We've all, unfortunately, seen stories like this one, about the police tasing a disabled man to get him off a bus after he refused to sit down, or this one about Ethan Saylor, with Down Syndrome, who was asphyxiated to death by police gone wild at the movie theater in a dispute over a $12 ticket, or this recent one about an elderly man killed by police with bean-bag shot rounds after he refused to go to the hospital for treatment his nursing home staff wanted him to have. (Hey, wait, I thought everyone had a right to refuse treatment? Never mind.) Then there's this one about the perfectly innocent college girls in a car terrified out of their lives and eventually put in jail for a night over a bottled water purchase and a police mistake. (The police thought the bottled water was beer.)
There are many more such stories out there about police using excessive force, behaving in a wildly militarized fashion, terrorizing perfectly innocent people, and so forth.
On the other hand, a friend in Ireland recently sent me this story. It seems that police in Northern Ireland aren't permitted to defend themselves effectively against hooligans and rioters, who therefore think it great sport of a summer's evening to go out and try (sometimes successfully) to light police officers on fire. Think I'm making it up? Have a look at the video. Sometimes the water cannons work, and sometimes they don't.
Let me add that, in the U.S., the police are sometimes defended in cases like that of Ethan Saylor by the statement that they had to use what ultimately turned out to be deadly force because otherwise a police officer might have gotten hurt.
So, what does this mean? Does it just mean that the United States and Ireland are completely different in their approach to these matters? Would the Ethan Saylor incident (and the other incidents) never happen in Northern Ireland? After all, if police lives are valued so little and if avoiding killing non-police is so important that even murderous hoodlums throwing gasoline bombs are treated carefully in confrontations, one would assume that the innocent, the disabled, and the elderly have nothing to fear from excessive police force.
And that may simply be true. I'm certainly open to that explanation. Why create a conundrum where none exists? Ireland is one country and the U.S. is a different country. Maybe the police in the U.S. are being (sad to say) increasingly trained to behave like SWAT-style thugs against all and sundry while police in Northern Ireland are being trained to be MacGyver-style non-violent peacekeepers willing to risk life and limb rather than risking harm to anyone else.
On the third hand (as it were), from Sweden we have the following perfect illustrations of Samuel Francis's concept of anarcho-tyranny. When car-burning riots raged in Sweden, police had a policy of deliberately doing nothing about the rioters while cracking down decisively on so-called "vigilantes" who tried to stop immigrant rioters burning cars and neighborhoods. To add insult to injury, authorities issued parking tickets on burned cars.
The Swedish policy appears to be to stick it to the weak and law-abiding. Let the strong and scary criminal mobs do as they will. Somehow, I wouldn't be all that surprised to see stories about the police suffocating or bean-bag killing people in Sweden and also stories about police getting their heads burned by gasoline bombs, because they weren't allowed to shoot at the bomb-throwers.
There, it all kind of fits together.
Is there a pattern like this growing all over the West of excessive force against the innocent, the weak, the law-abiding, and those defending themselves and others but excessive deference to actual violent criminals? Is that the true explanation of the crazily contradictory stories from the U.S. and Ireland?
Even if it is not the explanation of the apparent tension between police practice in Northern Ireland and in the U.S., is there such a pattern in the U.S.? More sobering still, will anyone recognize that pattern and do anything effective about it, or will proposed solutions swing from the extreme of advocating absolute anarchy to advocating more police toughness, which in practice will mean more violence against the wrong people?
Let's also get practical: Who, specifically, is training the U.S. police to take this militarized and/or exaggerated approach to perfectly ordinary conflict situations? Is it some kind of federal program or is it a set of similar state-level programs? The police didn't get this way by accident, and this kind of tase-first-ask-questions-later approach is definitely new in the last couple of decades, if not less. If there is some program or set of programs, how can ordinary citizens try to get them stopped and get police policies changed? Lawsuits, I'm sorry to say, don't seem to be doing the trick.
By the way, I know that we have readers who will advocate the anarchy end of this. In fact, I have some idea who they are and have therefore hesitated to put up this post. There may be others who will advocate outright revolution. Please understand that I'm not going to allow the latter at all and that the former, once you have stated your case, will get old kind of fast. Ideally, we would come up with some creative, do-able, and non-seditious ideas, such as, "Get your state lawmakers to pass a law explicitly requiring police training to address x and not to include y" or "Find out if your town's police officers have received the Z program."
The sensible Western view of the role of police has always been tacitly chivalrous--kindness to the weak and innocent combined with unyielding toughness to the wickedly violent and truly criminal. If that chivalric code has been or is being reversed, something must be done, and fast.