What police does and doesn’t do

A. Benjamin Mannes wrote for The Hill:

The Black Lives Matter movement has received a great deal of credibility from the news media, and had recently become the cause célèbre for multi-millionaire stars like San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and pop star Beyonce Knowles.

The almost immediate protests that have on at least one occasion turned violent have fueled incorrect rhetoric that there is an epidemic of “killer cops” who are targeting African-Americans for mass incarceration or worse, death for no apparent reason. This narrative has been proven legally incorrect by numerous federal and local grand juries who, despite a condemning by the court of public opinion, find no wrongdoing on behalf of law enforcement. These findings in legal courts are usually due to the analysis of physical, scientific and testimonial evidence that is presented within the secrecy and discretion of a grand jury; which in the cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and others show that the officers acted within the law. 

Instead of pointing fingers in an argument with a league of online social justice warriors, I feel it more constructive to remind the public that much of what law enforcement is being asked to do in response to the mass-criticism is not within their scope of authority. Therefore, what the public needs is a necessary role clarification for what law enforcement is tasked with doing, and what community resources should be invested in the vastly important services that can actually prevent citizens from having contact with law enforcement in the first place.

If you are in contact with a law enforcement officer, that’s normally because something is wrong. This could be because you are reporting a crime; which means you’re having a bad day as you’re a victim, are being stopped for a traffic/safety issue, or are under investigation for a crime. Law enforcement officers in these instances have to deal with people at their worst, not their best. They enforce laws, they are not there to write the laws and decide what laws are socially acceptable enough to not enforce. If someone resists arrests, fails to cooperate with a lawful order, or commits further crimes in the presence of that officer; then they will be arrested.

The public reactions to the Eric Garner and Alton Sterling videos best demonstrated the need for this reality check.Many people contacted me following Eric Garner to cry foul as to why “he was killed for selling loose cigarettes?” He wasn’t.  Eric Garner had over thirty prior arrests and knew, barring a felony warrant, he would be brought into the station, had his fingerprints ran, and would have been released with a “C-Summons” ticket for that minor infraction. However, upon noticing that someone was recording with a cellphone, Garner became belligerent and physically resistant to his arrest.

Did anyone expect that the police officers, in the course of their duties, were just going to say“Ok” and walk away?  Of course not. Garner resisted, and was brought to the ground by an unauthorized chokehold. He died from a cardiac arrest likely brought on by aggravating a number of his serious health concerns. What was clear in the video was that, despite the loud public outcry in the belief that he died from being choked by the officer; Garner was breathing while being handcuffed because he was loudly exclaiming that he couldn’t breathe. As famed NYC Commissioner William Bratton stated after Garner’s death, “You have no constitutional right to resist arrest.” 

Therefore, it is vital to understand the role of the law enforcement officer; who performs the job of policing and to make it home at night unscathed.  If you are on the other side of that equation and you resist, threaten or fight… you will likely be met with physical force and lose your freedom.  That’s the law.

Mass incarceration is a serious problem in America, but what leads to it? To attack the police for mass incarceration is akin to the famous line from the film Apocalypse Now of “Handing out Speeding Tickets at the Indianapolis 500.” What social contributors are bringing those incarcerated into contact with law enforcement in the first place? If every other rung of the social structure has failed someone to the point where they are being arrested in the first place, then something is very wrong with society and it would be extremely valuable to direct the public attention given to BLM to improving social services that prevent folks from turning to crime.  Of course, some will argue that reforming mandatory minimums for things like Marijuana and assuring that new gun control measures don’t make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners, but the majority of the argument currently directed at law enforcement should be aimed at keeping people from having contact with law enforcement to begin with.

So this highlights the need to clarify other, more important societal roles. First, the role of parental participation and supervision is needed to create a support network in the lives of young people that, if not met, is filled with gangs or antisocial behavior.  Penalties need to be defined more clearly for child endangerment to include fostering a positive environment for a child that includes them being taught right from wrong in accordance with our laws and social norms.  No, I am not talking religion or morality as preached by conservative groups. I, myself, come from a divorced home; but both my parents were a part of my life and worked hard to keep me from emulating so much of the criminal behavior I was exposed to when growing up in the city.

Second, a serious role clarification in education is needed. This includes socialization outside what is the norm in many of the communities where there are high crime rates and assuring that students learn a path in life outside the next standardized test cycle; and learn money management, a trade, and vocational skills that translate to real jobs if a four-year college followed by grad school isn’t in the budget yet.  Pathways in crime and drug use are rooted in poverty and a feeling of hopelessness, and a set of useful skills are key in breaking that cycle; but so many public school systems are not offering such as skill-set, and are resistant to school choice programs that will.

At the end of the day, the constant arguing and finger-pointing online is exhausting.  Instead of tearing our country apart and pointing fingers at the civil servants who volunteer to risk their lives in service to the community; why not focus on the roots of the issues resulting in these tragic losses of life?  Having a serious conversation on parenting, education, and poverty will serve the community far beyond the current, corrosive rhetoric offered by BLM and the media currently will. 

If not, consider the alternatives of forcing law enforcement to become more lenient on criminal behavior, and remember how bad places like New York City were in the 1970s and 80s when this was common.  Then ask yourselves, why should law-abiding citizens be victimized to further a political argument?

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