A Police-Reform Agenda as Old as Policing Itself

People gather at Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct station to protest after a police officer was caught on video pressing his knee in the neck of George Floyd, who later died in a hospital in Minneapolis, Minn., 27 May 2020. (Eric Miller / Reuters)

The founder of the first modern police station proposes a path.

The The recent death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, and riot police riots and actions that followed have turned some of our friends on the left into new radical libertarians demanding the defunding and abolition of city police departments . As Dan McLaughlin points out, their cheerleaders in the media make yoga efforts to pretend that left-wing radicals who propose to abolish the city police are not left-wing radicals who propose to abolish the city’s police. Apparently we need to apply the Selena Zito method and take them seriously, but not literally.

There is someone we could consult about a plausible police reform agenda: the founder of the modern police, Sir Robert Peel.

The police as we know it today is a relatively new type of agency. We have had courts, sheriffs, bailiffs, etc. for a long time, but the first modern police only existed when Peel organized the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829. It is up to Peel that we owe the modern concept of “police work”. with permission ‘, the principle that police forces operate legitimately only when they operate with the permission of those under their jurisdiction. The situation in Minneapolis and elsewhere suggests that the local police have lost the confidence of at least some of the people responsible and that their legitimacy is therefore at stake. If there’s anything substantial about these riots and the spectacle of Nancy Pelosi kneeling in kente fabric (‘dressed as a Wakandan chess game’ in screenwriter Eric Haywood’s low pH rating), then that legitimacy issue is it.

(It may be that the riots are only tangentially related to a real policy agenda and instead are simply a manifestation of the old instinct to perform penitent rites during a plague. I read that.)

Peel’s nine principles of police formulate a reform agenda more than potential reformers do. We need to consult them.

Peel insisted that the civilian police be conceived as a more liberal alternative to (to Senator Cotton) using armed forces to quell disorder and rely on excessive punishment to terrorize the bourgeoisie, which had been the previous model. We have strayed far from that ideal, not only by relying on the threat of military violence during the recent episodes of political violence, but also by reshaping our municipal police departments to look more like military units than civilian authorities. . We’ve given the police military weapons and military uniforms, the results of which ranged from the ridiculous (the SWAT team in my hometown of Lubbock, Texas, who strolls in the forest in camouflage when answering a domestic call in a famous treeless environment ) to the dystopian (riot police dressed as extras from Starship Troopers, that great American proof of ambitious fascism). We arm the police as soldiers and we dress them as soldiers, and we tell them that they are at war – with drugs, with crime, but ultimately with the citizens they claim to serve.

And what was Joe Biden’s famous crime law, if not a semi-hysterical attempt to inflict severe punishment through the terror that could not be achieved by other means?

Peel believed that “the extent to which public cooperation can be assured reduces proportionally the need to use physical force and coercion to achieve police objectives” and that the police “should use physical violence only in the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning prove insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to uphold or restore order, and to use only the minimum amount of physical strength required for a particular opportunity to conduct a police target. “

(The ‘Peelian Principles’, from which I quote, may not have been put on paper by Peel himself.)

George Floyd’s death was not the result of the “minimum amount of force required” or anything close to that. The more general problem is that the police are generally not trusted to determine ethically and intelligently the correct minimum degree of necessary violence and certainly not universal deserve so much trust, as many police forces have repeatedly shown.

Peel advised that public confidence and consent should be “acquired not by indulging public opinion, but by continuously demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law, in complete independence from policy. . . by being ready to offer individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social status, by being willing and friendly with good humor, and by being ready to offering individual sacrifice to protect and preserve life. “The word ‘politeness’ stands out in those sentences. You can be polite or you can have a state of war – it’s hard to have both at the same time.

And that can help us understand why many police critics remain unaffected by data suggesting that there is no apparent widespread racial inequality in the use of lethal force by the police; Unjust police killings, this criticism argues, are just part of a larger pattern of targeting and assaulting African Americans that ranges from disrespect and indecentness to racial profiling, so the (disputed) data on deaths does not reflect the more general facts on the House. Had George Floyd survived his ordeal, police behavior would have been no less wrong – it would only have produced a less shocking and dramatic result.

That kind of behavior stems from a bunkering mentality, a we-and-they view of the world. Peel’s advice also foresaw this: “The police are the public and … the public is the police, the police is the only member of the public who is paid to pay full time attention to tasks that are on every citizen in the importance of the welfare and existence of the community. ”We no longer pay lip service to the idea that the police are the public and the public the police, as evidenced by developments such as” qualified immunity “and laws establishing that it attacks of a member of the general public is a less serious crime than attacking a policeman We took up civilian service and turned it into some sort of caste.

The Last Peelian Principle: “Always recognize that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in its handling.”


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