Friday, December 30, 2011

The Question of Police

The concept of "police" is an odd one that has been with us but a mere 130 years, give or take. I call it odd because police really have no readily justifiable place in a free society. That police might exist in nations such as Great Britain, NAZI Germany, Stalin's Russia, or Mao's China should not be terribly surprising, for these are all variants of the authoritarian model to which the architects of the American system can be said to have been resolutely set against replicating in the newborn renegade republic.

One may ask why the notion is not fit for free nations. After all, this is all anyone who now lives has ever known. And long before police, we in the USA have had the local sheriffs, so what is the big deal? Police, after all, are there "to protect and serve".

The harm arises along several lines. One of the greatest causes of concern being that police are virtually unaccountable to the citizens to whom they swore an oath of service respectful of their rights. Sheriffs, on the other hand, are elected and serve at the pleasure of the electorate and may be impeached when their conduct steps beyond the bounds of their duly constituted powers.

Another of the profoundly dangerous ways in which the people have come to great harm in their liberties and rights can be found in the quantum shift in the nature of the role police play. While never quite legitimate in any event, the initial primary role of police was that ofpeace keeper rather than as law enforcer. This role, however, began changing during alcohol prohibition, took something of a breather thereafter, and then resumed in the late 1960s, taking larger strides as it steadily shifted away from its originally intended pupose. Since 9/11 the role of police as absolute and unchallengeable enforcers of arbitrary and capricious law has been growing frightfully in its degree and increasingly draconian timbre. In like manner, the penalties and risks to the citizen who asserts his inalienable rights against immoral and criminal police action now often prove potentially and sometimes immediately life threatening.

What is the difference between being a keeper of the peace and a law enforcer? Passive v. active duty. Go back in time and we find the stereotypical beat cop doing his thing and largely minding his own business until such time as an actual call for help or witnessing of a crime occurred. With the exception of large and hopelessly corrupt cities such as Chicago, there were virtually no such things as bands of cops busting down the doors of peaceable citizens. Even in places like Chicago such questionable actions were only taken with warrants issued more or less on probable cause and most often under proper service. So even if Ma Jones in Littletown USA was in fact cooking up some bathtub gin, she was almost certainly safe from police intrusion so long as she did not carelessly disclose her activities. Life went on and people enjoyed something much closer to actual freedom than do we now.

Today we have no peace officers, but rather law enforcement personnel. Their role is fundamentally different and very much at odds with human freedom in that it is not a passive role, but active. Police no longer stand vigilantly, paying attention for signs of actual wrongdoing while respecting the sanctity of their fellows to whom they swore an oath of faithful service and respect - and make no mistake, swearing an oath to uphold the Constitution is precisely an oath to one's fellow citizens. Today, police actively seek ways to intrusively observe, ferret out, and even entrap people engaging in behavior for which arrest may be affected, property confiscated, and hopefully charges made, even if those charges do not ultimately stick. 

Also note that the pretexts for arrest and even murder of citizens, which is to say "the law", are invalid at least as often as otherwise. The vast and overwhelming majority of statutes currently on the books have falsely criminalized behaviors that have no relationship to actual, demonstrable crime. The prohibition on possession of certain chemical compounds or botanical substances is not a crime, nor is possession of explosives or firearms. The employment of the services of prostitutes can in no reasonable way be established as crime. At one time, the commission of homosexual acts could earn one a prison term, as could the mere possession of gold bouillon. The list of things that people cannot do or must do is practically endless and police often make use of this vast litany of humanly untrackable prohibitions and mandates as the pretexts for establishing just cause in their furtively positive efforts to find a given individual guilty of something. 

Seeking guilt is not the same as protecting from harm. They are, in fact, diametric opposites and this radical alteration in mindset from protector to hunter-killer altered the way in which police view everyone else. In the past, police generally regarded the citizen as their fellow and as an ally to be protected and from whom he might solicit help in a time of need. Today, police view the citizen as a potentially deadly adversary to be mistrusted, feared, and dispatched if their behavior is taken as uncooperative, much less threatening. This is why today we have police shooting children and household pets with continually rising and profoundly disturbing frequency. 

Adding insult to injury, police are very rarely called to account for their actions because the standard of judging such actions requires only that they "felt" threatened. Police routinely lie to get what they want and to avoid accountability for criminal behavior. All the more worrisome, prosecutors appear to be content to accept them at their word with no further investigation.

The notion of peace-keeper is itself sufficiently fraught with problems to render it of questionable moral validity. The contemporary role of police as law enforcement hunter-killers is nothing less than the moral moral and functional equivalent of the German gestapo, and this is no exaggeration. When one analyzes the powers and actions of that infamous and scurrilous mob, comparing it with what we have today in America the only real difference is that the police today are notably more bloodthirsty than were their German forebears.

In the 1970s anyone suggesting that police would devolve as they have would have been locked in a padded cell and heavily dosed with anti-psychotic drugs. Nobody would have accepted this as even remotely possible. Today, it is widely accepted as perfectly normal, or at least as unavoidable.

The question this all raises is how to respond. Ask yourself whether this is what you want and if not, what are you prepared to do to help stop it? Make not the error of ignoring the fact that these circumstances lie very near the heart of your ability to exercise the birthright of your liberty.

Until next time, please accept my best wishes.