My Problem with the Institution of Policing in America

December 23, 2014—Since the unconscionable murder of two NYC police officers, I’ve read numerous appeals imploring me to “support the police.”

I don’t—not as an institution.

Conservatives typically espouse the “support the police” mantra, arguing that Americans should “back the blue” because law enforcement officers put their lives on the line “protecting us.”

A Facebook poster perhaps best articulated the conservative principle underlying support for police.

Proud to stand in solidarity with the law enforcement officers and civil service employees of the NYPD who are the thin blue line protecting their city against the tides of anticivilization forces. Perhaps some of you genius blowhard race baiting internet “libertarians” out there need a political history lesson: the origin of security began when cavemen got tired of standing watch all day because they realized it was impossible to hunt, watch the kids and walk perimeter all at the same time. They organized collective defenses and discovered much to their surprise it increased their productivity because now they could be “free” to do other things and that led to the creation of organized society. “Freedom” outside of civilization is the jungle. For every one person who believes in the nonaggression principle there are nine others who would attack and plunder “just cause” they are bigger, stronger and crazier. Without police or security in a city of almost 9 million people of conflicting cultures and beliefs you would have an apocalypse. Let the police do their job.

I would find his argument much more compelling if the police actually served as defenders of life, liberty and property.

But modern police work simply does not primarily involve defense, and cops don’t “protect” you.


Think about it. Do you actually believe a police officer will show up in time to save your life if one of your “uncivilized” neighbors breaks into your home intent on killing you? Do you have any faith that the police will recover and return your property if a plunderer breaks into your home and steals your possessions? At best, the police might make an arrest after the fact, and the criminal justice system might punish the criminal. But the punishment will serve the demands of the state, not you. The police will not make you whole, restore your property or compensate your family if somebody takes your life.

The police serve to enforce the edicts of the state—laws and statutes that increasingly infringe on your liberty, property, and sometimes even your life.

Instead of protecting you, the cops use force to ensure you don’t consume unapproved substances. They seek to keep you from engaging in unauthorized transactions with other willing individuals. They enforce laws to ensure you don’t possess certain types of weapons. Cops stop you from consuming unapproved foods and use the threat of violence to ensure you utilize approved safety equipment in your car. They serve as the gun behind the grasping hand of the tax man, and the billy club backing up the government regulator.

Some protection.

Communities may well have created police departments to protect citizens from the chaos of the “jungle,” but that certainly doesn’t constitute the primary role of police today. Again—cops serve as the enforcer of state edicts, laws increasingly meant not to protect the people, but control them.

In a poignant passage in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand describes the purpose of law in a society dominated by strong, centralized government.

“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against—then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of lawbreakers—and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

Most conservatives agree that government has grown too large, too intrusive and thrusts itself into too many areas of our lives. They will likely nod in agreement at Rand’s characterization of law in a society dominated by big government.

Then why do these same conservatives demand unquestioning support of the police, an institution that makes the intrusive big government system possible? How can they condemn the war and praise the guys carrying the spears?

The police—as an institution in America—do not deserve our support. “Protect and serve” has transformed into “command and control.” Police departments have evolved into militarized mini-armies obsessed with waging an unconstitutional “war on drugs.” Many departments have become institutionally violent, unaccountable and unresponsive to the people.

This is why I don’t “support the police.” I condemn violence directed at police officers, nor do I have animosity toward individual officers. There exists some fine people serving as police officers. But that doesn’t change the fact that policing desperately needs institutional change in America.