The Phony "War on Cops" and the Real War on Usby Kevin Carson
Jul. 16, 2012
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Since early 2011 the mainstream press has expressed moral panic over an alleged “War on Cops.” That panic was sparked by a rash of police killings in January 2011. According to a March Christian Science Monitor article, 24 cops were killed on the job compared to only 15 during the same period in 2010. Speculation as to cause included rising anti-government sentiment, or disrespect for law enforcement.
The panic itself apparently fostered a “shoot first” mentality among police, reflected in a record number of so-called “justifiable homicides.” US Attorney General Eric Holder called this state of affairs — the spike in cop deaths, not the over-reaction — unacceptable, promising federal action.
Like most moral panics used to justify government “just doing something,” this one turned out to be — to say the least — quite overblown. Smith County, Texas, Sheriff J.B. Smith was quoted as saying: “I think it’s a hundred times more likely today that an officer will be assaulted compared to twenty, thirty years ago. It has become one of the most hazardous jobs in the United States, undoubtedly — in the top five.”
Well, not quite (that’s a polite, family-friendly substitute for “bull—-!”). In fact on-the-job police deaths had declined by almost half over the previous twenty years, at the same time as the number of police nearly doubled. The short-term upward fluctuation in police deaths was an anomaly, albeit a very visible one against the background of such low levels. That’s why statisticians look for large sample sizes.
Libertarian columnist Radley Balko reported in April of this year that police officer deaths were down 48% from last year — the lowest in sixty years. Death rates for cops is actually lower than that of the general population in 36 of America’s 74 largest cities. The job-related death rate for police is below that of several other occupations, including firefighter, coal miner and sanitation worker (from the carbon monoxide fumes they breathe walking behind garbage trucks).
But if violence AGAINST cops hasn’t increased, violence BY cops certainly has. Complaints of police brutality rose 25% in the seven-year period after 9/11, compared to the previous seven-year period. Despite an overall decline in crime rates and danger of on-the-job injury, police have developed an intensified sense of entitlement to minimize risk to themselves by any available means — no matter how unreasonable.
Nearly every day Balko, who specializes in stories of police abuse, cites accounts of police shooting non-hostile dogs and even unarmed citizens. Grounds? “The officer felt threatened.” Every day another story of a person tased or beaten to death — while in an epileptic seizure or diabetic coma — for “resisting arrest.” Police do whatever they feel necessary to avoid “feeling threatened” under any circumstances, and their political masters back them up.
With crime and on-the-job police deaths their lowest rates in decades, cops defend their hyper-militarization, aggressiveness and SS-chic aesthetic with siege mentality rhetoric about an “unprecedented danger” to police. Frankly, they sound like Lt. Calley psyching himself up to massacre the inhabitants of My Lai.
Situations that cops thirty years ago would have defused with talk and reason are now resolved with “less lethal force” such as the use of tasers on agitated 80-year-old women whose homes were invaded at 3AM. Even talking to a confused or upset person apparently poses a monstrous threat to life and limb — or at least an unacceptable inconvenience for someone in a hurry to reach the donut shop — justifying instant resort to boots and batons, tasers or bullets.
In recent years police resentment has escalated against the growing use of cell phone video to hold cops accountable for brutal assaults on non-violent citizens, perjury, and falsification of evidence. The proliferation of recorded police misconduct on YouTube is forcing a sea change in law enforcement culture, and they don’t like it. They grouse that they “can’t do anything” any more, that they’re “on a leash,” due to constant public scrutiny.
This sense of bruised entitlement is reflected in constant reports of police violence and harassment against citizens legally recording their activities. Other than accidentally witnessing a Mob execution, being spotted recording a cop in the process of brutalizing a prone citizen is about the single biggest danger to your health imaginable. This sense of entitlement to brutalize the citizenry whom they allegedly “protect and serve” resembles nothing so much as that of a big whiny baby, overdue to be weaned from the teat.
This is all typical of government activities aimed at “protecting” the citizenry: At a time of record-low objective danger, police attempt to whip the public into a frenzy of fear (cough cough TSA cough) to justify treating us with unprecedented indignity. Eighty years ago H.L. Mencken explained that government constantly instigated fear campaigns against imaginary hobgoblins to secure public acquiescence in the assault on their liberties and pocketbooks.
Don’t fall for it.
Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center's Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation, and his own Mutualist Blog.