The Difference Between Restraint And Abuse
We need more peace officers than police officers.
I continue to see stories and videos of abuse at the hands of police on a nearly daily basis. I don’t need to look far to find them. I need only to peruse my Twitter feed to see viral videos on any day of the week. I’ve seen numerous examples of peaceful protesters or just innocent bystanders on the receiving end of arrogant abuses at the hands of the police, and I really just want to see that all stop.
As I survey the stories and the videos, in my mind, I make a distinction between protesters and anyone who gets violent. The 1st Amendment holds that the right to peaceably assemble is inalienable. That right includes walking together in unison, in harmony, on the street. That right includes the right to freedom of expression, including the display of signs that promote their views.
There is nothing in the 1st Amendment that protects acts of larceny, arson, or violence against others. This is where I draw the line. I’m fine with people protesting in the streets, but the moment you hurt someone, damage someone else’s property, or steal it, you’re not a protester anymore.
The framers of the Constitution understood that people need freedom of expression so that they could blow off steam. We keep the peace in this nation because we’re allowed to speak, we’re allowed to say what is truly on our minds. We’re not ruled by a dictator that can have us thrown in a dungeon for the offense of expressing our opinion. When I see people marching down the street, in peace, expressing their grievances, they are true protesters.
Many of the things we now enjoy came about with protests. Women's suffrage, the weekend, the 8-hour workday, and civil rights, all came about as a result of persistent and peaceful protest.
I have a certain appreciation for the police, and I wan them to protect and to serve. I want a police force that serves the community. Beating up on a person who is cuffed is not serving the people. I’ve seen videos of police officers assaulting people who are lying on the ground and cuffed. That is not serving the community. I’ve seen police officers slam to the ground diminutive “suspects” who are simply no match for a police officer. It seems to me that those violent police officers are acting like it’s their job to punish people.
Punishment is not the job of the police. Punishment assumes that someone is guilty of a crime. Even if a police officer has probable cause to charge someone with a crime, even if the officer is a witness to a crime, it’s not his job to beat a suspect senseless. The work of determining whether or not a crime has been committed and that such crime should be punished, that’s a judicial function. The purpose of the police then is to apprehend a suspect with probable cause and bring them to trial. There is a clear separation of powers here, and abuse falls outside of the power delegated to the police by the people.
So when I look upon the videos of the police abusing the people with tear gas, pepper spray, and other devices intended to disperse a peaceful assembly of people, they are no longer “the police” to me. They are something else. When I see the police abusing the people who would otherwise be in peaceful protest, they are acting in a manner that is beyond the power delegated to them by the people. They are not exercising restraint. They are seeking to punish the people instead of recognizing the right of the people to assemble in peace.
Now I know that these protests look like they’re going to be “forever”. But forever is a really long time. I’ve learned from my own experience that the brain has a nearly unlimited capacity to wander. I think that a wandering mind is a gift. It’s how we survive when we’re bored. The protests in the street are what you get when you give people time and money and something to protest about. 40 million people are out of work and they need something to do. The death of George Floyd was an organizing force among people who had the time and the money to protest. To the extent that the protest is peaceful, they are exercising their rights under the 1st Amendment.
The police, to the extent that they confine their work to restraining the people who get violent, threaten violence, destroy property or engage in larceny, and provide safe passage for a peaceful march, are doing their job. The moment they take measures to disperse a peaceful crowd, they cease to be police officers. The moment that they abuse people as punishment for failing to comply with orders to disperse, they cease to be police officers.
I’ve seen a single police officer restrain one man and cuff him on video. I think it’s not that hard for two officers to restrain a man and put handcuffs on him without injury to anyone. The job of the police, to apprehend a suspect, is just to restrain the suspect and bring him to justice. Their job is to let the courts decide, based on the evidence, whether or not a man is guilty of a crime.
I’ve also seen stories of police de-escalating a situation to bring peace. I know it seems novel, but there are police officers capable of such feats. They are alternatively known as “peace officers”. A true peace officer does just that. He keeps the peace. He knows how to reduce the tension in his space. He knows how to mediate disputes. I have seen little of this kind of work in the news, or in social media. I would very much like to see more of it. I would like to see more peace officers in the news.