Civil Liberties

"When he's not arresting you, Sergeant Crowley is a really likable guy."

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So said Professor Skip, after yesterday's ridiculously ballyhooed, and possibly ridiculous, Beer Summit.

Here's to the 4th Amendment!

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.

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  1. I knew Obama would drink his beer from a glass and not from the bottle.

  2. a second beer thread, and it’s barely noon.

  3. If only it had gone like this instead.

  4. I knew Obama would drink his beer from a glass and not from the bottle.

    I do both, but if I can I will drink from a glass every time, especially if it’s been in the freezer. Good times.

  5. most people (least I don’t think) aren’t racists and aren’t assholes

    Most people are a little racist and everyone is an asshole.

  6. “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!”

    Hell, I was with you until you threw in that bunk about liking Balko. You strain credibility.

  7. Possibly ridiculous?

  8. I’m surprised no one is criticizing Obama for having a beer.

    After all, the terrorists or the Russians or the Chinese could attack at any moment and where would we be if the President was impaired oh my god vigilance must never sleep blah blah blahdy blah blah.

  9. “everyone is an asshole.”

    I think that that is just something assholes say to justify themselves. Everyone has the potential to act like an asshole sometimes. But some people really just are assholes.

  10. “where would we be if the President was impaired oh my god vigilance must never sleep blah blah blahdy blah blah.”

    Wasn’t Churchill pretty much wasted through all of WWII?

  11. Zeb, there’s assholes, and then there’s assholes. You know ’em when you see ’em.

    Fluffy, i think most folks around here are relieved when Obama takes some time off from his version of presidenting to have a beer. Naturally, being prickly libertarians, we find it necessary to note that he picked a truly terrible choice of beverage.

  12. The motive is the problem. The actions are the result. I know several officers and for the most part when interacting with them socially I don’t want to strangle them. But every so often, especially when together, the cop sneaks out. And when I call them on it they get defensive. Everyone is fun when they don’t have any power over you. I know more than one wife that says their husband isn’t the same person in uniform when out of uniform.

    I don’t buy the underlying nice guy at the BBQ defense or theory. No one is going to get shot, beat, or have their civil liberties violated at a BBQ because everyone is on equal footing. (at least not normal BBQs)

  13. No one is going to get shot, beat, or have their civil liberties violated at a BBQ because everyone is on equal footing.

    You obviously don’t go to the right kinds of BBQs.

  14. from my viewpoint, the problem is the lack of enforcement of “equal justice under law”
    I watch C-SPAN a few times a week, and it is a virtually smorgasboard of as*holes of every possible permutation. Why aren’t they being arrested?

  15. fresno dan, they should be arrested. Almost every one of them is guilty of violating their oath of office (so at least expulsion from office) and some could be argued to have committed treason (punishable by death).

  16. “I don’t recall a single negative personal interaction with a police officer in the United States”

    Then you must have never been to an East Coast beach town as a young adult. Even without being an a-hole, it’s just the luck of the draw that keeps you out of the slam.

  17. I don’t recall a single negative personal interaction with a police officer

    Throw this asshole out of my echo chamber!

  18. I don’t recall a single negative personal interaction with a police officer

    Matt must live in a Vortex or something.

  19. Gosh, aren’t cops just these weird aliens that no one really understands? Don’t they act so very strangely in circumstances that all the rest of understand fully well from our many years of dealing with out of control people? I mean where do we they get these sinister weirdoes?

    I worked my way through college as a security guard in a campus area. I had to deal with privileged jerks like Gates (“you don’t know who your messing with”) and I got to watch the police deal with them. In my opinion most cops show a high degree of self-restraint considering all the crap they have to put with. I also admired the cops for not beating the crap out all those little frat snots who sneered at the cops and claimed immunity from civil behavior because of who their parents were.

    Most of us couldn’t tell with the constant barrage of psychological abuse the cops deal with on an hourly basis. Cops just shrug off 98% of the crap that would drive the rest of us into a blind rage.

    The idea that people have a right to scream at police carrying out their duties is just stupidity born of an ivory tower ignorance of real world conflit dynamics. Screaming raises tensions all around even in uninvolved bystanders. Creating a legal standard in which people have the right to turn into petulant toddlers whenever they please would be a recipe for turning minor incidents into riots and murders.

    The idea that cops aren’t special, that they are just citizens who’ve assumed duties cuts both ways. We shouldn’t expect the police to put up abuse that we wouldn’t expect ourselves to put up with if we couldn’t walk away from a situation. Being a free-person requires more, not less, self-discipline and self-control not less.

    I’m glad you’ve deigned to have a beer with a cop. Aren’t you just a man of the people! Next time some frats throw a dead pig through someone’s window, I’ll give you a call.

