Fox News is telling us there is a war on police.
First, it is galling that Sheriff Lewis can sit there with a straight face and say that the people lack accountability. Coming from a uniformed law enforcement professional, that’s rich. He could shoot a handcuffed, sleeping person in the head with a crowd of reporters watching and cameras rolling and the worst that might happen to him is losing his pension. Unless the person he executed was also a cop, in which case he might have to go to prison for a dozen years.1 I can get away with jaywalking or having an expired driver’s license, but that’s about the end of it. So who is it that lacks accountability?
Sheriff Lewis is lying about the police — in his county or any other in the US — being in greater danger than ever. Violence in the US generally is going steadily down, violence against the police is going steadily down.2 The sector in which violence is increasing? Law enforcement violence against non-law enforcement persons. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers increased 40% between 2003 and 2011.3
In the sense that being a police officer today means being more likely to be in an incident where you might kill someone, it’s true that a career in law enforcement is more dangerous than ever — it means more dangerous to us, not to law enforcement. Although the data on this is sketchy, my reading of the CJIS and BJS data (see above footnotes) suggests that law enforcement professionals are victims of violent assault or murder at a far lower incidence than non-law-enforcement individuals, when you add together on-duty and off-duty incidents. If true, it invalidates the claim that police badges are essentially targets. No doubt it is true to some extent, but clearly the police are doing a much better job of protecting themselves than they are of protecting us.
In this light, Sheriff Lewis’s argument is chilling. Once you parse «dangerous» to mean «dangerous to everyone else but law enforcement professionals» and add the fact that his appeal is for more resources to be allocated to law enforcement, his message is a threat:
- We have the guns
- You have the money
- We’re killing more of you all the time
- We want more guns
- Give us more money
In most circumstances, this would be called armed robbery.
In case you think that being white provides protection against police violence, think again. The percentage of whites ending up dead at the hands of police is indeed falling, but the real numbers are climbing — it’s just that the real number of blacks being killed is climbing faster. The only group which seems to be getting killed by cops less often than before is «other», so I guess if you’re not white, black, or hispanic, maybe you can breathe a little easier. But probably not.
Fox News, then, is right in a sense. There is a war between the people and the cops, but we did not declare it. It only takes one side to declare war to establish the state of war. The police — or at least the Sheriff’s department of Wicimico County, Maryland — have declared war on us.
I am not making a call to arms.4 However, this much seems absolutely clear: we ought not believe the manipulation, and we certainly should not pay for more weapons for law enforcement. Especially as most law enforcement agencies are already militarized to an extent which they should no longer be considered a civilian force, the pattern of pushing the balance of power in their favor ought not be continued.
- Looking for the link to the Jerome Finnigan case, I googled «chicago police officer murder-for-hire» and found that the query isn’t specific enough, and not because the cops in Chicago are catching so many hired assassins, but because so many cops in Chicago are hiring or being hired as assassins. ↩
- I have a spreadsheet full of numbers compiled from data from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Uniform Crime Reports. Trust me, you don’t want to look at it (but it’s all right there, so you can.) But basically since 1994: assaults on law enforcement officers and the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty are down, overall and most years year-to-year, in whole numbers, in proportion to the US population, in proportion to the part of the US population the reporting agencies serve, and in proportion to the number of police officers employed in each year. ↩
- Specifically the Arrest-Related Deaths Program Assessment which you also don’t want to look at if you don’t want your day ruined, too. ↩
- This is the kind of thing the Second Amendment was ratified for, but I still hope that’s a backstop rather than the next line of resistance. ↩