Police reform: a conservative issue

A recent local TV discussion included some Black activists and Albany’s police chief and other officials. The big takeaway was insufficient police accountability to the citizens for whom they’re supposed to work. Albany has had several injuries and deaths in recent years resulting from dubious police conduct. Since 2000 we’ve had a “Community Police Review Board,” but the TV discussion made clear its toothlessness. I’m not aware of any officer ever disciplined due to its actions.

Then we watched Aaron Sorkin’s film, The Trial of the Chicago Seven. Including footage of police assaulting protesters during the 1968 Democratic convention. Called a police riot, it was horrific. Were any cops disciplined?

I was active in Republican/conservative politics in New York City in the ’60s. We wore “Support Your Local Police” buttons, opposing a civilian review board. This pro-police “law and order” stance has long been a conservative staple. It was a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign.

But what is “conservatism,” really? If nothing else, belief in limited government, and distrust of its power, especially when it intrudes upon our lives. Now suppose I tell you government will enforce its will by deploying guys with weapons, authorized to use them against citizens, at their own discretion (or lack thereof), with scant accountability? Doesn’t that scare the crap out of you?

That’s my conservatism talking. You might answer, well, I’m white, and law-abiding, so I have nothing to fear. But most demonstrators whose heads police cracked in Chicago were white, and in fact law-abiding. It was lawless police that instigated the violence. Those demonstrators were basically just exercising their American right to free expression — one that I particularly value. I’ve marched in protests too.

Maybe you welcome police brutalizing people you disapprove of. But if they can do it to them, they can do it to you. “First they came for the Jews . . . .” A nation where a Breonna Taylor or a George Floyd can be wantonly killed by “law officers” is not safe for any of us. That’s not “law and order.”

Yes, we do need police. Thusly giving government a monopoly on legitimate use of force is essential to our social compact. As explained by Thomas Hobbes, the answer for the “war of all against all” we’d have without it. We give up our freedom to prey upon others in exchange for protection from their predation. Thus we establish rule of law and a government to literally police it. But that use of force must be accountable to us.

Accountability is a central problem of government. That’s why conservatives cast a wary eye on bureaucrats in distant offices whose actions can affect our lives. But the more immediate concern — its real ground zero — is the cop on the beat, right there among us, armed not with a pen but with a gun, which government says he can use on us if he so decides. Often indeed police are armed like an invading army. That’s where accountability is needed most.

And it’s sorely lacking. Police are powers in their own right, unto themselves. Unlike politicians, they don’t have to earn our votes. They’re further insulated from citizen accountability through powerful unions and contracts that stymie discipline and even hide such matters from public view. George Floyd’s killer had 17 prior transgressions on his record and still remained on the force.

How is defending this unfettered and indeed violent governmental power “conservative?” Working to constrain it isn’t just a left-wing issue. Conservatives — those who actually understand conservative principles — should join with them.

One Response to “Police reform: a conservative issue”

  1. Don Bronkema Says:

    This nonagenarian caucasoidal, strate, atheist, green, socialist, anti-jingo, pro-CRISPR teknokrat agrees w/o tergiversation. Drive on!

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