Burden of the Badge

Burden of the Badge

Would you want to have a "thankless job"? What careers pop to mind when you hear that phrase? Assuredly ones that you would not want to do; the entire reason that said jobs exist is not because they are necessarily attractive jobs, but because they are necessary ones.  For the purpose of this thought exercise, we could use garbagemen, janitors or miners, but let's focus on a work sector that is frequently in the news. Let's talk about the police.

A police force is a designated service industry that is responsible for enforcing the laws written by the legislative branch of government and interpreted by the judicial branch. They are on the point of contact where the rubber of political ideology and rhetoric meets the road of real life. This makes the police the most immediate relationship an average citizen would have with the government; it also makes them the target of frustration and anger against government policy and law.

This targeting is unfortunate, but logical - if citizens did utilize their Second Amendment right and attempted to overthrow a government they deem tyrannical, that would bring them in direct conflict with a police force that is beholden to maintain order. The would-be revolutionaries could hope that the police and military would join them against the government, but it's a hard argument to make a man fight against his pension.This facet of the Second Amendment is often overlooked by its champions - there seems to be a strong correlation between those that praise the right to bear arms and those that claim that Blue Lives Matter, not realizing (or vocalizing) that supporting one can lead to fighting the other. 

There is currently another fight going on with police - one that sees civil libertarians and black Americans fighting against perceived police overreach and, by extension, government overreach. Disputes over the application and use of bodycams for police officers are an ongoing concern; those opposing bodycams say that they infringe on the privacy of the police and on the privacy of crime victims, while those supporting bodycams point toward increased accountability and the continuous parade of proof of police misconduct, from liberally shooting dogs to planting drugs. The flipside to bodycams is that when the police act appropriately, they can be used to support police statements and testimony.

There is also the issue of civil asset forfeiture - many police departments across the nation get a substantial amount of funding through this practice. This practice enables the police to seize any assets that a person may have, even if that person has not been convicted of a crime, purely on the judgment of an officer stating what he is seizing could be used to facilitate crime. Libertarians often recite the mantra that taxation is theft - civil asset forfeiture is blatantly legalized theft. This practice regrettably seems to be on the ascent, which will only further sour relations between the police and the civilians they steal from. Why, then, would they do such a thing?

Ultimately, the police is a government organization, and they must justify their budget. Funding that they deem necessary that is not received from the state must be generated by asset seizure and levying fines - funding that they do receive is generally dependent on crime rates and police effectiveness. This is why doctrines like quotas exist - though the NYPD vigorously denies the existence of arrest quotas, personal conversations with police officers and observation of more arrests at the end of the month will draw a different conclusion.

There are additional doctrines in play, some of which can be seen as contextually or inherently racist. For instance, the broken windows theory focuses on misdemeanor arrests with the mentality that those that would commit misdemeanors would be likely to commit felonies. In a similar vein, the three strikes law increases jail-time for successive felonies committed, with the reasoning that those that habitually commit felonies must be separated from the law-abiding. Both of these are seen as racist because the misdemeanors and felonies are not equally applied to whites and blacks - the ultimate example being the release rate of whites caught with cannabis as compared to blacks caught with cannabis.

And it is these doctrines, far outside of the control of those that pound the pavement, that steer the actions of police officers. One may have a distrust of police or disagreement with laws that they fulfill, but it must be understood that they have as much of an influence on doctrine as soldiers do on the frontline. There is a chain of command that must be followed - a chain directly linked to our republican foundations of law and order, as imperfect as those foundations may be.

The role of police is as necessary as the role of judges and the role of legislators - you can disagree with how the police, judges or legislators are fulfilling their obligations, but it is foolish to think that a society can run with their absence. Our quality of life is maintained by feeling safe enough to live, work and invest in our society. The absence of the formulation (legislators), interpretation (judges) and enforcement (police) of law will lead to a loss of order, and with the loss of order comes the decay in quality of life.

The charge that the justice system is a modern-day slavery system is mistaken - it implies that there is a single, organized focus to subjugate a portion of the population for profit. Rather, there are several different gears in the justice system, each trying to secure its own funding. Legislators rally political support from their constituents by harnessing their concerns and fears (which may or may not be predicated on racist beliefs) to win an election; district attorneys want to increase their conviction rate to make them look effective (which may or may not involve utilizing racist arguments or jury selection); police departments need to justify their budget by keeping arrests high enough (which may or may not involve the application of racist doctrine or an officer's personal prejudices). To paint it all in a racist shade is misleading and does not take into account the complexity of our justice system, but denying the specter of racism exists in policing is wishful thinking.

Indubitably there are bad influences all of these sectors, just as there are bad influences in the military - the lapse in responsibility that led to the deaths of Philandro Castille, Justine Damond and others can be equated to the lapse in responsibility in Abu Gharib or My Lai. And the siege mentality that a police officer or soldier is instilled with will inevitably encourage a pact of silence and shared responsibility necessary to face death each day. But to blame officers ad hoc is improper. Behavioral changes can be encouraged with increased accountability and more refined training, but it comes down to the laws they are obligated to enforce and the funding they are beholden to chase. As long as the police feel under siege, they and their supporters will not budge. But if improvement can be encouraged without condemnation, there is a better chance for a better world.

In Glory, Dressed

In Glory, Dressed

America's Holy Scroll

America's Holy Scroll