Police deliberately are not warm and fuzzy … [a cop] becomes granite-faced, with a controlled courtesy with a promise of consequences if disobeyed. He does this because if he treats members of the public as friends, he will lose all authority
By Fred Reed
Much twaddle about the police emanates from adults who sound like adolescents recently acquainted with their hormones and eager to irritate ambient grownups. Think mentally deficient Red Guards. Anyway, they have annoyed me to the point that I am either going to strangle something, preferably a network anchorman, or point out some things. No anchorman was handy, so thus the following.
From a fascinating survey, “Most Americans are convinced there is an ‘epidemic’ of police shooting unarmed black males in America. This widespread misperception is reinforced with misreportage, sensationalized reportage, missing context, and the lack of reporting on analogous cases.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
Briefly (the link is worth following) the piece describes a survey in which respondents were asked to self-describe as very liberal, very conservative, and points between. Then they were asked how many unarmed blacks they thought were shot to death by police every year.
Results: “Very Liberal respondents were the furthest from reality: 14.29% said ‘about 10,000’ unarmed black males were killed by police, while 31.43% said ‘about 1,000.’”
The actual number, says Mapping Police Violence, is twenty-seven. The Washington Post, as politically correct as you can get without actually being on Thorazine, said that 23 “unarmed” black suspects were fatally shot by the police in 2018, and 12 in 2019.
This says, does it not, that forty-five percent of liberals are too stupid to be allowed outside when not on a leash. (Conservatives some better, see link). People can believe this stuff only because the media are either actually lying or so wildly partisan that there is no discernible difference.
It matters. Ferguson burned because the media ran with the story that Michael Brown was shot with his hands up and saying, “Don’t shoot!” Telling blacks, already deeply hostile to and mistrustful of whites, over and over and over, that the police, by implication white, are killing unarmed blacks in hundreds or thousands, makes worse our already terrible race relations. It likely encourages an excitable and often unintelligent white population to defund police departments. This leads to higher crime, worse race relations, and the decamping of urban tax bases for friendlier climes. Brilliant.
A few general points:
Cops don’t make laws. They enforce them. This should be obvious. Yet many people bridle when the police enforce what they regard as a stupid or petty law. The cop also may think it is petty or stupid, but he has no choice. “Why are you giving me a ticket? I was only double-parked for a few minutes.” “Sign here, lady.”
Some cities have a “stop and frisk” policy. This means leaning young men against a wall and patting them down for guns though they have done nothing illegal and have no visible guns. This is typically done to black men in black neighborhoods because that is where people are shot to death. It is humiliating, infuriating, perhaps unconstitutional, and, when done by white policemen, arouses intense racial hostility. Arguably, and arguedly, it is extremely stupid. Why do cops do it? Because they dislike blacks?
No. They do it because the chief ordered them to, and he orders them to because the mayor or city council, who often are black, ordered them to, and the mayor ordered them to because stop-and-frisk keeps the homicide rate way down. That is, it saves black lives.
But laws involve tradeoffs. In this case between (a) no stop-and-frisk, more dead black men, but less racial anger, and (b) stop-and-frisk, fewer dead black men, and intense racial anger. Take your choice, but expect the inevitable consequences of each.
Beware the much-sought-after assertion of racial disproportionality. If blacks get disproportionately ticketed for traffic violations, are the cops picking on blacks or are blacks committing more violations? What would you propose to do about disproportionality? Order cops to stop ticketing blacks? PR problems solved, which is the important thing, though deaths in accidents would go up. Or order white cops not to ticket blacks, which would also be good PR. Or stop enforcing traffic laws altogether? Take your pick.
Reflect that cops can’t win. Nobody is going to like them. Why? Because nobody likes being told what to do, and some like it less than others. When the bank president or three-star general gets pulled over for driving erratically, a twenty-three-year-old high-school graduate is going to tell him to step out of the car, sir, and take the inebriety test or, nowadays, blow into the breathalyzer. The general thinks he is too important to be ordered around by a mere kid. The cop doesn’t think so, and he has the authority. If the bank president blows high, the kid will arrest him. It’s his job, it’s the law, but is not optimal in interpersonal relations.
Police deliberately are not warm and fuzzy. They need to maintain command on the street. Talking to a reporter doing a ride-along, a cop will laugh and tell war stories about shared time in Bangkok. “Murphy and I were in Linda’s Surprise Bar and this great tall gal says….” Stopping to break up a fracas on the sidewalk, he becomes granite-faced, with a controlled courtesy with a promise of consequences if disobeyed. He does this because if he treats members of the public as friends, he will lose all authority.
Be wary of media accounts of police behavior, especially regarding shootings. The phrase “unarmed black man” is a journalist’s term of art, deliberately employed to imply that the cop from sheer viciousness or, better, racism, shot an innocent black man.
If this actually happens, it is called “murder,” and should be treated as such. But was the unarmed black man sitting on a park bench, eating an ice cream cone and reading War and Peace, or was he beating the cops head against a brick wall? These stories are made juicer by adding, “during a traffic stop,” the impression given being that the cop pulled the man over for a broken tail light and insouciantly killed him for no reason. Usually, but not always, a little research online will reveal that the man shot was resisting arrest or attacking the officer. Find out for yourself what happened. It is usually possible. But don’t trust NPR or CNN. They really, truly, are not honest.
Note that there is no pretty way to arrest someone who does not want to be arrested. I recently saw the body-cam footage of a couple of cops arresting a shoplifter in the parking lot of a commercial center. She was tall, perhaps 150, strongly built, and black. In today’s climate, “black” automatically makes it a racial incident, though shoplifting is illegal for white women too.
She chose to resist. There followed unprepossessing minutes of two white cops struggling with a screaming, furious black woman swinging and kicking, the officers getting her on the ground and trying to force her hands behind her. She was not hurt as they were careful to avoid it, but the average onlooker would not have known this.
The choice: arrest shoplifters, or don’t. The cops will do either, as they are ordered.
Finally, if you want a good force, recruit carefully, train them well, pay them well, and watch them like a hawk. Works like a charm.
FRED REED describes himself as [previously] a “Washington police reporter, former Washington editor for Harper’s and staff writer for Soldier of Fortune magazine, Marine combat vet from Viet Nam, and former long-haul hitchhiker, part-time sociopath, who once lived in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from the Yankee Capital.”
His essays “on the collapse of America” Mr. Reed calls “wildly funny, sometimes wacky, always provocative.”
“Fred is the Hunter Thompson of the right,” seconds Thomas E. Ricks in Foreign Policy magazine. His commentary is “well-written, pungent political incorrectness mixed with smart military commentary and libertarian impulses, topped off with a splash of Third World sunshine and tequila.”
Hardboiled is back! (The exclamation point is to arouse wild enthusiasm int the reader, a boiling literary lust.) Gritty crime fiction by longtime police reporter for the Washington Times, who knows the police from nine years of riding with them. Guaranteed free of white wine and cheese, sensitivity, or social justice.