As someone likely to be described by the corporate left-wing media as “far-right,” I am an instinctive supporter of the police and law enforcement. Just as, until recently, I was an instinctive supporter of the Republican Party and the military-industrial complex.
But, as much as my mind tells me to “back the blue,” I can’t get away from the fact that nearly every experience I’ve had involving law enforcement has been negative.
I’m not talking about being busted for robbing a liquor store or something like that—I’ve never been arrested and, so far as I know, have lived my life well within the bounds of the law. But recently I was pulled over simply because I have a license plate from a state the cop didn’t see often. Which led to my trunk being searched.
I didn’t have anything to hide in my trunk. I would have objected to its being searched on the grounds of privacy. But I also knew that the cop could make life unpleasant for me in other ways, at the very least by delaying me for longer on the side of the road. So I let him rummage through my things for a few minutes on the hard shoulder while I looked on. I still don’t know what he expected to find.
When I see a cop car, I don’t feel safe and well-protected. I feel nervous and anxious. I triple-check my speedometer, taking my eyes off the road to do so, and wait for him to pull me over for some unwitting infraction. I suspect that many of my fellow citizens feel the same way, judging from the way everyone on the highway stands on the brake when a cop car comes into view, whether he’s going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit or 10 miles per hour under. I imagine this phenomenon causes a certain number of highway accidents, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it exceeds the number of accidents prevented by the police enforcing the speed limit. But that’s just a guess.
I don’t feel safer when I see the police with their assault rifles in the New York subway. Maybe you do. For the most part, New York’s finest seem to spend their time playing with their smartphones (which I think should be illegal for on-duty officers) or else they stand in a circle to chat, looking as unapproachable as possible. Joseph Mitchell described befriending beat cops in 1930s Manhattan. Today, the idea of having a casual conversation or even asking for friendly help from one of these body-armored pseudosoldiers seems ridiculous to me. I don’t feel these officers are here to protect or to serve me, though they may well be. In appearance and demeanor, they are remarkably like police-state stormtroopers from a 1980s dystopian drama.
I can’t ask a cop to walk home with me late at night in a bad neighborhood. And there are bad neighborhoods everywhere in New York now (even in the good neighborhoods). My primary thought about the NYPD is that they’re the people who would arrest me if I sought the means to protect myself—by carrying a handgun, say, or even brass knuckles or a club. Rather than protecting me from criminals, they exist to punish me if I step out of line in some way.
A lot of little interactions with the police have made me feel this way. Both my own interactions and those of others. I wish it weren’t the case. I wish my first thought on seeing a cop was “There’s the most trustworthy and best person on the whole street.” But it isn’t. Not even close.
Is this unfair to the police at large? Probably. It’s certainly unfair to a very great number of policemen who are good and honorable, are diligent in protecting the community, and who risk their lives to do so. And some of the very best men I’ve ever met are (retired) cops. But a monopoly on force is bound to lead to abuse. Off the top of my head, I can think of three encounters with police where they made themselves deliberately obnoxious for every one encounter where I observed the police going out of their way to actually help someone.
I believe in law and order. I want to back the blue. But they’ve let me down. They weren’t there when my city was on fire. But if I were to get a handgun to protect my apartment, they’d show up at 4 a.m. with a no-knock warrant and shoot my dog.
I feel safer in Connecticut where I can carry a gun than in New York where I can’t. I find I would rather rely on the general protection of an armed community than on a specially empowered group who are immune to criminal liability for their actions. But even here in the suburbs, my local town’s police department has a surplus military Humvee. Why? Crowd control? Only a few thousand people live here. When a friend was getting his pistol permit last year, the local police lied to him repeatedly (at least three different ways) to avoid fingerprinting him so he could complete his application. Who the hell do they think they are?
From where I sit, the problem with defunding the police isn’t that the police do so much to protect us, it’s that we’ve been so deprived of the means to protect ourselves. And frankly, I’m not convinced that society wouldn’t do better simply getting rid of all permitting requirements and allowing anyone who wants to protect himself to enjoy that constitutional right without restriction. An armed society is a polite society. And where guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns. Only outlaws—and the police.