Saturday, December 27, 2014

Police/Community Relations: Killing is the Tip of the Iceberg

Let us start with some statistics.  We are told that the number of police killed on the job in 2013 was at an all-time low of 27.  Closer investigation makes that look like a statistical blip.  From 1991 to 2012, the overall number has ranged from around 40 to around 70, with, at most, a minimal downward trend.  The year 2013 was an outlier, no more.  Number killings by the police found to be justifiable in 2013 were 416.  Here there has been a modest general increase since 1999.  So overall the ratio of killings by the police to killings of the police is somewhere between 5:1 and 10:1.  In a country of 300 million people, neither can be said to happen very often.

Thus when critics of the police see how uncommon it is for cops to be killed on the job, they dismiss police complaints about the dangers of the job.  And when supporters of the police see that most police killings some sort of crime or act of defiance, they dismiss community complaints about the police and say you can easily stay out of trouble.  I see a certain parallel here.  Killing is an extreme and rare measure, but to focus entirely on killing is to miss overall effect of countless smaller incidents.

Police are rarely killed on the job.  But they do face regular lesser assaults, threats, insults, expressions of resentment and so forth, to say nothing of the general exhaustion that comes with dealing day in and day out with criminals.  So too, members of the black community can avoid being killed by police with the exercise of basic common sense, but still face smaller indignities such as "being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping."  These smaller indignities hurt.  They hurt whether you are a cop or a member of the black community.  And the effect accumulates over time.

And note that this gets pointed out by both sides and fall on deaf ears.  When the latest police shooting turns out that it could have been avoided if the victim had been more compliant, champions of the black community say that regardless of this particular shooting, the overall atmosphere of harassment is the same.  When police talk about the fear and danger of their jobs, it is pointless to the low numbers of officers killed on the job; the fear and danger refer to countless smaller things as well.

And I suppose that has to be my answer to Jonah Goldberg and other like-minded libertarians as well, To Goldberg, the state is simply about violence so we should have as little of it as possible, and any law will end up with people being killed in enforcing it, so we should have as few of them as possible.  I assume that many libertarians are small business people or friends with many small business people and well acquainted with the hassles that go with extensive regulations, the red tape, the bureaucratic obstacles, the countless petty annoyances.  But these simply are not in the same category as the real fear and anger that are daily companions (on both sides) where the government's monopoly on force is really at work.

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