I grew up in suburbia.
I was taught from the earliest age that the police were our community’s brave protectors. In case of danger, they were to be called in an instant.
On hot summer days, my mother would send me out with cans of soda for the policemen that sat in their cars in the neighborhood (the old larger cans that would actually quench one’s thirst; not the miniature cans of today that just wet the lips). It was a small token of appreciation for being out in a hot day for us. We appreciated our guardians.
And I never thought any differently until years later.
For college, I moved just a few miles – but an ideological continent away – to the big city. I remained there after I graduated and started work. A short time later, I was called for my first jury duty.
On my first day, I was ushered with a pool of jurists into a large room by a manager of the court who gave us a short run-down of the case in question: a robbery-and-assault which was witnessed by a police officer. It basically came down to a he-said/ he-said assessment of who was telling the truth. The judge asked if anyone had any reason why they could not be impartial in the case.
I raised my hand.
I explained that all things being equal, I was inclined to believe the police officer and give greater weight to his testimony. When the judge asked why I would be partial to the police, I explained my upbringing of always trusting police officers.
The pool of jurists burst out laughing.
The judge went nuts.
She lashed out that my explanation was ridiculous and worthy of a child. She asked whether I was just looking for a quick exit to my corporate job. Hundreds of eyes from the multi-ethnic city jurists bored into my pale white skin.
But I didn’t blush of embarrassment; I shrunk in disbelief. Was I still in America?
Now, decades later, I often think about that day.
- I think about it when I read articles about “white privilege.” Do non-Whites engage in society differently than I do?
- I recall it when I read of unarmed Blacks being shot by police. Is race a dividing line in dealing with police?
- I consider the gap between the red counties and blue counties across the country every election cycle, particularly in 2016. Is there a genuine difference between the experiences of people in large cities versus the rest of America?
2016 Presidential Election Map by County (red=Republican; blue=Democrat)
I am aware that the U.S. has become more divided regarding politics. But where is the fault line when it comes to government protection? Is America divided by race, by a rural-urban divide, by liberal-versus-conservative, old-versus-young, married-versus-single as it relates to something as basic as the police?
Our Common Defense
The preamble of the U.S. Constitution outlines the principle roles of our government:
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”
In taking apart the opening clause, one can see how liberals and conservatives view the role(s) of government in starkly different terms:
- “form a more perfect union,” related to the establishment of the country in binding the colonies into a single entity. It may be poetic to consider 300+ million people married to each other today, but the union relates to our common citizenship.
- “establish justice,” has a very different meaning to progressives that seek to “establish justice” by flattening society and providing promotions to those falling behind, and conservatives that seek to uphold the rule of law;
- “insure domestic tranquility,” is a broad phrase and could cover freedom of speech (either protecting or curtailing) and religion, strengthening the economy, or preserving peace;
- “provide for the common defence,” can only be read one way, but may be perceived differently as reviewed here;
- “promote general welfare,” to liberals means freebies for individuals like free schools and free healthcare, while for conservatives it means governmental projects for society like highways, hospitals and parks;
- “and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” means the establishment of the rule of law, including the ability to prosecute such laws. Liberals could read “liberty to ourselves” as covering such rights as abortion for nine months of pregnancy, while conservatives could read “our posterity” to specifically limit abortion which undermines the unborn.
While various roles of our government can be interpreted very differently by liberals and conservatives, there is no misreading the role of “common defence,” to protect our borders, land and citizens from foreign actors with our armed forces. There is no question that each domestic goal can only be secured through a local police force.
But there is a swath of America that views the nation’s police and military with distrust.
Based on my experience at jury duty, I thought the cynicism for our officers came from people in the cities. But the Cato Institute did work on the subject and concluded:
“People who live in densely populated areas are more likely to come into contact with officers. City centers also are more likely to have higher crime rates, which may increase the likelihood one has an encounter with law enforcement. However, actual differences in favorability toward the police by community type are rather small. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of individuals living in the suburbs have a favorable view of the police, as do 60% of those living in cities and 61% residing in rural areas.”
The fault line isn’t population density.
The nation’s local and national protective forces have been increasing the number of minorities for the past few decades.
As of 2015, minorities made up 40% of the active military, up from just 25% in 1990. The percentage of minorities in local police forces doubled between 1987 and 2013, with Latinos making up the largest jump (just as they did in the US military).
But despite the increase of Blacks and Latinos in the police and military, Blacks continued to view the armed forces with distrust at the same levels as the 1970’s according to the Cato Institute. From 1970 to 2016, the percent of Whites with a favorable view of police was relatively constant, going from 67% to 68%. Over the same time, the percent of Blacks viewing police favorably dropped from 43% to 40%.
