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Commentary

Defund the Police? Why Not?

Tue, June 16, 2020   |   Author: Peter Vogel   |   Volume 27    Issue 24 | Share: Facebook | Twitter   

#DefundthePolice is trending. Individuals and city councils are demanding radical changes — everything from disbanding police forces, to defunding them completely, to cutting their funding substantially. Why? Because of charges of racism and videos that show brutality committed by some police officers.

Now there are opinion-shapers proposing that getting rid of police will end violence and brutality; the idea is gaining considerable momentum. But is it helpful? In particular, would reducing or eliminating police forces end racially-motivated violence — and actually “end violence itself”, as this article suggests?

If you believe that external conditions — and only external conditions — lead to violence, then solving the problem of violence would be a matter of changing external conditions. But if you believe that the problem is deeper, rooted in our human condition with its terrifying capacity for evil, than you know that “solutions” such as defunding the police and improving conditions won’t magically solve the problem.

Violence, selfishness, and racism are evil, and manifestations of them are not limited to any ethnic group or class. That’s why we need the police. That’s why we need the rule of law. Defunding the police cannot change that; instead, it would allow the strong criminal element to victimize vulnerable law abiding citizens with nobody to aid the victim and bring the offender to justice.

Hopefully, some positive efforts at police reform will come out of this time of unrest. Every one of us needs to pay attention to the real problems which are being exposed, and to the legitimate solutions that are being proposed.

Too often, people see society divided along lines of “class”, (poor vs. rich,) or “race”, (white vs. black), etc,. These distinctions do not help us to honestly deal with the problem we are facing. The real divide is between good and evil. Thankfully, there are many law-abiding citizens who seek to live peaceably, provide for themselves and their families and enjoy the benefits of a free society. But we cannot ignore the fact that there are also lawless and selfish people who want to give as little as possible, take as much as they can get, and who don’t care if others get hurt.

We rightfully hold those in positions of authority to a higher standard because with power comes responsibility. Police officers are people. They have the same moral struggles as all of us. The decisions they make under pressure will depend on their ingrained morality, or lack thereof. Some mess up — big time. Not all. Some. In Canada, police officers take an oath similar to this one in Ontario: “I will, to the best of my ability, preserve the peace, prevent offences and discharge my other duties as a Commissioned Officer, faithfully, impartially and according to law.” (PDF) Any officer who violates this oath is guilty of a crime and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Those entrusted with power, and the authority to use it, must be men and women of integrity or the law will not be respected. The process of selecting and training officers must include attention to moral development.

Cities that replace their police forces with something else will have to contend with this: whatever group replaces their police force will also be comprised of human beings; and human beings, with their moral failings, are what caused these problems in the first place.

Racist attitudes and the impacts of poverty must not be ignored. Neither can we ignore the deeper problem: the evil that is inside of each of us. The devastating riots of recent days are an obvious manifestation of this. Mayhem in the streets, burned shops, and the loss of innocent life are warning signs of what could happen everywhere with no police putting themselves between the lawless and the innocent.

Then there’s the political side of this. Politicians now calling for the police to be defunded are “virtue signalling”. They are trying to tell voters that — unlike some other politicians — they are opposed to violence and racism. But their defunding call is hypocritical. Do they really want to live in a city with no police force? Do they trust human nature so much that they have thrown out their home security system? Not likely.

The duty of the government is to protect vulnerable citizens from the criminal elements. Often the police employ soft methods as a first approach: a word to the wise is sufficient. Physical coercion and lethal force are only to be used in extreme cases. When arrest is called for, even handcuffs can be applied gently (and should be). Those “resisting arrest” force officers to use tactics that can be painful. Abuses of power — like happened to George Floyd — must be punished strongly, both for justice and deterrence. There must be no “blue wall” when a crime has been committed by a police officer.

Reforming policing practices and training must be given high priority at this time of high emotions and unrest, but defunding and disbanding police forces would only make matters worse — especially for the most vulnerable.

We are grateful to the men and women putting their lives on the line for us and we utter a heartfelt “Thank you!” to the many police officers in our provinces and cities who are working hard and serving the common good. We know it must be particularly hard for them, especially during these turbulent times.

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