As a progressive, I’ve found there is an argument that seems to be effective in debates with conservatives on law and order issues.
What I’ll say is that police officers have an inherent civic responsibility to be responsive to the concerns of their left-wing critics because they are, in a literal sense, the most important and powerful agents of the state. There are plenty of state officials who have greater overall power over our lives, of course, but a police officer is the one with whom the vast majority of us will directly interact in our day-to-day lives. Even the word “police” is derived from the French “policier,” involving the conduct of public affairs.
As such, the best way to understood the responsibilities of a police officer as an agent of the state in a democratic society is to temporarily sweep away race and other issues and simply establish the relations that should exist between an individual police officer and an individual citizen, regardless of any demographic details.
What Police Owe Us: A recognition that they embody the state in its purest form – they provide a vital service (fighting crime, maintaining order) and can completely overtake any citizen in any way. In a democratic state, the ordinary citizen must be the de facto boss of the police, for the same reason that a voter must be the de facto boss of any politician. If it is otherwise, police officers – as the literal agents of power under the social contract of the most powerful nation in the world – can become petty tyrants in their individual-to-individual interactions.
What We Owe Police: The Golden Rule. We do this both for the same moral reason that justifies democracy in the first place – i.e., the fact that because they are human beings, they deserve to be treated well – but because it establishes, not our subordination to them, but our fundamental equality with them. When we cooperate with reasonable requests and treat police officers like fellow human beings, we recognize that their power does not define them; it is merely the role they play in the game of society. On the other hand, when we treat them with inherent suspicion or hostility, or by being anti-cop in general, we do the very thing that will make it “us versus them” instead of “us.”
Right now, a large number of individuals from racial minority backgrounds believe that the police discriminate against them. By virtue of the fact that an individual police officer is the employee of the individual citizen, the police have an ethical responsibility to be receptive to criticisms such as these, which come from a large number of citizens. When commonsense solutions present themselves, like body cameras, they should be embraced, and even harsh critics like #BlackLivesMatter or Quentin Tarantino should be viewed as citizens asserting their interests to the state that is supposed to be by end of them.
This is my musing of the day.