Powermongering Ruins Anything - TribPapers

Powermongering Ruins Anything

James Madison.

AshevilleWhy don’t we reimagine the police to be what white kids growing up in the 1900s were led to believe they were? Police would be like Sheriff Andy Taylor in Mayberry. Taylor was, in the hearts and minds of program viewers, a sweetheart of a sheriff – at least that’s the way the show was promoted. According to Wikipedia, “His laid-back, level-headed approach to law enforcement makes him the scourge of local moonshiners and out-of-town criminals, while his abilities to settle community problems with commonsense advice, mediation, and conciliation make him popular with his fellow citizens.”

Objections may be raised that Mayberry was a homogeneous white community, but that’s beside the point. The beloved sheriff here was like the officer who responded to a wreck years ago. Passing time waiting for the tow truck, he was asked why he wanted to be a cop, and he said, paraphrasing, “I like to help folks trying to do the right thing and stop folks when  they’re doing the wrong thing.” For those who care, this cop would likely identify as black.

In fact, it could be easily argued that this is the way the system was and remained until the recent wave of activism started trying to overhaul it. The problem is, in some senses, more with logic than with the concept of a police force. In general, those pushing the narrative about reforming the police are holding up a strawman; that is, a false narrative against which they launch their attacks.

They start saying police forces in the United States were first formed to catch runaway slaves. Although this is taught at universities now, it is more generally believed the first modern, American public police forces were modeled after London’s Thames River Police, which was organized in 1800. Before that, King Louis XIV, in 1667, organized the first modern uniformed police force. The ancient Greeks even had a police force to safeguard health and safety. Still, even if police were invented to catch runaway slaves, it would be only probable, and not compulsory, that all subsequent law enforcement agencies would be “out to get the Negro.”

Assuming all police forces are racists seeking to put the Others in their proverbial place is one example where the one-therefore-all fallacy comes into narratives about reimaging the police. Another is the way mass media hyped white-on-black attacks of police officers against civilians. Totals for police brutality with the races of all alleged victims and perpetrators were not discussed. The point of the news cycle was to dupe persons unfamiliar with this sleight of hand, which is insulting and literally belittling to the targets, into believing that if one police officer is abusive, all are. 

A pernicious extension of the one-therefore-all fallacy in racial narratives is the effective conversation killer that claims if one white person held and abused slaves, all white people “identify” with said white person. And, albeit often reductio ad absurdum, it can seem like all whites are being told they daily choose to abuse blacks when that is far from their thoughts and intentions. Furthermore, the implicit accusation that all whites want to abuse blacks, is heretical in that it claims all are under the curse of the original sin of the first white slaveholder and beyond any grace or redemption extended through the various churches.

Also left out of the narrative is the phenomenon known well by police that crooks like to demonize cops in the court of public opinion. So, if promulgators of this narrative meet with suspicion, it may not be that the hearer is racist. It is more likely he’s wondering what the messenger is trying to hide. This is not to dismiss the fears, imminent or imagined, of cultures opposed to police forces.

Reimagining has made meritorious strides; for example, in connecting persons experiencing mental illness with counselors instead of bullets. It has gotten police departments to rethink fining people for being too poor to keep their headlights working and vehicle registrations up-to-date. It has also raised awareness about all the wasted lives stacking up in prisons. The United States government was created to free the way for citizens to pick their own righteous paths and excel; not to put them away for minor offenses and deprive them of the ability to work, build credit, or anything else to return to a life of achievement.

A problem with the reforms, though, is that several demand that police become counselors, school hall monitors, basketball coaches – anything but law enforcement. This extends government into personal lives, begging two questions: (1) Where are the parents and the churches? and (2) Shouldn’t efforts be made to support those trying to hold together crumbling moral institutions instead of supplanting them with top-down government programs?

It’s lovely to believe all people will behave well, just as all forms of government look good on paper. What set the United States apart with its Constitution is the Founders designed a system, aware of human nature, that prevented too much power from agglomerating in one place, as long as leaders were willing to follow the rules.

Back to police departments, the problem is bad apples arise and can spread toxic culture through any institution. So, shouldn’t reimagining, at least in part, do what the Founders did, pitting power against itself and doing the same with jealousy, with strategic checks and balances to separate/divide power?

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