Hawkeye explains the foundational tenet of the American worldview to a self-important armed government functionary offended by the frontiersman’s principled defiance; from the 1992 version of Last of the Mohicans.
Marilyn Levias, a 19-year-old Seattle girl involved in a jaywalking incident during which a police officer assaulted another 17-year-old girl, displayed “a dangerous refusal to observe a cardinal rule that civilians simply must comply with instructions from police officers,” insists Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.
For this, Miss Levias faces a gross misdemeanor charge of “Obstructing a Police Officer.”During the confrontation, Levias’s 17-year-old friend, Angel L. Rosenthal, intervened on her behalf and was punched in the face by officer Ian P. Walsh. As is typically the case when a Mundane’s face obstructs the trajectory of a police officer’s fist, the victimis the one facing criminal charges.
In announcing the criminal charge against Levias, City Attorney Holmes offered the mildest possible limpwristed swipe at the Seattle Police Department by saying that the incident illustrates the need “for de-escalation training for officers.” Holmes also cited an observation by Judge Michael Spearman, auditor for the police department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, that “The use of force in a [jaywalking] situation as a best practice is questionable.”
Even this timid and tentative criticism was an unbearable affront to the delicate sensibilities of Rich O’Neill, president of Seattle’s Armed Tax-Feeders Guild.
“Force was not used in a jay-walking incident! Force was used because the individuals involved assaulted a uniformed police officer,” protested O’Neill.
Accordingly, the use of overwhelming force is entirely appropriate: “Officers are trained to enforce the law and not to `de-escalate’ (walk away) simply because a violator objects to being stopped. That would simply lead to lawlessness.”
Indeed: If we don’t permit police officers to slug jaywalking teenage girls in the face, the terrorists will win.
There are evil axioms embedded in the statements of both Holmes and O’Neill. First of all, both assume that there is a dichotomy between police and “civilians” — which of necessity means that the former should be regarded as military, or at least para-military, in nature. Holmes reinforced that assumption by referring to the Mayor of Seattle as “commander in chief” of the city’s police.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, the idea that “civilians” are to render instant, unqualified obedience to any armed individual in a government-issued costume is the chief characteristic of the martial law mind-set.
In fact, if the police are to be peace officers, rather than paramilitary enforcers, there are many circumstances in which they should simply walk away. The alternative is … well, what we’re dealing with now: The promiscuous use of physical coercion, including lethal force, as summary punishment for failure to “cooperate” with the police.
Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister who created the first modern police force in 1829 while serving as British Home Secretary, insisted that “police are the public and the public are the police.” The only difference between a police officer and any other “civilian,” from Peel’s perspective, was that he is “paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen” where protection of life, liberty, and property are concerned.
Thus if it was proper for Ian Walsh the tax-engorged state functionary to punch a teenage girl in the mouth, it would be just as proper for a hypothetical productive private citizen named Ian Walsh to do exactly the same thing in the same circumstances.
It was the assumption of police impunity, not the requirement to “de-escalate,” that led to Walsh’s lawless assault on 17-year-old Angel Rosenthal — unless we are to assume, as do O’Neill and his ilk, that the individual police officer is the law.
Once again, according to Peel’s “Nine Principles of Policing” those paid to perform the police function must display “absolute impartial service to the law”; in this case, “subordination” is a suitable synonym for “service.”
Likewise, Peel recognized that public support for government-employed “professional” police is inversely proportionate to the tendency of police to employ coercive force, particularly under dubious circumstances.
Peel was a conservative politician steeped in the assumptions of an imperial monarchy. Yet his “cardinal rule” regarding the relationship between the public and the police would be that the latter must defer to the former, rather than the reverse.
This is why, in seeking the “voluntary cooperation” of the public, the police were to emphasize “persuasion, advice, and warning,” Peel maintained, employing compulsion only when absolutely necessary. Under Peel’s standards, that threshold obviously isn’t met when a teenage girl jaywalks and then mouths off to a police officer. For those hostage to the martial-law mindset, that threshold is reached whenever a Mundane displays so much as a moment’s hesitation in complying with a police officer’s directives, whether or not they are rooted in actual legal authority.
