"When he's not arresting you, Sergeant Crowley is a really likable guy."
So said Professor Skip, after yesterday's ridiculously ballyhooed, and possibly ridiculous, Beer Summit.
And you know what? He's probably right! Most humans are pretty likable, in my admittedly sunny-side-up experience, including cops (and even professors!). My next-door neighbor growing up was a cop, and we had a great time playing whiffle ball together. (Sure, he said some stuff more than two decades ago about routine treatment of black suspects that sends chills up my spine to this day, but times have changed a lot for the better since then.) I have had me some fun with more than one off-duty Jersey cop, in situations where the law was, uh, stretched. At the majority of public-protest situations I've been in (though alas, not all), cops have handled themselves with good-humored restraint in the face of being called "pigs" and worse. I don't recall a single negative personal interaction with a police officer in the United States, even when I've obviously violated some law or regulation (in part, because I tend toward the Yessir approach). Hell, I've even met the pseudonymous LAPD cop/writer Jack Dunphy (not to mention serial Radley Balko antagonist Patrick "Patterico" Frey), and I like both just fine. And Radley, too!
But after you put down the peace pipe, a legitimate and important difference remains. It's structural, and cultural, and (over the past four decades of relentless Drug Warring and Constitution-eroding), judicial as well. There is a strain in law enforcement, backed by various vague statutes, thousands of politicians, and everyone who tends to side with authority against an obnoxious popoff, in which it's considered perfectly acceptable form to arrest, detain, or otherwise punish a non-threatening person for being an asshole. This includes the perceived assholery of yelling about one's real (and sometimes imagined) trampled rights. If a person is considered undesirable by a police officer, for whatever reason, it's far too easy to ruin his day, even if no law has remotely been broken. And as Balko has led the world in documenting, the literal militarization of domestic police forces, combined with awful Drug War-related enforcement, has caused grave injustice and the death of innocents.
The past two weeks has been a conversation about race, I guess (I tend to tune out such things pretty quickly, being a privileged white male and all). It's always appropriate to point out, as in the Drug War in general, that disfavored minority groups (whether defined by skin color, class, lifestyle choice, politics, or whatever) will take a disproportionate brunt of abused power. But thankfully in modern America, when we peel back the general stereotype to the specific individual, most people (least I don't think) aren't racists and aren't assholes. It may take two weeks to make that realization, or two decades, but after that you're left with the underlying structural problem, one that might be even harder to dislodge. The pendulum of law enforcement in this country, as relates to the individual citizen, has for far too long swung in the same Constitution/individual-disrespecting direction.
So now that we're all drinking beer together, no matter how crappy, maybe we can get on with the business of changing actual policy on that important and long-neglected front, instead of guessing frantically about the imagined motives of our temporary antagonists.