By John W. Whitehead and Nisha Whitehead
“If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.”—Officer with the Los Angeles Police Department
Police violence has not lessened.
Police shootings have not abated.
Police reforms have largely failed.
In fact, according to the latest research, police violence kills three people a day.
Despite all of this, President Biden wants to throw more money at America’s police forces.
Biden’s $30 billion “Fund the Police” program, a signature part of his administration’s $5.8 trillion budget proposal, aims to expand law enforcement and so-called crime prevention at taxpayer expense.
Essentially, Biden wants to fight gun violence with more gun violence.
What Biden is really looking to do is score points with voters and police unions. Hence, Biden’s political push-back against a call by activists to “defund the police,” would pay for state and local governments to hire more cops, double the funding for community policing, bring on 300 new deputy marshals, staff gun-trafficking strike forces and investigations into gun-dealer compliance, prosecute hate crimes, and purchase more police body cameras.
The problem, as far as I can tell, is not that police agencies lack money or cops on the beat. Indeed, as Jamelle Bouie writes in the New York Times, “there is no pressing, national need for greater police funding. If anything, police departments and their allies have skillfully used anxiety over ‘defund’ to successfully lobby for even larger budgets, despite the striking inability of many police departments to solve crimes and clear murders.”
As much as Biden and the police unions want us to believe that more police funding will translate to a decrease in violent crime, research shows there is no real correlation between crime rates and police budgets.
While the “Defund the Police” movement was misguided in their messaging (it was never about stripping police of their funding; rather, it was a call for greater accountability, better training, and overall reform), Biden’s push to expand funding for the police without any assurance of significant reforms in place could well encourage further police brutality.
The unfortunate reality we must come to terms with is that America is overrun with militarized cops—vigilantes with a badge—who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.”
It doesn’t matter where you live—big city or small town—it’s the same scenario being played out over and over again in which government agents, hyped up on their own authority and the power of their uniform, ride roughshod over the rights of the citizenry.
These warrior cops, who have been trained to act as judge, jury and executioner in their interactions with the public and believe the lives (and rights) of police should be valued more than citizens, are increasingly outnumbering the good cops, who take seriously their oath of office to serve and protect their fellow citizens, uphold the Constitution, and maintain the peace.
Indeed, if you ask police and their enablers what Americans should do to stay alive during encounters with law enforcement, they will tell you to comply, cooperate, obey, not resist, not argue, not make threatening gestures or statements, avoid sudden movements, and submit to a search of their person and belongings during encounters with the police.
In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the right, it doesn’t matter if a cop is in the wrong, it doesn’t matter if you’re being treated with less than the respect you deserve: if you want to emerge from a police encounter with your life and body intact, then you’d better comply, submit, obey orders, respect authority and generally do whatever a cop tells you to do.
In this way, the old police motto to “protect and serve” has become “comply or die.”
This is the unfortunate, misguided, perverse message that has been beaten, shot, tasered and slammed into our collective consciousness over the past few decades, and it has taken root.
This is how we have gone from a nation of laws—where the least among us had just as much right to be treated with dignity and respect as the next person (in principle, at least)—to a nation of law enforcers (revenue collectors with weapons) who treat “we the people” like suspects and criminals.
As a result, Americans as young as 4 years old are being leg shackled, handcuffed, tasered and held at gun point for not being quiet, not being orderly and just being childlike—i.e., not being compliant enough.
Americans as old as 95 are being beaten, shot and killed for questioning an order, hesitating in the face of a directive, and mistaking a policeman crashing through their door for a criminal breaking into their home—i.e., not being submissive enough.
And Americans of every age and skin color are continuing to die at the hands of a government that sees itself as judge, jury and executioner over a populace that have been pre-judged and found guilty, stripped of their rights, and left to suffer at the hands of government agents trained to respond with the utmost degree of violence.
At a time when growing numbers of unarmed people have been shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety, even the most benign encounters with police can have fatal consequences.
