I mean, personally I think we’d all be better off without them. Can you think of a single instance in which the supposed cure is not worse than the described disease? But people are conditioned to believe western civilization would just fall down and break like a china plate if there were no police, so let’s take ‘abolish the police’ off the table. For now.
We find ourselves in the familiar predicament: The institutions and the people that we deputize to secure our liberty are — it is inevitable — the most significant threat to that liberty. This is evident at all levels of government.
From coroners to prosecutors to big-city gang task forces to drug-dealing Baltimore police officers, the criminality in the law-enforcement process is, if not necessarily a dominant tendency, a plainly and inarguably systemic one. Lord Acton was right, and so was Detective Jimmy McNulty: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the patrolling officer on his beat is the one true dictatorship in America.
People are now shouting about how all cops should wear personal cameras, and police organizations are shouting right back that that would be an absolutely terrible idea. I almost sympathize with the cops: Ever work at a company where your every keystroke is logged and monitored? You probably found other reasons that was a lousy company to work for, didn’t you? But even I, the hyper-individualist hermit and occasional watchman, concede that you’ve got to watch the watchman most closely of all. The job, if it really must be done, cannot be done without a measure of power. Power corrupts the nicest of people. And frankly, the job isn’t right for the nicest of people. So by all means, as a stop-gap measure let us festoon their cringing carcasses with cameras by the dozen.
This will not, of course, solve the problem. (Warning: Wall of words below the fold)
It may address one of the problem’s most damaging symptoms, which is Officer Friendly’s remarkable resistance to transparency. We are told, mostly by police officers and their spokesmen, that a police officer’s job is so stressful and difficult that we must give him room, latitude, the benefit of every doubt. And – let us speak frankly – that seemed to work out fine for most people as long as Deputy Roscoe was just thumping darkies on the other side of the tracks – because that was where most people wanted them kept, and an occasional thumping seemed a fine strategy toward that end. And anyway, nobody who matters had to watch. If one got thumped maybe a little too hard from time to time, well, let’s face it. There are plenty more that look just like him, so let’s clean up the paperwork and move on. It’s a difficult job, and mistakes will be made.
That’s the way a good many police departments have been run for well over a century. Now here comes Youtube, and portable telephones with video cameras, and it took a while but all of a sudden! Wow! We’re shocked! Shocked! To learn that there’s police brutality going on here.
Remember “police brutality?” Maybe you need to be of a certain age. Screaming that phrase was all the rage in the sixties, and it was pooh-poohed and chuckled at by all the right people. It was every bit as real then as it is now, except now it’s on camera and inescapably in your face everywhere you go, and so in spite of their best efforts the police are in the process of committing the one single unforgivable sin: They’re scaring the white people. They are demonstrating in living color on everybody’s TV every evening that the sheepdog is not a nice doggie after all when he’s off the leash, and he absolutely will not curb himself no matter how firmly you shake your finger at him. Yeah, police organizations should hope that wearable cameras are the worst of the consequences.
Cameras won’t fix anything. Like with ballot boxes, it’s not who does the voting but who does the counting that counts. Dodges will be developed, it’s simply in the nature of the situation. They don’t address the real problem.
The real problem is human nature. It is in our nature that power corrupts us. Is there a real answer to this? Well, you won’t find it here. Really smart people have thought about it really hard for a really long time, and so far we’ve got nothing. Even if some truly revolutionary and foolproof plan were to emerge, we would need to depend on the very people and organizations whose ox would be most deeply gored by its implementation, to implement it. What are the chances of that?
Personally I think we’re better off doing away with the institution, and seeing to our own personal and collective security. But since that’s not going to happen, I leave you with this:
We are asked to simultaneously believe two contradictory things: That law enforcement officers are the elite among us, chosen and trained to a fare-thee-well and so highly unlikely to make mistakes, and also that they need a veil to cover all their dealings. Time after time, when ‘questionable’ things occur, internal investigations discover that all is well, procedures were followed, there’s nothing to see here, move along. On isolated (really frequent) occasions, ‘mistakes were made.’ But mostly, that grenade landed in that baby’s crib because that’s exactly where the baby’s lowlife parents arranged for it to land. Don’t blame us. We were devastated.
The job of law enforcement, as advertised, could only be done well by truly elite groups of men and women. The real problem that’s emerging into public view is that police officers are no such thing. Despite frequent claims.
You know the most important thing about a genuine elite? Reputation. Those people (Think Navy SEALS, if you must. Or a really good NFL team) truly give a damn about their reputations. They earned them through hard work that would simply be impossible for regular people. They deserve them, they are jealous of them, and they will by god be the very first to throw anybody who sullies them out on his no-longer-privileged ass. As someone posing as a really smart person once said,
With power comes responsibility. Every gun owner knows this. With greater power would, in any sane society, come greater responsibility. A society of warriors – sheepdogs, if you will – who have dedicated themselves to the protection of the sheep would never tolerate the company of anyone in their ranks who abused the sheep. A society of warriors dedicated to the protection of the sheep would never hide that person behind a shield of “department policy.” Any one such action, even made by understandable mistake, might well be that person’s last. Every single one of those warriors, through pure healthily selfish interest, would be absolutely devoted to the avoidance of any such mistake.
Which is how we see true elites behave. Which is precisely what all law enforcement organizations in the nation will resist to the last drop of your blood.
The problem can only be fixed by supermen. Which is precisely why the problem will not be fixed. But by all means, cameras for everybody. I’ll be interested to see how they get around it.