After realizing the racism charge had no real merit, critics of Officer Crowley have now shifted their argument: the cop was supposedly an ego-maniac who made an unlawful arrest of his social superior, a great black “scholar,” for the made-up charge of “contempt of cop.” Isn’t this bad enough? After all the prosecutor dropped the charges? Let’s pause for a moment. Isn’t it a strange state of affairs that someone can refuse to give an officer his ID, shout when that officer gives him his name, refuse to go outside when ordered during an investigation, and scream crude remarks about his mother at the top of his lungs?
This is a product of the 1960s, which occasioned the breakdown of traditional laws related to good order on vagrancy and public disturbances and ushered in a more general skepticism of police by radical federal judges contemptuous of local “oppression.” The chief thread running through that entire disruptive era was a “counter-culture” that spread great contempt for all forms of traditional authority, whether in the arena of politics, the military, culture, music, manners, education, and everything else.
The “Man” was the problem. The solution was the liberation of the individual from archaic rules. Police were just people like anyone else, worse even, “Pigs.” They were not like educated judges (who can lock people up for contempt without much public concern) nor general surrogates for the community like respected, elected politicians. Cops deserved no respect and were entitled to none by the laws. This, even though prosecutions are still brought in many locales in the name of the “People” and cops are the most visible symbol of our elected governments’ authority. Cops could now be abused at or cursed at or given the finger. Yet somehow we’re all still supposed to know not to resist them when they’re putting us in cuffs, nor try to outrun them in a high speed chase. It’s all very logical you see. Free at last!
In the name of freedom from oppression, however, we got more crime and disorder. The 1970s was the era of the barricaded front door, deserted streets after dark, occasional urban riots, skyrocketing crime, disorder, and the increased use of force in arrests for a very obvious reason: criminals became unused to submitting to authority after a lifetime of disobedience coupled with mixed messages from teachers, the media, and the culture. Force had to supply what once could be commanded by stern words and police presence alone. The cultural radicals mostly isolated themselves from the consequences of their teachings in gated communities, Upper East Side Co-ops, or some Ivory Tower. The working class people grew uncomfortable, and this discomfort culminated in the Nixon victory and the Reagan Revolution. They never bought the liberal line on law and order, not least because they had to pay a dear price for this “liberation.”
A culture of widespread respect for police guarantees greater public safety and allows the police to use less force. They use less force in such a milieu because suspects are habituated to to submit, know that the community would side with the police, and those troublemakers who are willful and disorderly can be detained before things get out of hand. This both teaches them a lesson and serves to pour encourger les autres. This is the world that prevailed before the 1960s. It was a safer world with less violence. Police in those days were unironically praised, respected, honored, and given the benefit of the doubt. This culture of respect paid countless dividends, dividends given short shrift by the courts, the media, and now the President of the United States.
I have a feeling this comes down to who watches Cops versus who listens to NPR. Methinks there’s not too much overlap. As any episode of Cops will demonstrate, police live in a world of unruly, dangerous, and often violent people. Their instinct, born of necessity, is to be in control of their encounters with citizens. It is too much to ask them to shut this off when investigating “scholars.” Scholars don’t get a free pass; cops do not know who they are dealing with in the initial moments of an encounter and cannot be expected to change their entire manner and routine in dealing with white collar types who have a chip on their shoulder . . . even when they’re black and even when they’re buddy-buddy with the president. Long established habits needed to make it home safely every night have a persuasive logic all their own.
Edmund Burke perceived this consequence of liberalism in 1789. In the name of reason and fairness and consistency, France did away with all of the official regard for rank that had characterized its political and social order for many hundreds of years. After the Revolution, all were “citizens,” whether soldier or king or bishop or man or woman. In the name of equality and liberty, France soon endured terrors and regicides and the massacres of the Vendee. His analysis of the undoing of the French nobility and monarchy bears many parallels with our own society’s undoing of the very modest respect once formally and informally due to law enforcement:
Without force or opposition, it subdued the fierceness of pride and power, it obliged sovereigns to submit to the soft collar of social esteem, compelled stern authority to submit to elegance, and gave a domination, vanquisher of laws, to be subdued by manners.
But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.
Regicide, and parricide, and sacrilege are but fictions of superstition, corrupting jurisprudence by destroying its simplicity. The murder of a king, or a queen, or a bishop, or a father are only common homicide; and if the people are by any chance or in any way gainers by it, a sort of homicide much the most pardonable, and into which we ought not to make too severe a scrutiny.
On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their own terrors and by the concern which each individual may find in them from his own private speculations or can spare to them from his own private interests. In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows. Nothing is left which engages the affections on the part of the commonwealth. On the principles of this mechanic philosophy, our institutions can never be embodied, if I may use the expression, in persons, so as to create in us love, veneration, admiration, or attachment. But that sort of reason which banishes the affections is incapable of filling their place. These public affections, combined with manners, are required sometimes as supplements, sometimes as correctives, always as aids to law. The precept given by a wise man, as well as a great critic, for the construction of poems is equally true as to states: — Non satis est pulchra esse poemata, dulcia sunto. There ought to be a system of manners in every nation which a well-informed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.
But power, of some kind or other, will survive the shock in which manners and opinions perish; and it will find other and worse means for its support. The usurpation which, in order to subvert ancient institutions, has destroyed ancient principles will hold power by arts similar to those by which it has acquired it. When the old feudal and chivalrous spirit of fealty, which, by freeing kings from fear, freed both kings and subjects from the precautions of tyranny, shall be extinct in the minds of men, plots and assassinations will be anticipated by preventive murder and preventive confiscation, and that long roll of grim and bloody maxims which form the political code of all power not standing on its own honor and the honor of those who are to obey it.
Kings will be tyrants from policy when subjects are rebels from principle.