Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
From Slate Magazine comes these two articles about the police. I nearly fell out of my chair reading the first one.
David Morgan is the sheriff of Escambia County, Florida. Apparently in the last few weeks his deputies have shot an unarmed, innocent man in his own driveway and broken into a sleeping couple’s house without a warrant, killing one of their dogs in the process.
The author, Dahlia Lithwick, has a few good zingers for Morgan like this one, referring to the shooting of the unarmed man:
“Right now we are comfortable from a training perspective that our officers did follow standard protocols. I believe the standard we use and train to is a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, which is a reasonable test.” Morgan went on to note that “[t]his is a common occurrence. We live in a very violent society.” Presumably the irony was unintentional.
Morgan says that he is “hobbled by the law” and complains that he is unable to defend the actions of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (which he is presumably now doing) because of pending investigations into the misconduct of his officers—a situation he likens, weirdly, to “allowing a deputy to handcuff you and beat you because you can’t defend yourself.” This is of course not far from what his officers allegedly did to the actual victims in these incidents, and comparing what the media is doing to Sherriff Morgan, to what law enforcement officers did to their unarmed victims is so fatuous, it makes you want to weep. He seems to have no notion of the distinction between police violence and media criticism.
But my favorite is her closing paragraph:
It’s not easy to be a cop in Florida today, making split-second decisions about who is carrying a gun at 2:40 in the morning, especially in light of the fact that at the rate we are going, you’d be insane not to carry a gun at 2:40 in the morning. Nobody really doubts that law enforcement will only become more brutal and violent to accommodate the brutality and violence of our legal rules. But that isn’t what’s actually bothering Sheriff David Morgan this week. What bothers him is that Americans are still capable of outrage when innocent people are brutalized in their homes by his police officers. What should bother the rest of us is that he is not.
I doubt she meant that you need to carry a gun to protect yourself from the police, but her article was refreshing anyway.
The second article is about the fact that cops can engage in “consensual encounter” with people without any reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The author, Justin Peters, questions the validity of said encounters:
And yet, as I’ve written before, a consensual police encounter is often anything but. Cops have guns, and handcuffs, and the power to arrest you or make your life difficult if you are rude or uncooperative. If a cop asks for a moment of our time, most of us will automatically give it, even if we know that we technically have the right to refuse.
Peters cites a study designed to see if people would assert their right not to interact with law enforcement in these so-called “consensual” encounters.
Unfortunately, all 83 of the subjects in the study submitted to an interaction, most of them citing “respect for authority” as the reason why.
The study isn’t conclusive, as it only involved 18-21 year olds and not real cops, but it is disturbing nevertheless.
But as Smith and her co-authors note, the results of the study still “show that judicial assumptions are flawed about the reactions of reasonable, innocent people during ‘consensual’ encounters with police.” This paper suggests, at least preliminarily, that the “consensual” police encounter is a fiction. And with more empirical research like this, maybe the courts will start rethinking consensual encounters, too.
Unfortunately Peters drives off a cliff here. He should know that the courts are far more likely to side with the cops than the rest of us “mundanes”.
I surmise that we will all have more and more “encounters” with the cops as they continue to ramp up to the level of a total domestic military.