It isn't "pro-police" to be pro-brutality


The President stepped way over a line in a speech to some police officers the other day. In remarks made in New York, he said:

And when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon -- you just see them thrown in, rough -- I said, please don’t be too nice. (Laughter.) Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they've just killed somebody -- don't hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay? (Laughter and applause.)

Recall that the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights all specifically address excesses on police-type powers. Our Founders were so concerned about the abuse of domestic law-enforcement powers that they addressed them over and over again.

A call for police brutality shouldn't be a cheap applause line. And when it's the President who's trying to use violence as a punchline, that makes it even worse -- since his first responsibility is to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution".

Police officers deserve better than to be stereotyped as bullies with batons. That's an outdated concept of policing -- one that (rightly) offended sensible Americans a half-century ago when it was used against civil-rights protesters in the South or against those who showed up for the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

One of the reasons that violent crime rates are actually much lower today than in the past is that today's police are better-trained, better-educated, and more sophisticated than their predecessors. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large, police work has grown smarter and more professional over time. It's much more likely to look like community policing than like whatever the President seems to have had in mind.

Fortunately, criticism of the President's remarks came quickly from leaders in law enforcement.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police responded [emphasis added]:

Managing use of force is one of the most difficult challenges faced by law enforcement agencies. The ability of law enforcement officers to enforce the law, protect the public, and guard their own safety, the safety of innocent bystanders, and even those suspected or apprehended for criminal activity is very challenging. For these reasons, law enforcement agencies develop policies and procedures, as well as conduct extensive training, to ensure that any use of force is carefully applied and objectively reasonable considering the situation confronted by the officers. Law enforcement officers are trained to treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or defendant, with dignity and respect. This is the bedrock principle behind the concepts of procedural justice and police legitimacy.

The president of the Police Foundation said [emphasis added]:

Police officers are professionals. Professionals who take a sworn oath to uphold the law and to protect us all. While the President’s support for law enforcement is appreciated by many who have and continue to serve our communities, we cannot support any commentary – in sincerity or jest – that undermines the trust that our communities place in us to protect and serve. That is what separates us from evil as we follow the rule of law. The Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, and the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics – that thousands have solemnly taken and many have made the ultimate sacrifice for – contain statements worthy of reminder: "On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the constitution, my community, and the agency I serve…… I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence…"

"Tough guy" behavior appeals to people who have watched too many crime dramas on television. "Legitimacy" speaks to a vastly more important matter, but it's sophisticated. It's not an applause line, but it definitely is central to effective police/community relations.

The President's shameful cheapening of important civic institutions just this week -- from these police officers to the military to even the Boy Scouts -- is harmful to our way of life. There's nothing "great" about any of it.

"The orderly and just conduct of human affairs depends on strong institutions." - Margaret Thatcher

Civil institutions (like police) derive their legitimacy from popular consent and the rule of law. The President's comments undermined both.

Brian Gongol

Brian Gongol

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