One of the most profound concepts is that any time you enact a law or regulation that involves a police interaction, it could result in a person’s execution. Is it worthy of execution? Did New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio ask himself that question before coming up with this brilliant idea?
“I assure you, if an NYPD officer calls you or shows up at your door to ask about something you did, that makes people think twice, and we need that.”
— Matthew Chayes (@chayesmatthew) March 18, 2021
The flaws reflected by BdB’s comments are manifest. First, there’s implication of free speech rights. There is no exception for “hate speech,” despite the myriad passionate voices who believe there is or should be. If you have a constitutional right to say something, what business is it of the government, or the police, to “show up at your door” to ask you anything? More to the point, we have the right to be left alone, to not have the cops show up at our door without lawful cause, not that BdB appears to be aware of that right either.
Then there’s the issue of the cops, or Bill or perhaps a blue-ribbon committee of Bill’s close friends, being the arbiters of what speech is “hateful but not criminal.” A wag might suggest that the only speech that the cops might find too harsh to tolerate would be criticism of them, but even assuming they are given some guidance beyond their self-interest, who decides where the line is drawn? Given recent speech conventions, we would need a new list of wrong speech weekly, if not daily, to keep abreast of what words we’re still allowed to say without a visit from Officer Wokely.
But did BdB really say something this absurdly bizarre and constitutionally deficient? Well, yeah, he did.
Question: …And I mean, what you said about, if it’s something that’s not a criminal case, how would the NYPD confront someone if it’s not criminal? Would they have a conversation with them to say, Hey, that’s actually not cool? How would that work?
Mayor: Well, that’s exactly what happens. Whether again, it’s NYPD or it could be other agencies as well, but NYPD is a great example. One of the things officers are trained to do is to give warnings. If someone has done something wrong, but not rising to a criminal level, it’s perfectly appropriate for an NYPD officer to talk to them to say that was not appropriate. And if you did that on a higher level, that would be a crime. And I think that has an educating impact on people. I think it has a sobering impact that we need. That’s why we need every report – by the way, if something might be a crime, if it’s not 100 percent clear, the NYPD is going to investigate. I assure you if an NYPD officer calls you or shows up at your door to ask about something that you did, that makes people think twice. And we need that.
The idea that every social ill can be fixed by governmental force, because it “makes people think twice,” is a core use of power in the sanitizing of individual thought. Even if it was used in the manner BdB naively assumes it will be, with the cops “speech policing” individuals who use words or phrases that are on the official “hate speech” list, what does he imagine would happen when, on Day 1, someone who is chastised by a cop for using a disfavored word responds by telling the police officer to “shove it up his ass”? After all, the First Amendment entitles us to tell that to a cop. Would the officer reply, “Have a nice day, sir,” or would the officer perhaps reply with stronger language, a threat, or a damn fine beating?
If the idea of cops being called to duty to “make people think twice” about someone doing “something wrong but not criminal” sounds familiar, it might be the campus bias teams that have been embraced by colleges and universities to speech police students who are accused of “hate speech” under campus disciplinary codes that skirt the contours of free speech. There are differences, of course, in that bias response teams can only report a student for discipline or subject them to campus humiliation by proclaiming them to be a social pariah, whereas the cops have better, deadlier, weapons to deploy.
Does anyone give any thought to how, at a time when we’re reluctant to have the police enjoy ever greater latitude in the use of force against individuals for fear that they will use force to swiftly, too harshly, too indiscriminately (or discriminately), that they are putting almost limitless power in the hands of the police to engage with people exercising their constitutional rights that will, eventually, end up with someone executed? Not Bill deBlasio, apparently, and likely not those who decry the cops’ handling of mostly peaceful protests but are all in favor of policing speech they dislike and deem unworthy of being uttered without a cop knocking at your door.