  20. Reporters couldn’t tell if another family of five were the Crowleys or not? What, so all white people look alike!?
    Racists..

  21. “I don’t recall a single negative personal interaction with a police officer”

    Well, I’ve had a couple. One cop in Vegas threatened to arrest me for disorderly conduct (or disturbing the peace or some such)… I got away by changing the subject and doing the cowaring “respect” routine. I assume that if I’d been the least beat drunk (and he could tell), he’d have arrested me for… the equivalent of jaywalking. But luckily, I’m white and prefer manipulating people to letting my real emotions show.

  22. Surprise, surprise…Shannon Love comes out with the authoritarian asskissing.

    We shouldn’t expect the police to put up abuse that we wouldn’t expect ourselves to put up with if we couldn’t walk away from a situation.

    How patently fucking absurd. We don’t have the power to arrest or shoot people, asshole. Do you get the difference?

  23. Then you must have never been to an East Coast beach town as a young adult.

    This is 100% true. Also, my memory is full of holes.

  24. I don’t recall a single negative personal interaction with a police officer in the United States

    You are one lucky SOB. I could say this about officers in VA, but I have mad multiple negative interactions with DC police.

  25. I don’t recall a single negative personal interaction with a police officer in the United States

    I also imagine that was the case for Gates and many of those defending him for bringing race into it. They are sheltered and have no idea what it’s like to deal with cops on a regular basis.

  26. I have lost more money to speeding tickets than to criminals stealing from me. Therefore, police are more dangerous than criminals.


  27. Most of us couldn’t tell with the constant barrage of psychological abuse the cops deal with on an hourly basis. Cops just shrug off 98% of the crap that would drive the rest of us into a blind rage.

    I call bullshit.

    There are several careers where the stress levels and abuse are high. Cops aren’t alone, the constant assertion that they see people at their worse is a red herring. Most civil servants deal with this, some deal with more than cops. Ask a medic in a big city how much shit he or she puts up with and most still manage at least a shred of empathy for even the most annoying despicable useless human beings. I don’t think I’ve heard of any medics beating on people or denying to help them because they are meanies. You’re right cops are special, just not in a manner you portray them.

  28. Most cops I’ve dealt with have been courteous and professional. However, I’ve definitely had a couple “WTF” run-ins with the cops. It just depends on who you’re dealing with and the circumstances, for the most part.

    On a different note, something tells me I wouldn’t like Lefiti or LoneWacko if I met them face to face.

  29. Zeb… wouldn’t you have been wasted, too?

  30. To be frank, my interactions with cops prior to 1998 were good. My interactions with them afterwards have been increasingly scary.

    Post 1998 the cops, even in benign interactions, have tended to behave like aggressive control freaks, escalating whatever tension was present and generally pissing off everyone around them.

    I recognize this behavior because I saw it in another group of people when I was in the Navy: in whiny officers who had been promoted way above their competence level.

    I guess immature, spoiled tantrum-throwing adults behave in similar ways when they don’t have to fear a spanking.

  31. But how can we solve the “underlying structural problem” when it seems inherent in giving some people (here, police) certain powers that other citizens don’t have? The cops are just people, and many (most? all?) people will sometimes abuse the powers that they’re given. This is especially true if someone else is being an asshole — too many people will seek to retaliate by making use of the power to put the asshole in his/her place.

    That doesn’t make it right, but I don’t see how the problem can be solved without somehow changing human nature, or eliminating the idea of a police force.

  32. Q. How many have pointed out in these very pages that the real story here isn’t racism, it’s the reality of LEO authority without a commensurate amount of accoutability?

    A. Shitloads.

  33. Most of us couldn’t tell with the constant barrage of psychological abuse the cops deal with on an hourly basis.

    Well, they do bring it on themselves.

    First, by taking on a position of power that is inherently threatening to everyone they deal with.

    Second, by refusing to police their own ranks, so that everyone knows that there are bad cops, and the “good” cops don’t do anything about it. Thus, you don’t know if you are dealing with a bad cop, and you don’t even really know how good the “good” cops are.

    I’m sure I could go on, but you get the idea. If you can’t stand the heat. . . .

  34. “””The idea that cops aren’t special, that they are just citizens who’ve assumed duties cuts both ways”””

    But THEY don’t believe it, and just because we say it doesn’t make it true. Cops are special in a pratical manner, wrongfully so. It’s one of the few professions that can kill an innocent person and be promoted, or shoot a stranger’s dog pretty much at will.

  35. The idea that cops aren’t special, that they are just citizens who’ve assumed duties cuts both ways.

    LEOs commonly refer to citizens as “civilians”. When they drop that butchery of the English language, attempting to set themselves apart and above the folks who pay their salaries, I’ll stop referring to them as “sty dwelling barnyard livestock”.

    Deal?

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