A Christian Libertarian Take on the McKinney Swimming Pool Outrage

"The cop with the girl under his knees does not see her as himself, which she is."



Joel J. Miller is a writer and editor for Thomas Nelson, the Christian publisher (he's also written for Reason; see his archive here). He maintains a lively blog that applies libertarian and religious concepts to contemporary politics, culture, and events in a way that is always thoughtful and provocative (even or especially when I don't agree). Here he is, writing about the Great McKinney, Texas Pool Party Freak Out in characteristically sharp terms:

The nature of policing should be obvious from the name. The police are the polis. They are the people. But since the 1970s, larger political agendas have driven a wedge between the police and the people. The cop with the girl under his knees does not see her as himself, which she is. Absurd as it sounds—and frightening as it looks—she is a foe….

If we follow the example of the prophets, we know justice matters to God a great deal. "[W]hat does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" asks Micah.

It shouldn't have to be said, but throwing a nonviolent person to the ground and restraining her with your knees is fundamentally unjust. It's an excessive, dehumanizing response. Drawing a gun on kids at a pool party is likewise an overblown reaction that doesn't match the supposed threat. An appeal to deadly force is always a last resort.

Someone got too close to the officer? Maybe. But he bears responsibility for provoking the situation to begin with. Some have said that the teens were getting out of hand, disturbing neighbors and even damaging property. Again, maybe. But the entire situation was mishandled from the moment the police responded to the call. Belligerence, intimidation, aggression, overkill. This is not the approach of a police force that sees citizens as itself.

Miller recommends former Reason staffer Radley Balko's book Rise of the Warrior Cop as the go-to source on police militarization, which it surely is. And he recommends his own Bad Trip, his 2004 critique of the drug war from a Christian and conservative position (read Reason's interview with him here). Reason TV interviewed Miller in 2010 to talk about his book The Revolutionary Paul Revere. Take a look or listen here.

1968 campaign button

In his piece on McKinney, Miller notes 

Richard Nixon found, as many politicians have since learned, that public fear about crime creates electoral opportunity. His administration led a massive realignment and ramp-up of federal police efforts, mostly centered on his newly declared war on drugs. Over the years those changes in mindset, training, and equipping have trickled down to some of the nation's smallest police departments.

Read Miller's full piece here.

With that in mind, I present one of Richard Nixon's highly effective ads from the 1968 campaign. It's called "Crime" and, like others in the same slate of commercials, influenced the ways in which movies and TV shows represented contemporary America. You can see any number of cop shows and movies-to-come growing from the seeds of this sort of ad, which looks back to Chris Marker's La Jetee (1962) and forward to Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and even The Parallax View.

Among the folks responsible for the spots was Roger Ailes, who would go on to make Fox News into the cable juggernaut it is. Go to The Living Room Candidate, a compendium of presidential TV ads, for the full run of commercials (warning: you will miss hours of work if you do).