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Policing is an undemocratic, militaristic culture

Fairfax criminal lawyer on the irony of a huge police culture in a purportedly free and democratic society

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Policing is a necessary evil that is antithetical to a free, open and democratic society. Policing is a poison on society and the body politic when our society is overpoliced, which it has been for decades, with police forces justifying their budgets and federal grant money with patrolling, entrapping, and task forcing for drugs; swarming society on the prowl for DWI suspects; and too often being an impediment rather than a help to our pursuing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Police are empowered to use wide discretion about whom they investigate, whom they harass under the guise of purported voluntary encounters, whom they stop for asserted reasonable articulable suspicion for crime afoot,  whom they arrest, what crimes they charge arrestees for, and what kinds of breaks, if any, they recommend to the prosecution in a defendant’s case. With such broad discretion and power come the increased risk of excessively racist policing and prosecuting — because the universe of police and prosecutors is not immune from the excessively rampant racism still found in society at large — and the increased risk of smugness, heartlessness, and even tyranny by police and and prosecutors.

Put power in anyone’s hands, and that power is ripe for abuse. Put power in the hands of police and soldiers, and the risk of abuse is enhanced by their not answering to sufficient democratic checks and controls on their power.

Good police and good prosecutors exist. We need their example to shine on their colleagues. However, what is an otherwise good police officer or good prosecutor to do if their superiors are not good? Do the good police and good prosecutors stay good under such circumstances, or even stay with their departments? Or do they turn a blind eye to — and even help cover up for and assist — their colleagues’ misdeeds, now making them no longer good? Do they stand up against their colleagues’ and superiors’ misdeeds even if that risks their being fired, and losing their income as a result? Do they work to reform their departments and profession to bring them closer in line with a free and democratic society?

Light a fire in a dry forest, and you will not be able to control the fire. Put a deficient brain in a Frankenstein monster, and the monster is out of control. Create the culture of policing that has existed for too many decades in the United States, and few politicians will have the backbone to invest the large expenditures, time, staffing shakeups (with resultant wrongful firing and other employment lawsuits), and sweat to overhaul the policing and criminal justice system to do justice to the nation’s best ideals of democracy, open government, and civil liberties, starting with shrinking the overgrown criminal justice system by legalizing marijuana, prostitution, and gambling; heavily decriminalizing all other drugs; eliminating mandatory minimum jail and prison sentencing; eliminating the death penalty; and eliminating per se guilty rules in DWI cases.

Until such an overhaul takes place, we will have too many police who unquestioningly and militaristically pursue and enforce rules like unrestrained Pavlov’s dogs.

With a criminal justice and policing system as upside down as it is, I am all the more honored to be fighting for my criminal defense clients, no matter how uneven the playing field can get, and be reversed.