Short Take: Chesterton’s Cops

In trying to snidely sneak in his snarky rejoinder, Jake managed to almost raise a point without ever touching anything of substance. But because I like Jake and don’t want him to be sad or unvalidated, the least I can do is help him down the path of cogency right up to the point where the path is blocked by a fence. Chesterton’s fence.

This was the “second part of the Minneapolis city council plans” that, as Jake snarked, I ignored. Their plan isn’t just to shutter the precincts, fire the cops, lay down their weapons, for that would be anarchy and that would be nuts. No, they are serious people, and their plan is to “replace it with a transformative new model of public safety.”

There ya go.

“We have an opportunity to reimagine what the future of public safety looks like,” said Steve Fletcher, a City Council member who pushed that effort.

With the gusto of an intersectional critical theory Ph.D. dissertation, words are strung together that inspire us to peace, kindness and, dare I say it, a reimagined Utopia. There’s just one small problem.

But he acknowledged that the effort to build a viable alternative to the police on social and mental health issues would take years and that no one could be sure what it would look like in the end.

That’s kind of a problem. Of course, the insipid point to others, like the Nordic model, but the fundamentals fail miserably to transfer over well to a huge, diverse, carceral nation. No one who has given serious thought to the problem would believe the experience elsewhere, even if bits and pieces could be borrowed, would be viable here.

“It’s very easy as an activist to call for the abolishment of the police,” said Mr. Fletcher, himself a former activist who protested a 2015 police shooting. “It is a heavier decision when you realize that it’s your constituents that are going to be the victims of crime you can’t respond to if you dismantle that without an alternative.”

The question isn’t whether there is much wrong with how we do policing, prosecuting, imprisoning. It may be the one thing most of us can agree on, that what we do now ranges from bad to absolutely awful. How to make it better, however, is a far more difficult task than recognizing that it’s bad. Where we don’t necessarily agree is what is wrong with the system, and this is where those on the side of fixing it come into conflict.

It’s not just a matter of whether the better solution is to try to reform what we have, whether the usual “go-to” solutions like de-escalation training or implicit bias training will cure what ails the system. To the most radical reformers, the problems are wrapped up in catch phrases like “systemic racism,” which doesn’t help much when black guys kill other black guys, or when students in city public schools have the best textbooks available and use them to beat the nerdy kid into submission for laughs.

But who could argue that a force dedicated not to policing, but to public safety, wouldn’t be better than what we have now?

“What does that even mean?” asked Steve Birch, the chair of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council. “Then who provides the public service of policing? I don’t even know how to answer that.”

The well-intended and deeply passionate activists will be happy to tell us, with warm words and fuzzy ideals. They have a beautiful plan. It will be transformative. Once they reimagine it.

One of my regular reminders is that the alternative to bad isn’t necessarily good. It can always get worse. Policing in America is bad. Deeply bad. But soothing words aren’t going to do much to stop that guy from robbing you, beating you or killing you, and no matter how much you believe, that bad dude will be out there, waiting for his moment. The cops know this. You do too, if you’re being honest with yourself. We can’t “reimagine” him away.

24 thoughts on “Short Take: Chesterton’s Cops

  1. F. Lee Billy

    My question is, why Minneapolis? Ever hear the term Minnesota Nice? Our understanding was that Minneapolis was a “nice” place. So how is it possible that awful things happen in nice place?

    Which reminds me, how comes we never experienced much 💘 in the city of brotherly love? Maybe it’s a PR stunt, or something along those lines.

    Don’t know how relevant, but they put the bad cops in the baaad neighborhoods. We learned that the hard way 20 years ago in New Haven. Can you say Malik Jones, murdered by cop in. ’99? Yea, we joined, we marched, we demonstrated. We were on the front page.

    Nothing changed. Today, we’re exhausted, discouraged and discombobulated. It’s difficult to unravel 400 years of official misconduct and tyranny. So we pass the torch. Maybe the new generation can do better, but we doubt it.

    1. SHG Post author

      Bill, what have we discussed about your being the first to comment? Save the crazy for the back benches, please.

      1. F. Lee Front Bench

        Early to bed, early to rise,… We start imbibing at nine. By the time we hit the back benches, we’re incoherent.

        🎸 MAN was first. Will be demonstrating and dismantling later anyhow.

  2. L. Phillips

    The more I read about “abolishing” policing as we know it the more I am reminded of the promises of Prohibition and of its apparent leading role in funding the expansion of organized crime.

    Of course this line of reasoning presumes that organized crime truly exists. Since I have heard several intelligent and highly competent CDLs argue over the years that it does not, maybe the unicorns and rainbows envisioned by modern abolitionists really will appear.

    Regardless, my ilk will still have a job because few of the tender woke are going to want to scoop up the poop all those unicorns leave in their wake.

    1. SHG Post author

      As you know, I’ve often described the job of CDL as janitor. We see the ugly side too, and while some of the loftier goals will help, it won’t change humanity being human, no matter how hard they wish.

