Imagine if I were to tell you there is a large group of government employees, with generous salaries and ridiculously cushy retirement pensions covered by the taxpayer, who enjoy incredible job security and are rarely held accountable even for activities that would almost certainly earn the rest of us prison time. When there is proven misconduct, these government employees are merely reassigned and are rarely dismissed. The bill for any legal settlements concerning their errors? It, too, is covered by the taxpayers. Their unions are among the strongest in the country.
No, I’m not talking about public-school teachers.
I’m talking about the police.
We conservatives recoil at the former; yet routinely defend the latter — even though, unlike teachers, police officers enjoy an utter monopoly on force and can ruin — or end — one’s life in a millisecond.
For decades, conservatives have served as stalwart defenders of police forces. There have been many good reasons for this, including long memories of the post-countercultural crime wave that devastated, and in some cases destroyed, many American cities; conservatives’ penchant for law and order; and Americans’ widely shared disdain for the cops’ usual opponents. (“Dirty hippies being arrested? Good!” is not an uncommon sentiment.) Although tough-on-crime appeals have never been limited to conservative politicians or voters, conservatives instinctively (and, it turned out, correctly) understood that the way to reduce crime is to have more cops making more arrests, not more sociologists identifying more root causes. Conservatives are rightly proud to have supported police officers doing their jobs at times when progressives were on the other side.
But it’s time for conservatives’ unconditional love affair with the police to end.
Let’s get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way: Yes, many police officers do heroic works and, yes, many are upstanding individuals who serve the community bravely and capably.
But respecting good police work means being willing to speak out against civil-liberties-breaking thugs who shrug their shoulders after brutalizing citizens.
On Thursday in Staten Island, an asthmatic 43-year-old father of six, Eric Garner, died after a group of policemen descended on him, placing him in a chokehold while attempting to arrest him for allegedly selling cigarettes. A bystander managed to capture video in which Garner clearly cries out, “I can’t breathe!” Even after releasing the chokehold (chokeholds, incidentally, are prohibited by NYPD protocol), the same officer then proceeds to shove and hold Garner’s face against the ground, applying his body weight and pressure on Garner, ignoring Garner’s pleas that he cannot breathe. Worse yet, new video shows at least eight officers standing around Garner’s lifeless, unconscious body.
Who can defend this?
And police-department Internal Affairs divisions are nearly as concerning as the cops themselves. Last week, a Miami police officer witnessed a car driving at high speeds in a pedestrian area. When he pulled the car over, the indignant driver stormed out. “Don’t you know the [expletive] I am?” the driver barked. It turns out that the driver was a police lieutenant within . . . Internal Affairs. The department in charge of ensuring proper police behavior consists of gents like this, whose first response is to assume that cops, like members of Congress, are above the law. What happened to the lieutenant? He has been transferred to “Special Investigations,” which, as a local NBC reporter points out, is more a promotion than a punishment.