The Curse of Undue Deference
Radley Balko has an excellent article on how the Gates arrest last week demonstrates conservatives’ disturbing deference to government power when it comes to the police.
Commenting on Gates’ arrest, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg wrote that he counts himself among those who are “deferential to police,” and willing to “give cops the benefit of the doubt for a host of reasons.” That’s a common position among conservatives. At a Federalist Society luncheon a few years ago, Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson praised the Supreme Court for “putting more trust in our police officers” in recent rulings. Los Angeles Police Department officer Jack Dunphy (a pseudonym) oddly concluded at National Review Online that the lesson from the Gates/Crowley affair is that anyone who asserts his constitutional rights when confronted by a police officer risks getting shot.
This deference to police at the expense of the policed is misplaced. Put a government worker behind a desk and give him the power to regulate, and conservatives will wax at length about public choice theory, bureaucratic pettiness, and the trappings of power. And rightly so. But put a government worker behind a badge, strap a gun to his waist, and give him the power to detain, use force, and kill, and those lessons somehow no longer apply.
Police officers deserve the same courtesy we afford anyone else we encounter in public life—basic respect and civility. If they’re investigating a crime, they deserve cooperation as required by law, and beyond that only to the extent to which the person with whom they’re speaking is comfortable. Verbally disrespecting a cop may well be rude, but in a free society we can’t allow it to become a crime, any more than we can criminalize criticism of the president, a senator, or the city council. There’s no excuse for the harassment or arrest of those who merely inquire about their rights, who ask for an explanation of what laws they’re breaking, or who photograph or otherwise document police officers on the job.
Just read the whole thing.