Post Debate Discussion: Police, #BLM, and Militarization
July 19, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Yesterday, two of my colleagues at Fault Lines, Noel Erinjeri and Chris Seaton, debated the issue of the murder of police officers by blacks in response to repeated killings of black men by police without any repercussion to the officers. Scott Greenfield weighed in at Simple Justice. Both Noel and Chris were correct in what they were saying, but they don’t address the real issue in the matter. Radley Balko has already identified that issue in part, and others have brought in the remaining components of the discussion.
It’s simple, really. It is militarization of the police coupled with a lack of accountability for their actions. It is the result of a prohibition effort against drugs, which has failed in the same complete manner that the prohibition effort against alcohol failed from 1920 to 1933. This prohibition of drugs was called a “War on Drugs” by politicians, people who did not understand either the dynamics of a war, or the dynamics of prohibition. These same politicians were not going to listen to those who gave them advice on the matter either.
Balko has pointed out that the imagery and mind-set of officers is important in how police deal with the public. The focus of police should be on being guardians of the public’s safety, not warriors in a war against our citizens over drugs. The problem is that the police have become themselves addicted to enforcing drug-laws, and as Georgetown law professor Randy E. Barnett points out:
Their denials notwithstanding, both kinds of [drug-law] addicts are detectable by their adamant resistance to rational persuasion. While they eagerly await and devour any new evidence of the destructiveness of drug use, they are almost completely uninterested in any practical or theoretical knowledge of the ill effects of illegalizing such conduct.
This attitude is shown by the police response to the murders of officers by lone, delusional blacks, who have the perception that the police are waging a war against them. I understand the police anger and their response, but it is counterproductive. The better reaction is not to become more militarized, but to follow the course that Dallas Police Chief David Brown has followed, to continue the course of reforming the policing field.
You can see the difference in the response in the two communities of Dallas and Baton Rouge. In Dallas, where Brown committed to protecting the rights of people to protest, there has been no escalation. The officers there accompanied protesters in their normal uniforms. In Baton Rouge, protesters were confronted by police in riot gear, and arrested for “blocking” a street that had been barricaded off by police specifically for the protest.
You see, this isn’t going to be just a civil war between blacks and police, it’s going to expand. Gavin Long, the murderer of the Baton Rouge officers, was not only a #BLM activist, he was a “sovereign citizen.” He hasn’t been the only anti-government activist to kill police officers.
In 2014, Jerad and Amanda Miller murdered two Las Vegas police officers who were eating lunch. The Millers had ties to white supremacists and sovereign citizen movements, and to the Bundy ranch standoff. Before that, you had Jerry Kane, Jr. and his son, Joseph Kane, who murdered two West Memphis police officers in 2010. You have not only the minority community that is outraged, you have sovereign citizens, you have people like the Bundy’s, the various militias, anarchists, and others, all of whom would be crazy enough to jump on the bandwagon.
The problem is that the anti-police response is growing all over—recent events include:
- A police car was set on fire in Florida, with a #BLM note nearby.
- Deputies were refused service at a Taco Bell in Alabama.
- A police officer was ambushed by an Asian male in Georgia.
- A police officer was wounded in Wisconsin.
It’s a response to a perception that police are not being held accountable. Leon Wolf, the conservative managing editor of RedState, notes that since 2000, NYPD has shot and killed 180 people, but only three have been indicted and only one convicted. He correctly notes that:
[P]eople’s willingness to act rationally and within the confines of the law and the political system is generally speaking directly proportional to their belief that the law and political system will ever punish wrongdoing. And right now, that belief is largely broken, especially in many minority communities.
From the left, the view is the same, with an Atlantic article by Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates pointing out that until police, as well as the rest of society, are reformed, violence is going to be inevitable. He’s absolutely correct, as is Wolf. Vox has a list of 9 things that everyone should know about police shootings and brutality that are essential reading for anyone weighing in on this issue; our police are much more deadly than in other nations, there are racial problems in the use of force, there’s no good data on officer-involved shootings, the First Rule of Policing, the lack of prosecution, that police deaths are way down, and the militarization of the police by the federal government.
You have to change the system, and the people running the system don’t want it to be changed. Their response to violence against the police is to arm up, to prepare for war. That’s a self-filling prophecy, and is the approach taken by Louisiana in their hate-crime legislation (and apparently, now by Texas also).
Or you can take action to reduce the problem. Hold officers responsible. Conduct real investigations, by outside agencies. Prosecute wrongdoers. Be a lot more transparent. That’s not going to help in cases like Rice, Brown, or Sterling, where the police were justified, but it will help immensely to prosecute officers for deaths like Garner, Crawford, or Jones.
 I can’t really do better than his comments in section 3 of the linked article.
 Randy E. Barnett, The Harmful Side Effects of Drug Prohibition, 2009 Utah L. Rev. 11, 12 (internal citation omitted).