A State of Siege


Dec. 22, 2014 (San Diego) Some form of police has existed since the first towns and cities rose along the Euphrates over 5000 years ago. Crime and punishment has been a constant of human history. After every successful revolution in history, right after the celebrations and installation of the new government come installation of the forces to keep the new order.

Whether the police put down the weapons and took out the uniforms, as it happened in Egypt recently, of the old Tsarist spy apparatus which was replaced by the NKVD. There are other examples, such as the French Revolution, where the elation was soon followed by The Terror. One of the most important priorities of the new state is to install a new police, many a times this new force is filled with the old rank and file officers taking oaths to the people they were willing to crack on but 24 hours before. Here is where the old joke comes from, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The tension in democratic societies is how to control a force that can easily get out of control?  How to understand a force that by it’s very nature sees all, even those within who are critics, as enemies? They see themselves as a thin blue line that guards against disorder. Our challenge is how to reach to those who feel under siege? Because it is that siege mentality that needs to crack and go way.

The death of anybody, whether wearing the uniform or not is tragic. Violent deaths are down, this is national statistics. Whether these deaths are those of officers or civilians, they are down. They all peaked in 1992 and have crashed ever since. So reacting as if this is at an active state of war is tragic. This is exactly what New York’s finest are doing.

The police is not under attack. What is under attack is that siege mentality by officers, and District Attorney’s around the country who are unable to find a cop in the wrong like ever. This is partly what has led to this moment. What is under attack is a culture that allows a police force to act as if they were an occupying army. That is what is under attack.

Some of the defenses put forwards by police officers are silly. “Nobody understands what we do.” To be honest most people do not get what miners do either and it is a far more dangerous job. These are federal statistics. This siege mentality also makes officers less effective in their jobs. If the job of a law enforcement officer is to keep the peace, you cannot do that by fearing the same people you are sworn to protect. In many cases due to the color of their skin.

We as a society have made a Faustian bargain. We allow you to be armed, patrol streets, keep order. In exchange we want you to not be an occupying army and to be supervised by civilians.

New York’s finest have gone to war before with city hall (and lost). The last time a mayor tried to bring that oversight his name was David Dinkins. He wanted to bring a civilian review board on board. In the end they did. The cops, like they are doing right now, alleged they were under siege by people who did not support them, any oversight is seen as lack of support. The reaction from NYPD is not just telling, but it matters since they are one of the largest uniformed police forces in the world. Others take their cue from them.

Some officers have even asked why people cannot he united like after 911. That is code for the mayor letting us do whatever we want. It is also ironic since OSHA standards were not applied and hundreds of New York’s finest have died, not from a bullet, but diseases related to that heroic rescue and later recovery. This was under a mayor that “supported them all the way.” Irony to the side, we have been at a state if war and that is not just against terrorism, but the civil rights of Americans.

All the body cameras in the world will not lead to changes. Civilian review boards will not change a thing. This will not happen until the siege mentality changes as well. These elements of supervisions will moderate things. But change has to come. Self reflection is in order.

Police Officers have to ask why we got to this point? How we got to this point? The same goes for District Attorneys. While the job is not easy. Yes, it is dangerous, officers are not the law. They are but one phase in the system. This is a system that is losing legitimacy by the second. Officers need to be held accountable. While the unions have a job to do, DA ‘s and the Brass must stop covering up for bad officers. The word accountability must mean something again.

The first step is to stop blaming those who want to make officers accountable. The system needs deep reforms. No, police departments are not going away. If they did, something else will replace them. Perhaps what replaces them will be even less pleasant. That is just pie in the sky thinking that we can get rid of some form of law enforcement. Deep reforms are needed, some if these reforms should change law enforcement for ever. If real change does not come the trust in these institutions will continue to go away. It will make things more dangerous for everybody.

The time for rhetoric is over. The time for self reflection is now.

Twitter: @nadinbrzezinski

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Categories: editorial, Police Practices

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