Blacks were skeptical of law enforcement regardless of income level, whereas Whites and Hispanics grew more comfortable with police as their incomes grew. Further, Black people were distrustful of police at almost the same levels whether they were Democrats, Independents or Republicans. Not so for Whites and Hispanics, whose positive opinions grew as their politics moved rightward.
Just as Black people were unlikely to change their feelings about law enforcement regardless of their income, party affiliation or increase in the number of Black people on police forces, Democrats – and liberals in particular – also barely change their distrust of the police. Whether the Democrats were White, Black or Hispanic and regardless of income level, they were wary of the police. However, Independents, Libertarians and Republicans all saw movement towards greater faith in the police as incomes grew in both the Hispanic and White communities.
Democrats that are White, Latino or Black all view the criminal justice system as unfair to minorities, with only 26%, 17% and 13%, thinking that the system was fair, respectively. The number jumped dramatically for Republicans that are White and Hispanic, but not for Blacks, with 67%, 45% and 15% stating that the system was fair, respectively.
Older people are much more likely to have a favorable attitude towards police. People 65 and older had an 82% positive scoring for the police, higher than any group. The favorability scoring dropped to 70%, 54% and 53% for ages 45-64, 30-44 and 18-29, respectively.
Young Liberals and Blacks Distrust Police
The Cato Institute attempted to develop some underlying reasons behind the persistent negative feelings that Blacks and Liberals have for police.
One theory relayed to a “Respect for Authority (RAI) Index.” It found that Conservatives scored much higher (44%) than Liberals (16%). People that scored high on respecting authority were more likely to grant police latitude in their criminal prosecution. Young people are more likely to push against all forms of authority, including police, while Black people feel that the system has been set against them for generations.
Another poll examined the asymmetry of protecting the innocent versus punishing criminals. Liberals were much more likely to let more criminals run free if it meant avoiding incarcerating innocent people. Conservatives were more likely to pursue more arrests, even if it meant that innocent people would be caught up in the net. Not surprisingly, such attitudes correlate to Conservatives favoring a strong police presence, while Liberals favored a weaker force.
Black Lives Matter –
A Liberal and Black Coalition Against Police
A core principle of the local and national government is the protection of its citizens, and Liberals and Blacks believe that the government is failing in that regard. Liberals prefer empathy to order, and assistance to prosecution. Police sit on the wrong side of that equation for all Liberals, regardless of race, age or income.
Black people are still suspicious of the police, despite the large increase in their numbers in law enforcement and eight years of a Black president. They believe the anti-Black bias is deep and systemic.
These two groups coalesced into the Black Lives Matter movement a few years ago.
As stated on the BLM website:
“Black Lives Matter began as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism. Our intention from the very beginning was to connect Black people from all over the world who have a shared desire for justice to act together in their communities. The impetus for that commitment was, and still is, the rampant and deliberate violence inflicted on us by the state.
Enraged by the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, and inspired by the 31-day takeover of the Florida State Capitol by POWER U and the Dream Defenders, we took to the streets. A year later, we set out together on the Black Lives Matter Freedom Ride to Ferguson, in search of justice for Mike Brown and all of those who have been torn apart by state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism. Forever changed, we returned home and began building the infrastructure for the Black Lives Matter Global Network, which, even in its infancy, has become a political home for many.”
Liberals attached themselves to the movement and added LGBTQ, environmental matters, minimum wage and a host of other issues into a movement that was primarily concerned with perceived police brutality against Blacks. The intersectionality of rage against the police was natural for the Liberals anyway.
Where Do We Go From Here
The polarization in the United States regarding a range of issues including unions, abortion and minimum wage all pale relative to the divide that exists in the perception of law enforcement, which is a core tenet of our government. Our society cannot thrive with only “red” cops (Republican-loved police), nor can it survive the anarchy proposed by Liberals. Increasing the number of minorities on police forces has yielded no change in attitude, nor has increased wealth.
Therefore, new approaches should be considered:
- Elevate Hispanics. The Hispanic community has been joining both police forces and the national armed forces in great numbers. Their admiration for law enforcement has grown significantly. Society should reward both efforts by continuing to hire and promote the talented Hispanic officers, including to prominent positions.
- Positive Police in Schools. Do not let the Black Lives Matter run the agenda in schools teaching young people to hate the police, and do not only have police officers in school when investigating a crime. Have officers talk to students and get to know them in a positive class and hallway format. Visit the local precinct and celebrate holidays together with police, possibly side-by-side in homeless shelters (versus just going to shelters without the police).
- Dial back “authority.” If Liberals and Blacks are sensitive about authority, then police should consider selectively managing such authority, such as being more selective in “stop-and-frisk”programs.
America’s police and military are for all citizens and should be appreciated and trusted by everyone. If people are not learning to respect and appreciate our protective forces in their homes, we must do out utmost to promote such message in schools and society at-large.
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