Commentary

Look both ways – twice – before disbanding the police

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We grow up being told to “look both ways before you cross the street.”  Whether we knew it at the time, that was an introduction to the axiom that choices have consequences. In this age, one with road rage, distracted driving and increased substance abuse, the advice is more timely than ever.

Now we find “community organizers” and Black Lives Matter activists wanting to rush headlong across “Dismantle The Police Avenue,” without looking both ways before stepping into traffic. The consequences of doing so can barely be imagined, and have yet to be discussed with any rigor; too much rage and emotion gets in the way of doing so.

In the late ’80s, I was taking off from Santa Ana/John Wayne Airport on a business business trip to the East Coast. I’m not the type to chat up seat-mates, but as we looked out the window on the steep climb-out, we began to discuss the ongoing community unrest in the area we saw below.

My seat-mate, who looked to be 10 years older and far more distinguished than myself, said he had some experience with the issue. He had been invited to participate in a moderated “community dialogue” on the crime problems afflicting the area. He described sitting across the room from various gang members and other bad actors.

At some point, one of the gang members said, “You’re lucky you have the police protecting you from us, because without them, we’d be coming after you.” My seat-mate replied,“You’re missing the point; if it wasn’t for the police and their protection, your plans for armed aggression might not turn out the way you’re thinking.” In a nut shell, the gang members had failed to look both ways, and they suddenly had new possibilities to evaluate.

In our current critical state of social upheaval, clear-eyed examination of “both ways” is more than required before driving blindfolded into unexpected consequences on the highway of good intentions. This highway has no posted speed limits, and the paving may very well lead straight to hell.

Police are more correctly called Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs). They are sworn to defend our constitutions and uphold our laws, ranging from criminal law to traffic and vehicular law and everything in between. Their function is fundamental to living in a civilization with “ordered liberty,” where our freedoms cannot be allowed to infringe upon the liberties of others. 

We the people enact laws (through our representatives) to constrain our behavior so that the rights of all are equally protected. This is the very essence of our unalienable rights to life, liberty and property (or pursuit of happiness.)   

LEOs are the front line of equal justice under the law; they are there to protect both victims and perpetrators. In spite of the presence of bad apples, we have a moral obligation to provide the public means to this end, and to remedy aberrations when they surface. Eliminating this public good because of isolated incidents would be like shutting down public schools because some students don’t graduate.

“Defunding” or dismantling police departments only addresses the personnel issue; it does nothing about established law on the books. The overwhelming majority of us want and expect the law to be enforced equally as a moral mandate, and we abide by the law in exchange for living in a safe and civil society.

Dismantling the police raises two immediate and crucial questions. The first is who will step into the role of the police? How will they be chosen, controlled, and held accountable? What new form of patronism will come into play? Do we really want politicians and unelected officials to take the place of sworn police officers? Without uniforms, or with? What laws and rules will they follow? And the real puzzler: “Who you gonna call,” when your home is being invaded, your car stolen or your business burgled?

I’m reminded of this citation from Daniel Webster:

“It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” 

The second crucial question is what will happen to the myriad laws we currently look to LEOs to enforce? Since we’ll have no specifically designated public employees to enforce them, should they simply all be repealed?

Will we no longer have to stop at red lights and STOP signs or obey speed limits? Will we be able to park wherever and whenever, including on sidewalks? Will walking into a business or home and helping yourself to whatever you like become the norm? Will I be able to do whatever I wish to you physically without repercussions and equal justice before the law?

Is this really the lawless and chaotic anarchy we want for our future? Are we willing to embrace tyranny and authoritarianism because our current system includes imperfect humans in various elements of our society?  Should we expect nothing but perfect humans and perfect behavior in any as yet undefined “new system?”

Do the criminals, looters and the rest really want to deal with angry citizens taking the law into their own hands because no one else will protect them? Are the surging community organizers and protesters making the same short-sighted miscalculations those gang members my seat-mate spoke to did decades ago?

In short, do they really want to trash our existing, though imperfect, system for unending street violence as a way of life? Abraham Lincoln had a relevant thought:

“We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name – liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names – liberty and tyranny.”

Let us hope and pray fervently that we collectively look both ways before crossing this road, and that the fevers and fires of the moment do not drive us into a new level of social chaos from which we will never be able to recover. Otherwise, as Ronald Reagan said, “We will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

About Pem Schaeffer

Pem Schaeffer is a retired engineer who progressed to a position in business development leadership in defense electronics. He lives and writes in Brunswick, Maine, and blogs at: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at pemster4062@yahoo.com or you can always buy him lunch at an MHPC luncheon. He's easy that way, and he'll still respect you if you do.

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