(Reuters) Explainer: U.S. protesters call to ‘Defund the Police.’ What would that look like?
Without polling protestors to explain why they feel this is a good idea, we have to supply the argument:
- The police are bad.
- The fewer police are around, the fewer bad things will happen.
- Therefore, reduce the number of police.
Though the authentic logic is unavailable, it has to be a close cousin to the above. It has flaws. From Police Brutality, Derek Chauvin, George Floyd, Rousseau’s Social Contract Part 2,
If 5-10% of males (Australian estimate), or 1-5% (other estimates) are workplace psychopaths, then 99.9% of cops can’t be great Americans. No sampling of any profession or group of Americans shows 99.9% of people you just want to love. There are lots of rotten people, everywhere you look.
So 90 – 95% of police are not workplace psychopaths, which means they are likely to act to the benefit of society. The number of workplace psychopaths is unacceptably high, but defunding would not selectively remove them.
Like all human beings, cops are psychologically complex. Perhaps the cop-psycho behaves like a bully, or a gang member, who becomes emboldened in bad behavior by numbers. Derek Chauvin was the senior cop of a unit that included two rookies. His actions are consistent with intent to indoctrinate the rookies with his own twisted club rules.
Whether a person is a cop or an ordinary citizen, we generally recognize the right to self preservation. While the good samaritan is lauded, the cop is required to help. There are broad parallels in what is expected of both, while the rules and sanctions are markedly different.
Defunding would not stop the determined psycho. It would squeeze the normal person who happens to be a cop between three imperatives which are similar for cops and non-cops:
- Do no harm.
- Act with civic virtue.
- Self preservation.
The cop has a 4th imperative, to uphold the law. In every attempt to do this, the first three imperatives limit action in ways critical to success or failure, to life-or-death. Training is supposed to enforce those limits with split-second judgments.
Failure to uphold the oath might be innocent, careless, or as we have seen, malicious. The instinct of self preservation implies one more cause, fear. It is the most likely reason that Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American in the Minneapolis Police Department, shot Justine Diamond. Noor is a small man, who may have been chronically afraid of being physically overpowered.
The cop is caught in a web of obligations and mischance. Let’s now consider the effect of defunding on the cop who is a normal person like yourself. Perhaps your life is simple: You do not seek power, and civic virtue does not concern you. Then you are caught between just two poles:
- Do no harm.
- Self preservation.
When not complicated by greater ambitions, these instincts occupy most minutes of a day. Fear squeezes the poles together. Driving in traffic is a moderate squeeze. In the extreme, a cop faces a door, behind which there may be a gun. The greater the fear, the tighter the squeeze, the greater chance of a mistake.
Defunding law enforcement means doing the same job with less, which means greater fear, with more lethality, not less. Review the video of Police Brutality, Derek Chauvin, and the Death of George Floyd Part 1, (YouTube)Unruly Foreigner Arrested in Starbucks By Tokyo Police.
- The element of danger, to both the policemen and the suspect, is absent.
- The policemen are contained by the social system of Japan.
- They are not required or encouraged to chance the edge.
The Tokyo cops could be what they are because they are not afraid. Among the reasons for their lack of fear: Numerosity and training.
There are other reasons as well. America is plagued by violence. Japan is not. But that’s another chapter. Conclusions:
- If most cops are not psychos, defunding would increase their fear. The greater the fear, the tighter the squeeze, the greater chance of a mistake.
- If psycho cops are at the root of police brutality, specific measures are called for.
- If the psycho-cop is an open question, it deserves thorough debate, because the cost of defunding law enforcement would be huge. America is a notably violent society.
If defunding can work at all, it should be trialed grass-roots, not as a top-down amputation. Reuters quotes views from the trenches:
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday told reporters that “what I’ve heard from people in neighborhoods is that they want more police protection not less.”
U.S. Representative Val Demings, .“We don’t have to just maintain law and order and pay no attention to the man on the ground,” said the black former police chief in Orlando, Florida. “We can do both.”
Political memes are no substitute for the human touch.