As Police Prestige Declines, Crime Increases and Civilization Weakens
The unraveling of law and order.
In the latest of a string of municipal police stand-downs, New York City officers slunk away after a jeering crowd dumped water on them. In a separate incident in Harlem, an officer was hit on the head with a hard-plastic bucket. This retreat from an assault on the law was not as consequential as that of Portland police who did nothing as journalist Andy Ngo got assaulted and injured by Antifa thugs, but it bespeaks a dangerous trend: The growing disdain for the prestige of law enforcement officers, who now are politically handcuffed and prevented from doing their jobs.
That this latest embarrassment happened in NYC makes it even more revealing. Throughout the Nineties, crime in the city plummeted: Violent crime dropped by more than 56%, and property crimes 65%. Murders peaked at 2245 in 1990, then started to decline, particularly after Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor in 1993 and instituted changes in policing, such as the “broken windows” crackdown on misdemeanors like subway turn-style-jumping that created an atmosphere of disorder and lawlessness. Along with more police on the streets, more criminals put in jail, and tactics like “stop-and-frisk” of suspects, these changes contributed to the steep decline in murders. By 1999, murders had fallen by 73%. In 2018, there were 289 murders, almost half as many as Chicago, which has about one-fourth the population of New York.
That success demonstrated how the prestige of the police, their success at stopping crimes, and the respect for their authority that follows from their active presence in the public square, deters potential miscreants and improves the quality of life for citizens––especially minorities, who are the most frequent victims of violent crime in big cities.
But sometimes reinforcing this authority requires a physical response when a civilian continually resists even verbally an officer’s orders. I learned this lesson in my rural, multi-ethnic high school. The students were equally divided among white, black, and Mexican-American. This meant every few years there’d be an interracial gang fight, which brought out local sheriffs and highway patrolmen. Once, while I was watching the show, a white kid started to enter the fray, lunging between me and a highway patrolman. The officer told the student to stay out of it. The kid lunged again, and the officer grabbed his arm and gave it a pull. On the third try, the patrolman bounced his nightstick on the kid’s head, and he hit the ground with his eyeballs spinning like a slot-machine.
Years later, I had a refresher course in how to avoid unpleasant encounters with the police. I was in D.C. with a couple of university colleagues, sitting in a cab after dinner at Union Station. The cab in front of us wasn’t moving, because the East African driver was being hassled by three black “youths.” The driver obviously did not want to transport them where they wanted to go. Yes, he profiled them, based on the hard experiences of cabbies who end up maimed or dead for not being as careful. After a few minutes, two D.C. policemen, black men who looked like they played linebacker for the Redskins, approached the group. We couldn’t hear what was said to the officers, but one of the cops didn’t like it–– he suddenly lifted the offending punk off the ground and slammed him against the cab. He then advised the group in very colorful language we could hear that they should not frequent this area. The kid wasn’t hurt enough to need medical care, but he and his fellows did get the point. And to show it wasn’t a question of race, our black cabby defended the black policemen.
These anecdotes illustrate what most of us who lived outside the affluent progressive cocoons learned growing up––the informal “rule of three” governing police reactions to resistance or disrespect. The first response is verbal, the next physical, and the last requires medical attention. Sounds cruel and abusive in our age of therapeutic solicitude, dainty snowflakes, and predatory lawyers, but for the police to be effective, they cannot brook any public challenge to their authority that damages their prestige. Doing so invites more resistance, more contempt for the cops, and more crime.
Yes, as in any group of flawed human beings, there are abusive cops too fond of their power and of abusing it. But even if the cop was in the wrong, those of us with common sense understood that at the moment of contact, he possessed the authority to use lethal force, so it’s more prudent and healthier to deal with his abuse of authority later. Don’t give a policeman, particularly one who seems overly aggressive and bullying, an excuse to mess you up. Knuckleheads, on the other hand, typically have a problem with authority and impulse control, and so require more kinetic persuasion. The “rule of three” reinforces the prestige of the police, showing that their words will be backed up with action. You don’t have to like them, but you’d better respect them.
But the war on police waged over the last decade by race-industry activists like Black Lives Matter, and progressive mayors like NYC’s Bill de Blasio, nee Warren Wilhelm Jr.––whose complaints are based on lies about racist cops targeting black males for extralegal execution––have damaged the prestige, and hence authority, of cops on the beat. According to the N.Y. Post, “The NYPD, under orders from City Hall, has been standing down for years now — watching fare-beaters beating fares, pot-dealers dealing pot and addicts and insane people defecating in the streets, all without consequence.” Now the police have gone from ignoring crimes to allowing them to be perpetrated against themselves.
Yet like most of our contemporary social dysfunctions, the current demonization of the police goes back half a century. The rise of the New Left in the Sixties, with its violent rhetoric and crimes, turned hatred of the police and violence against the social order that police defend into a political virtue. In this they were following radical leftist utopians from Robespierre to Lenin, who both embraced terrorist violence as revolutionary justice. Academics, of course, provided the legitimacy of scholarship to this idea. In 1969, Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm glorified violent criminals as “social bandits,” who “challenge the economic, social, and political order by challenging those who hold or claim power, law, and the control of resources.” Popular culture played along with movies like Bonnie and Clyde, which glamorized as “social justice warriors” two psychopathic cop-killers, and demonized the American hero who tracked them down and killed them. Then there was a National Lampoon cartoon strip in the Seventies titled “How to make a football,” which depicted the murder and skinning of a cop.
Why, then, given this long embrace of cop-hatred as an act of justice and virtue-signaling, are we now surprised that cops are assaulted and mocked with impunity, and a two-bit outfit like Antifa is being empowered and enabled by a political party that has returned to the lunacy of the Sixties? Or that civic “leaders,” having completed the Cultural Marxist “long march through the institutions,” go along? We have yet to hear any specific condemnations of Antifa from the Democrat Party, with the exception of presidential candidates Joe Biden and Andrew Yang. The “Squad” of four far-left Congresswomen, of course, refused a direct invitation to do so. Indeed, last year Minnesota one-time Congressman and DNC chairman, now state Attorney General, Keith Ellison tweeted a photo of himself with the Antifa Handbook, and months later posed with a Portland Antifa capo.
These anti-police ideas have burrowed deep into popular culture and school curricula, and have become so familiar that we see little outrage over Antifa’s depredations, or over the fashion of “making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep.” As Orwell said of Kipling’s memorable line, “He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.”
The effectiveness of the police at keeping us safe and civilized depends on the citizens’ respect for their authority and their readiness to use force, sometimes lethal, to enforce the law. When the police do not use their power to do so, people start to disdain them and their illegal behavior escalates. Unless resisted, this political assault on the police will have dire consequences on public order. We’re already witnessing the wages of mayors and police chiefs of some American cities telling their officers to stand down in the presence of Antifa’s public assaults and vandalism. We should also be concerned about more deadly violence against police officers, such as the 2016 assassination of six policemen in Dallas by an assailant angered by the media and race-hacks’ over hyped and misleading coverage of police shootings of blacks.
Emboldened by this fecklessness on the part of officials responsible for public safety, Antifa is becoming more violent and destructive. At some point more people are going to start dying, and their blood will be on the hands of progressive politicians who restrain and disrespect the police in the service of a malign ideology long associated with violence against those who guard all of us--including anti-cop progressives and activists--while we sleep.