Police to Public: You Will Respect My Authoritah!

Another post related to the Ferguson controversy, since it’s still a big news story…


According to news reports, it looks like the unrest in Ferguson may finally be waning. News media are also reporting some demographic info on the people who have been arrested. An NPR report suggests that the vast majority of people arrested were not from the town, which really bolsters the case made by a number of people that the violence, looting, and vandalism was driven mainly by outside agitators.

What I really want to talk about is an opinion piece in the Washington Post by an LAPD officer who also teaches at a for-profit college called Colorado Technical University that has angered basically everyone. The criticism is so widespread that the story was featured on CNN.

The author’s basic argument is that people should do whatever police tell them to do and look like they enjoy it if they don’t want to get hurt. In other words, he is the real-life equivalent to Cartman in this episode of South Park. He also basically says that cops are on edge all the time and might hurt people at the slightest provocation. He at least admits that there are bad police officers and that people have rights but does not say how people can invoke their rights without being seen as “challenging” the police, which will of course invite a violent response. He also mentions that people should be empathetic toward officers and provide them with the same amount of respect that officers are supposed to – but often don’t – give the community. This portrayal of police, which is supposed to make us understand their plight, only makes them seem like the worst possible people to entrust with the duty of protecting the public. It’s also important to note that the LAPD, which employs the author, is one of the most notorious departments in the country for its problems with the surrounding community.

The problems with the author’s argument should be quite obvious and tons of people have attacked the piece. The idea that people should be automatically deferential toward police relegates non-police to a second-class status. The suggestion that people not complain or resist illegal police actions because courts can take care of problems gives police carte blanche to violate the Constitution until a more powerful police force comes to stop them. If people can’t directly confront blatantly illegal actions by law enforcement then they have no rights other than those the police allow them to have. If the author wants to position himself as an advocate for more reasonable police-community interactions, this is not the way to do it.