Hey Look, the Guy Who Got Momentarily Detained During the Great D.C. Snowball Fight Has Written an Op-Ed in the Washington Post!
Some pure comments-bait to tie you over into the holiday:
In my day job, I analyze policies designed to strengthen environmental laws in developing countries. In this work, one quickly learns that the law is perfectly meaningless without someone to enforce it. A partner from the Dominican Republic once held up his country's environmental statute and declared, "This law is perfect; it is a beautiful law. But it does not protect the environment." Without resources for enforcement or a government to take a particular law seriously, the exercise of passing it is largely futile. In my crime-riddled neighborhood of Columbia Heights, the importance of law enforcement is viscerally felt.
I suspect that many of the snowballers were, like me, young, well educated and politically active. Demographics suggest that a strong majority of them support new laws on climate change and health care. It was no accident that the detective's vehicle, a gas-guzzling Hummer, was targeted for snowballing. But this same demographic is acculturated to hostility against police -- those who ultimately enforce the laws we fight to get passed. While there was no justification for the detective to display his firearm, the police handled the situation thereafter as well as they could have. Nonetheless, the tone of the crowd quickly shifted from anger at the gun-wielder to generalized anti-authority rhetoric. One woman yelled that the police had "ruined Christmas."
Sovereignty, it is said, is a monopoly on the lawful exercise of force. Perhaps such a belief lay behind the detective's decision to pull his gun in response to snowballs. A better definition, one that will carry us much further in the century ahead, is: the capacity and willingness to enforce the rule of law on all members of society. That means respecting the power of the police to break up a snowball fight at a busy intersection (and detain those, like myself, who they have reason to believe are subverting that authority). But it also means disciplinary consequences for those who abuse the sacred trust bestowed on them, as the detective clearly had, though I hope his career isn't upended for this overreaction.