Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Human life is too important to let police take it with impunity

Today there is a trend which is dangerous to human life, and the safety and legitimacy of police. 809 people have already been killed this year by police. Police have increasingly been trained to act confrontationally, to hold the public at bay and to escalate situations; they more readily use force, often upon a public which is not threatening. Prosecutors and judges frequently treat flagrant crimes - everything from assault to murder - as legal uses of force. But this is not making police safer, it does not improve their effectiveness, and it is not legitimate.

I have my own ideas about how society should be organized, but frankly, I am not invoking them in this issue. I am not talking about the exploitation of labor or of the US imperial state because I don't need to, and its not really relevant (even though people like to Drag In The Kitchen Sink on such popular issues). We don't need a socialist revolution before things can change - the principles enshrined in our own government, and the rule of law, could save these lives.

A reasonable way to save lives:

1. Enforce the law.
2. Train police to act legally and legitimately as integrated members of the communities they police.

Police need to be held accountable where they are breaking the law. Of course this goes for everyone, but in the case of police, they are frequently not held accountable for their actions. The legislative and judicial policies which enable this undermine the rule of law; those polices are therefore destabilizing and illegitimate.

This is an example of checks and balances; where judges and legislators fail to enforce the law, and even enable dangerous police practices, they fail their mandate to uphold the rule of law and to act in the interests of the public.

Enforcing the law should be easy - those who do not commit crimes do not deserve to be assaulted or detained. This includes pepper spray and "kettling" tactics which represent assaults and attempts at escalation, respectively. It is lawfulness and de-escalation that legitimize policing.

Police should effect safer and more lawful conditions in society.
On top of not breaking the law, police should act to bolster their legitimate place as protectors and benefactors to society. This means police should be a part of their community - communities controlled by outside forces become resentful, reducing the stature, role and the effectiveness of police.

Officers who flagrantly violate the law set bad examples, and can make citizens fearful of going to them for help. Even actions which only target criminals, but are disproportionate, can chill citizen reporting of crime - if you expect officers to assault or even kill someone you report for committing a crime, a sane person will be discouraged from reporting the crime, especially if they are friends, neighbors or family members.

Police presence should reduce crimes, assaults and deaths. If that is not the case, the police do not have a mandate for their position, and/or the policies which govern police behavior and oversight are incorrect.

This is utterly reasonable, and a sane alternative to current practices. Removing dangerous people from society is not something that is increasingly dangerous in the US - quite the opposite - and it does not call for murders and assaults. And of course, this reasonable framework has already been hammered out - at a time when policing was undeniably more dangerous in the US.

Our police should be trained to act legally as integrated, helpful members of society - an attitude I have actually heard from police. Prosecution for crimes is, of course, not controversial. Anyone who disagrees with this is basically rejecting the rule of law, and founding principles of our republic.

I've met police officers who have surprised me with their generosity and who do not fit the bill of a "brutal cop"; many are not sadists and don't want to commit crimes. Maybe even discussing the basic role of police in society has its place, but I don't think it is here. Today we are confronted with a massive loss of human life which could be saved, and it shouldn't require major reforms.

This is not Revolutionary

Of course I don't think we will achieve justice and stability simply by these reforms. It is possible these policies will prolong an illegitimate state which does not extend democratic oversight to the economy (see the "marxist" Make Things Worse To Incite Revolution argument). However human beings are dying, today, when current laws and policies can prevent that.

It is plausible to say that loss of life in a revolution may occur, and we should not avoid revolution on account of that. But it is not legitimate to advocate for worse conditions, or unreasonably radical conditions, when a consensus-driven approach can save lives and improve standards of human rights.

Even if you think the state is illegitimate, the reality proves that a safer existence is a possibility, should people demand it in reasonable terms. Human life, human rights, and the possibility for a safer society based on heightened respect for individual civil liberties is worth fighting for, even if it is not a panacea.

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