some sort of citizens review board (which the police and DA must have no influence over) to which citizens can turn if they believe that police officers are acting against their oath to uphold the law. In service of this, we do actually need more video with the police – modern technology gives us ample ability to equip our officers with video cameras which don’t interfere with police duty, but will record everything…and I’ll bet far more often than not, will clear officers accused of misbehavior; but they will also provide a tool for weeding out those who are unsuited for the high and noble calling of being a police officer.
As always, my hat is off to the good police officers. They do a job which I am in no way capable of doing – they do handle the very seamy underside of our society, which has been made all the worse by 60 years of moral degradation. That most of them even under these circumstances (moral depravity coupled with over-sensitivity to perceived slights) still manage to do their job well and with honor is a testimony to their worth. I don’t want to make the job of police officer more difficult – but I do want to make the job back into the job we originally intended. I want the cop on the beat who knows his local people and how they operate and who is on the watch for anyone who is up to no good; and I want a means of correcting the police when a bad apple is found in the barrel of good police officers. One thing is certain, it can’t go on like this – and we conservatives, as the people of law and order, have a primary responsibility to ensure that we do get our law and order and a police force that everyone respects because everyone knows that it is just doing it’s proper job.