Saturday, July 25, 2009

Are We Becoming More "Subdued?"

Digby, who has followed police abuse stories for years, especially those involving tasers, has some very interesting and original thoughts on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. She says that so much of the brouhaha surrounding the incident is more evidence of an increasingly docile public in the face of power. She also points out that if the right-wing-nuts are correct, that we should all shoot first and ask questions later, then by that logic, Gates would have been in his rights to shoot the officer.

Here's a sample of what she said:

I said the other night that I thought Gates was lucky he didn't get tased and I really think he was. People all over this country are "subdued" by means of electricity every day, probably more blacks than whites, but it doesn't seem to be particularly limited to race. We are accepting this kind of thing as if it's just an inevitability because of the attitudes this police officer very thoughtfully lays out in his essay: we are told that we must defer to authority or risk all hell breaking loose.

And I would suggest that it is just that attitude that led to people in this country recently endorsing unilateral illegal invasions, torture of prisoners and the rest. You remember the line --- "the constitution isn't a suicide pact." To which many of us replied with the old Benjamin Franklin quote: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

The principles here are the same. Sure, we should treat the cops with respect and society shouldn't encourage people to be reflexively hostile to police. They have a tough job, and we should all be properly respectful of people who are doing a dangerous and necessary job for the community. But when a citizen doesn't behave well, if not illegally, as will happen in a free society, it is incumbent upon the police, the ones with the tasers and the handcuffs and the guns, to exercise discretion wisely and professionally. And when they don't, we shouldn't make excuses for them. It's far more corrosive to society to allow authority figures to abuse their power than the other way around.

Henry Louis Gates may have acted like a jackass in his house that day. But Sergeant Crowley arresting him for being "tumultuous" was an abuse of his discretion, a fact which is backed up by the fact that the District Attorney used his discretion to decline to prosecute. Racially motivated or not he behaved "stupidly" and the president was right to say so.

1 comment:

David G. said...

Here in Florida you can shoot people just for entering your house. (on the auspice of being threatened)

But who's to say you really were threatened, and it's not just some jerk you've always wanted to get rid of?