  3. David R

    An alternate solution might be to offload the costs of liability insurance on to the police union. If the union is responsible for insurance and settlement costs it would give both the police union and the individual officers incentives to stop abuse before it happens and to get rid of abusive officers. I don’t think many police officers would be happy to see their union dues increasing and settlement fees being deducted from their paycheque because of the actions of their fellow officers. Money talks

      1. Front Bench Billy

        You sure know how to hurt a guy. You know we’re all animal lovers,… except when it comes to barbeque?

  4. John Barleycorn

    So are you opposed to the Instant Discovery CDL Ride Along Program or simply reinforcing the point that, even if it takes several flushes you still need a sewage plant that works?

    Of course it can alwyas get worse, perhaps by “necessity” even… but is it not more likely that backyard septic systems for everyone, are more likely after the unicorns try their hand at centralized “policing” utopia?

    Where are you going with realism, esteemed one, other than the recylcing plant?

    Time to deal with the turds.

    Pick some poison or offer up your own brew before they turn off the water and you have to dig a well too.

      1. cthulhu

        Take away the cops’ guns and replace them with zircon-encrusted tweezers. Problem solved.

    1. Casual Lurker

      “…backyard septic systems for everyone…” […] “Time to deal with the turds.”

      Speaking of septic systems, since we’re in Barleycorn territory…

      A newly-elevated division VP of a large brokerage firm is bragging about all the perks that come with the new gig, while a plumber is working on his overflowing septic tank.

      The plumber interrupts the new VP, and while pointing at the swirling mess in the tank, with a perfectly straight face, says “I want you to carefully observe how the largest chunks always rise to the top”.

      As such, I have taken the liberty of designating such ‘Rising Chunks’ as the “Septic Tank Theory of Business Management Hierarchy”.

  5. Jake

    You are an expert on this topic so, with great affection, offer the right solution or, um…Nevermind. I yield my time.

  6. B. McLeod

    When something is wrong, and it has been wrong for a long time, this is a sign that the problem is complex. “Solutions” forced as quick fixes based on emotionalist, knee-jerk reactions to protests are almost certain to misfire and fail.

    1. Jake

      The irony of reminding us how long your generation has had to fix the problem du jour while howling in dismay at the tactics of the next generation is, in a word, delicious.

      1. SHG Post author

        It’s even worse than that, Jake. All of humanity has been trying fix their problems du jour, and yet old problems persist and new problems keep coming up. But the next generation may have the answers. Or not.

  7. Front Bench Billy

    Civil unrest is somewhat cyclical in the same way that stock markets or real estate markets are cyclical.

    Now is a good time to go back 400 years and examine the bloody details of our currently mixed race society. The Pilgrims landed in 1620 and got off to a fairly peaceful, albeit difficult, start with the natives. This was due in part because the local population had just been decimated by a plague of unknown origin. This much is well known and celebrated.

    What is not so well known: As the so-called savages slowly recovered and gained mastery of the white man’s technology (muskets), there ensued 55 years later “King Philip’s War” between and amongst the Indian natives and the English separatists. This was a horrific war which was not strictly racial, or “binary,”– to use one of SHG’s favorite words.

    It ended fourteen months later with the death of Philip, the sachem of the Pokanokets in Rhode Island and nearby Mass. But the fighting had really just begun. Between 1689 and 1704, Benjamin Church, from the Plymouth Colony, led five different eastern expeditions against the French and Indians in Maine.

    During the 14 months of King Philip’s War, the Colony lost almost eight percent of its male population. But the English losses pale in comparison to those of the Indians. Of a total population of approximately 20,000, at least 2000 were killed or died of their injuries. 3000 died of sickness and starvation. One thousand had been shipped out to the Caribbean as slaves. An estimated 2000 fled either west toward the Iroguois Nation or points north.

    Overall, the native American population of southern New England sustained a loss of somewhere between 60 and 80 percent. Philip’s local squabble with Plymouth Colony had mutated and escalated into a regionwide war of unimaginable proportions, that on percentage basis did nearly as much damage as the plagues of 1616-19 to decimate New England’s native population.

    Consequently, and in light of the above where there were no known “blacks” at the time, it’s difficult to even begin comparing today’s hand-wringing with the horrific Indian wars of the 17th C., or the Revolutionary War of the 18th, or the Civil War of the 19th. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat. The coincidence of the current social unrest and the largely unexpected pandemic is curious.

    My own opinion, having been born–fortuitously– ” white”, is that racial bias is not a one-way street. For whatever it’s worth? The”news” really is the Blues. We try not to watch.

  8. rxc

    The Progressive movement was born in the Wisconsin-Minnesota heartland, and we like to think that 50 different states can each experiment with different solutions to our various problems. Maybe it is time to try out one good experiment in public safety in Minnesota. As long as those of us down in Florida don’t have to subsidize it, I say yes, do it. We will be watching their attempts to remake society as they think it ought to be. Let them set the standard for the rest of the world.

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