The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”
Worse, militarized police increasingly pose a risk to anyone undergoing a mental health crisis or with special needs whose disabilities may not be immediately apparent or require more finesse than the typical freeze-or-I’ll-shoot tactics employed by America’s police forces. Indeed, disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers. (People of color are three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.)
If you’re black and disabled, you’re even more vulnerable.
Specifically, what we’re dealing with today is a skewed shoot-to-kill mindset in which police, trained to view themselves as warriors or soldiers in a war, whether against drugs, or terror, or crime, must “get” the bad guys—i.e., anyone who is a potential target—before the bad guys get them.
This nationwide epidemic of court-sanctioned police violence carried out with impunity against individuals posing little or no real threat has all but guaranteed that unarmed Americans will keep dying at the hands of militarized police.
Making matters worse, when these officers, who have long since ceased to be peace officers, violate their oaths by bullying, beating, tasering, shooting and killing their employers—the taxpayers to whom they owe their allegiance—they are rarely given more than a slap on the hands before resuming their patrols.
This lawlessness on the part of law enforcement, an unmistakable characteristic of a police state, is made possible in large part by police unions which routinely oppose civilian review boards and resist the placement of names and badge numbers on officer uniforms; police agencies that abide by the Blue Code of Silence, the quiet understanding among police that they should not implicate their colleagues for their crimes and misconduct; prosecutors who treat police offenses with greater leniency than civilian offenses; courts that sanction police wrongdoing in the name of security; and legislatures that enhance the power, reach and arsenal of the police, and a citizenry that fails to hold its government accountable to the rule of law.
Indeed, not only are cops protected from most charges of wrongdoing—whether it’s shooting unarmed citizens (including children and old people), raping and abusing young women, falsifying police reports, trafficking drugs, or soliciting sex with minors—but even on the rare occasions when they are fired for misconduct, it’s only a matter of time before they get re-hired again.
Much of the “credit” for shielding these rogue cops goes to influential police unions and laws providing for qualified immunity, police contracts that “provide a shield of protection to officers accused of misdeeds and erect barriers to residents complaining of abuse,” state and federal laws that allow police to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing, and rampant cronyism among government bureaucrats.
It’s happening all across the country.
This is no longer a debate over good cops and bad cops.
It’s a power struggle between police officers who rank their personal safety above everyone else’s and police officers who understand that their jobs are to serve and protect; between police trained to shoot to kill and police trained to resolve situations peacefully; most of all, it’s between police who believe the law is on their side and police who know that they will be held to account for their actions under the same law as everyone else.
Unfortunately, more and more police are being trained to view themselves as distinct from the citizenry, to view their authority as superior to the citizenry, and to view their lives as more precious than those of their citizen counterparts. Instead of being taught to see themselves as mediators and peacemakers whose lethal weapons are to be used as a last resort, they are being drilled into acting like gunmen with killer instincts who shoot to kill rather than merely incapacitate.
Even so, the answer is not to de-fund the police.
What we really need to do is de-fang the police: de-militarize, de-weaponize, and focus on de-escalation tactics, better training and accountability.
We’ve allowed the government to create an alternate reality in which freedom is secondary to security, and the rights of the citizenry are less important than the authority of the government.
The longer we wait to burst the bubble on this false chimera, the harder it will be to return to a time when police were public servants and freedom actually meant something, and the greater the risks to both police officers and the rest of the citizenry.
The police state wants the us vs. them dichotomy. It wants us to turn each other in, distrust each other and be at each other’s throats, while it continues amassing power. It wants police officers who act like the military, and citizens who cower in fear. It wants a suspect society. It wants us to play by its rules instead of holding it accountable to the rule of law.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, something must be done and soon.
ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president The Rutherford Institute. His books Battlefield America: The War on the American People and A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State are available at www.amazon.com. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Nisha Whitehead is the Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.
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