Police: Protectors or Pigs?

Steve Moul

Arguing against the police is tough to do, but there are serious problems in the American criminal justice system. The police have earned their bad reputation after decades of lacking accountability.
A large part of policing comes down to police discretion and an officer’s ability to use their judgement to choose whether or not to take legal action. Police decide when to issue warnings and when to make arrests. This protects the public from superfluous mandatory arrest that overcrowd the justice system, but is problematic when it is used to justify unnecessary force.
There is “no single, universally agreed-upon definition of use of force,” as stated by the National Institute of Justice. Police participate in sketchy legal practices such as civil forfeiture and probable cause laws. This behavior creates distrust of the police amongst the public, particularly among minority groups.
Law enforcement and the American criminal justice system have a race problem predating the Civil War, where some early police forces were slave roundup groups. Post-Civil War, local and state governments used Jim Crow laws to systematically discriminate and disenfranchise blacks in America. The war on drugs has been criticized as the “war on black people” because blacks are incarcerated at greater rates than whites over similar drug usage. America has 4.5 percent of the world’s population but 22 percent of the world’s incarcerated people; a disproportionate number of them are black. Compounding this unfair treatment towards blacks is the increasing frequency of recorded murders of unarmed black men like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice. Systemic racism like this can be found at every level of the criminal justice system and highlights the inadequacies in current policing philosophy.
An excuse that is often used for the police’s shortcomings is the “few bad apples” excuse, a few bad actors give police a bad name. Most police officers are decent, moral people who help the community, but inadequacies of the police are not just due to a few bad apples. Problems over use of force, racial bias and misuse of power have transcended decades of policing.
The justification and legitimization for an oppressive police force is usually a similar argument to Thomas Hobbes’ social contract theory described in his work, “The Leviathan.” The idea is that people sacrifice certain individual freedoms for the collective convenience of an authoritarian state. He claims people sacrifice this natural freedom for social order provided by an authoritarian leader or government; I disagree with this. The idea leads to oppressive colonial treatment to those outside of large societies. The idea that mankind would divulge into chaos without the police is not supported with historical and anthropological evidence.
There are alternatives. Studies show education is beneficial in decreasing drug usage, lowering violent crime rates and restorative justice. Educating people about drugs and treating drug crimes as mental illness instead of criminal offenses is paramount for treating criminal addicts and decreasing drug usage. Educating people about social injustices and class struggles makes them more empathetic towards disenfranchised communities and reduces racism. Education and understanding are powerful tools that have already been used in progressive communities that emphasize restorative justice.