Friday, November 25, 2011

Those darned cops

In the aftermath of the much-publicized pepperspray incident at UC-Davis, Ben and I use our Scripps column this week to debate the role of police officers in our communities. My take:
Abusive cops are nothing new: Ask your black and Latino friends about their experiences driving around in white neighborhoods, and you're likely to get an earful. What's remarkable about the recent examples of brutality -- why they have our attention -- is the victims in these cases: White, middle-class kids.

And that's fine, because it lets us finally have a big conversation about the role of police in our communities -- a role that has shifted since the events of 9/11. Departments across the country have become increasingly militarized over the last decade, preparing for a terrorist attack that most will never face. They've purchased tanks and drones, and have generally armed themselves for war.

In the absence of an actual external threat, though, those war-making capabilities have been focused on the communities that police officers are supposed to protect and serve. The result is a deepening alienation that serves neither the police nor their communities very well.

While there are many, many good cops serving our communities, there are also a great many bullies -- men whose proclivities probably would've landed them in jail if they hadn't earned a badge and a gun. It has always been thus.

This is where conservatives can serve their communities. Many are willing to cry "tyranny!" in the face of new environmental regulations but happy to support cops, no matter how egregious their abuses. (Fox News has been a shining example of the phenomenon this week.) That must change.

Let's sell the tanks and drones. Let's put the riot gear in mothballs.

Police must be allowed to keep order in their communities -- but they usually need not resort to such extremes to do so. Otherwise, if cops keep treating citizens as the enemy, they might one day find out they're right.
Ben's impulses generally run towards civil-libertarianism, but in this week's column his response is: "Yeah, but: Hippies!"

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