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What’s Wrong? You Got What You Wanted

Two nights ago, the first cracks formed in the dam. A sea of crime and violence, held at bay by the nation’s police officers, was threatening to burst through. The cracks are figurative, as is the dam; the fissures represent absence. When the police on whom we heap our abuse, our hatred, our invective, remove themselves from the streets they patrol, a funny thing happens. The people screaming “Defund the police!” get what they want, the ocean of violent crime breaks through, and our cities are flooded with — perhaps ironically — more of the crime and violence that has, for the last three weeks, been committed in the name of removing those cops from their posts.

I, like most Americans, have a conflicted view of police. I was raised to respect them. In subsequent years I had my encounters with rude, self-righteous, and even corrupt police, men and women who felt they could treat me however they chose because they are police and I am a mere mortal, a civilian. But many times I also encountered police officers who were helpful. They were polite. They were professional. They were even kind. The good ones are easily forgotten or taken for granted. The bad ones stand out in our bitter memories.

The existence of good cops does not excuse or forgive the depredations of the bad ones. We give police officers an unimaginable amount of authority. If power tends to corrupt — and most assuredly it does — it stands to reason that there will be police who abuse their authority. But individual misdeeds by police do not indict the profession of policing overall. More importantly, our anger and our outrage when the power of the law falls on our shoulders — when law enforcement’s seemingly all-powerful Eye of Sauron casts its gaze in our direction — does not eclipse the necessary work police officers do.

Twice in the last year I have had to call police, not for trivial matters, but for very serious ones. The first was a potential break-in that, thankfully, turned out to be a false alarm. The second was a domestic battery that occurred practically on my front lawn. In both cases, the police were professional, polite, and even comforting. In the case of the domestic battery, I watched them take down a combative suspect who seemed determine to get himself thrown in jail. In that latter case, they remained professional, used no more force than was necessary, and were unfailingly pleasant in interviewing me for my statement.

The people screaming “Defund the police!” are quick to tell us that what they say they mean is not what they mean. Why, they don’t want to abolish the police. They simply want to take funding away from police so that the police find it much more difficult to do their jobs, on the theory that this will somehow reduce incidents of police brutality.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced, say, budget cuts at your job, but if you have, let me ask: Did the sudden removal of resources, or the demand that you do more work for less compensation, make you feel more motivated? Did you recommit yourself to doing the best work possible… or did you take shortcuts, ignore some needed tasks, and generally develop an overwhelming feeling of apathy?

Apathetic cops who feel unsupported and hung out to dry do not suddenly become more compassionate. They do not start treating suspects with greater care. But worse than that, police who risk their lives every single day protecting the rest of us do change their behavior when we start punishing them for doing their jobs. If they feel that doing the jobs we’ve given them endangers their own chances to have and enjoy their lives, they will stop doing those jobs.

So it was that when the prosecutor in Atlanta made the devastating decision to charge a police officer with multiple death-penalty-eligible felonies, because that cop shot a combative suspect who had stolen the officer’s taser, Atlanta cops decided they’d had enough. The officers staged a walk-out, a “blue flu.”

Forgotten in this age of pandemic, very often, is that cops have continued to work the streets and come in close contact with the worst of society while the rest of us were hiding in our homes. They’ve risked their lives every day, not just from coronavirus, but from the various and sundry other physical threats they face as a matter of course. This new “virus” proved far worse than COVID-19, however. It took cops completely off Atlanta’s streets.

A staggering number of cops have been injured or killed since this civil unrest started. One cop was shot in the back of the head by a rioter; that officer will spend the rest of his shortened life on a ventilator, totally paralyzed. Other officers have watched as their fellow police have been fired and charged with crimes for what are obviously political reasons. Is it any wonder, then, that so many of them are leaving the profession, walking off the job, or refusing to answer calls? We’ve constructed a scenario in which they can do nothing right. Presumed automatically to be racist villains motivated only by harming the public, how  can they possibly be expected to protect and serve?

When violent protesters march down your street, when home invaders kick in your door, when rapists throw you down and take what they will, when burglars rob you blind or smash out the windows of your car, whom will you call? Will it be social workers and community activists? What will they do for you? Will they wring their hands and express their sympathies over your broken body? Will they hold a candlelight vigil outside your ransacked home? Who will come when you need assistance… and why should they bother?

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public: You have gotten exactly what you wanted. You are now enjoying, in select cities across America, a preview of what your lives will be like when there are no police.

What’s wrong? Why are you so upset?

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