Given the recent string of brutal cop killings across the country, it is perhaps not the best time to criticize American police forces. Nevertheless, Cleveland's police, at the very least, are very worthy of censure, if for no other reason than the head of that city's police union recently declared a dangerous and reprehensible opposition to the American constitutional order.
In the shadow of the Republican National Convention, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association signaled in no uncertain terms that he, and presumably the union of which he the head, was contemptuous of not merely one or two enumerated rights of the American people but of the very foundation of American government itself.
Responding to the perceived threat of "open-carry" gun owners at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Stephen Loomis demanded earlier this week that Gov. John Kasich subvert the Constitution by way of executive order.
"I don't care if it's constitutional or not at this point," he said. "They can fight about it after the RNC or they can lift it after the RNC, but I want [Kasich] to absolutely outlaw open-carry in Cuyahoga County until this RNC is over."
"We are constitutional law enforcement," he added, "we love the Constitution, support it and defend it, but you can't go into a crowded theater and scream fire. And that's exactly what they're doing by bringing those guns down there."
This is an intellectually and politically indefensible travesty. Leaving aside the tiresome and inept "fire in a crowded theater" analogy, consider what Loomis proposed: that American citizens exercising their constitutional rights by way of a perfectly legal activity are somehow analogous to criminals. This would be a bad-enough comparison, but Loomis managed to top himself by demanding that Kasich deliberately undermine the Constitution and the constitutional order he swore to uphold.
Governor Kasich, to his credit, refused to do so, correctly noting that he is unable to do so: the code of Ohio thankfully does not permit sedition against the United States government. Nevertheless, the whole episode serves to highlight the troubling authoritarian impulses of a great many police departments across the United States. In many localities, for all intents and purposes, the police no longer work for you.
In Cleveland, the police have apparently abdicated even the mere appearance of subordination to civil authority: It is hard to think of a more perfect example of embryonic American despotism than "I don't care if it's constitutional or not."
None of which is to say that the police had it easy in Cleveland. Police departments across the country are rightfully on edge, and the Republican National Convention was likely to be a high-tension affair, with Trump busy burning down what's left of the Republican Party (and Chris Christie probably throwing sofas through the lobby windows of the Hyatt Regency). Were Cleveland police nervous? Sure. Did they have reason to be? You bet.
None of this justifies scrapping the Constitution, however, even for the briefest of moments. Solely from a practical perspective, there is nothing to fear from openly-carried firearms; anyone in a state with liberal carry laws can tell you as much. More to the point: It is legal for residents of Cleveland to carry their guns out in the open, and even our fraught and high-tension political moment does not justify imposing extraconstitutional martial law on innocent American citizens.
The police should know better. That they do not is deeply troubling, and a sign that the problems between the police and the American public are much deeper than they appear. Thank goodness that Kasich recognized the limits of his authority. Let us hope the police are capable of doing the same.