Jesse Wright, a newlywed 22-year-old EMT from Chattanooga, faces a cluster of spurious criminal charges because he refused to submit to the supposed authority of Officer Jim Daves. At the time, Daves was physically obstructing Wright’s efforts to get medical attention for his wife Aline, a cancer survivor who was experiencing a stroke.
Jesse and Aline are both employed by Chattanooga’s Erlanger Medical Center. Aline, who lost her leg to cancer a few years ago, is undergoing chemotherapy, and the possible side effects of her treatment include stroke. Last Wednesday, when Aline’s face began to droop and her speech became slurred, Jesse called the Medical Center and informed them of her condition. En route, Jesse treated stop lights as if they were stop signs — pausing at each and then proceeding through them before they turned green.
|Aline Wright in the hospital.|
Daves, who was lurking near one stop light, hit his siren and followed Jesse and Aline to the hospital. When they arrived, Jesse grabbed Aline and, carrying her in his arms, tried to get her into the emergency room. His path was suddenly obstructed by Daves, who ignored the obvious fact that Jesse was dealing with a life-and-death emergency.
For Daves, the really important thing was not to render aid, but rather securing compliance from a Mundane — even if this meant prolonging the encounter while his stroke-afflicted wife suffered permanent brain damage. Aline’s symptoms were visible and unmistakable — yet Daves was fixated entirely on enforcing the “cardinal rule” of contemporary law enforcement: Make The Mundane Submit.
To his credit, Jesse ignored Daves’ self-preoccupied demands and got his wife the treatment she needed. Daves continued to harass Jesse as the newlywed husband and his professional colleagues sought treatment for Aline. In addition to barging in to Aline’s hospital room, Daves called Jesse a “sh*thead” and promised that he would “think of something” to justify arresting him. A couple of days later, hospital security — acting on a spurious, vindictive warrant filed by Daves — arrested Jesse on several counts, including a felony charge of “evading an officer.”
If Jesse hadn’t “evaded” Officer Daves, Aline (whom he had married just days before) might either be dead or so mentally incapacitated that her career options would be limited to employment in a sheltered workshop or a position as a patrol officer for the Chattanooga Police Department.
Because he’s been charged with a felony, Jesse has been placed on unpaid leave. By way of contrast, Daves has been put on paid vacation while the police department sorts out the PR mess the officer has made.
A very similar incident occurred last year when paramedic Maurice White, Jr. was assaulted by State Trooper Daniel Martin in Paden, Oklahoma, a small town 40 miles east of Oklahoma City.
According to an AP account, Martin was speeding in his cruiser in a frantic rush to get nowhere in particular, and had his feelings hurt when the ambulance — which was actually providing a useful service by ferrying Stella Davis to the hospital — didn’t pull over for him. He then compounded his useless rage by imagining that the driver flipped him off.
When Martin tried to arrest the ambulance driver, Mr. White — a man of amazing patience and dignity — intervened to explain that the ambulance was carrying a patient. This prompted a tantrum from Martin, who assaulted White twice and threatened to arrest both him and the driver. That attempt failed, but not before Martin actually placed a hand on White’s throat to choke him as the patient’s family looked on in stunned, disgusted disbelief.
Episodes like this are hardly uncommon. Indeed, it’s reasonable to believe that treatment of this kind — if not necessarily this severity — is becoming the rule, rather than the exception, during encounters between police and citizens.
Where police constitute a threat to life, liberty, and property, ignoring them — or actively resisting their demands — is not only legally permissible, but morally imperative. Now that the Brotherhood in Blue is becoming little more than an armedplunderbund (noble and worthy exceptions to that characterization notwithstanding), it’s difficult to see how things would be noticeably worse if we simply did away with it outright.