Freedom Discussions

Your ‘Duty’ to Protect and Serve the Police

1a78f_Police_Swat_DrillIf you say something that hurts their feelings, you’re no better than a “cop-killer.”
Glenn Beck, acting in his
self-appointed role as a punitive populist prophet, has urged his
audience to join “hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm,” and “ring” their
local police departments in prayer. The local police are “under
siege,” Beck tremulously insists, and divine intervention on their
behalf is necessary.

Beck hasn’t yet urged Americans to act
as human shields on behalf of the heavily armed, body armor-clad
functionaries who are supposedly paid to protect them. Some police
union officials haven’t shied away from suggesting that the public
has a moral duty to protect the police, despite the fact that police
have no reciprocal obligation to protect individuals threatened with
criminal violence.

Residents of Huntsville, Alabama who
declined to intervene to help a police officer subdue a suspect

could face criminal prosecution under
a state statute requiring them to assist an officer in trouble
Had the situation been reversed, however, police officers would face
neither criminal nor civil prosecution for declining to aid a citizen
under assault by a suspect.


A man named Devonte Conerly who was
suspected in a hit and run incident, allegedly tried to disarm the
police officer who stopped him. Several officers responded to a call
for assistance and eventually subdued and handcuffed Conerly. They
then rebuked several bystanders who had declined to intervene.

“I wouldn’t ask anybody in the
public [sic] sector to get involved in a shootout or anything like
that,” commented
Bill Davis
, the immediate
past president
of Alabama’s Fraternal Order of Police. However,
he continued, “if it’s just an altercation where someone is
wrestling with the officer and it looks like they’re getting the best
of the officer, yes you need to help.”

FOP spokesman Davis.
In fact, under the Alabama state legal
code (Section
), “A person commits the crime of refusing to aid a
peace officer if, upon command by a peace officer identified to him
as such, he fails or refuses to aid” the officer in effecting a
“lawful arrest” or preventing “the commission by another person
of any offense.” This dereliction of a supposed duty is described
as a Class C misdemeanor.

This power of summary verbal
conscription by police, as liberty activist Matt Agorist has noted,
is written
into law in 44 of the 50 of the state-level subdivisions within the
American soyuz.
Davis is hardly the first police official to
express disgust and outrage over the reluctance of the public to
intervene on behalf of an officer during an altercation.

“I was horrified,” quavered Philadelphia SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel, commenting on an
incident in which Philadelphia transit officer Samuel Washington was
thrown to the ground and pinned under a bench by a suspect. “I’m
frightened for my cops….. To go out every day they work really hard
and try to … make people feel safe but they rely on people to

Like most people in his profession,
Nestel apparently suffers from occupational tone-deafness: Police
make people “feel safe,” he observes, but they
rely on the public to protect them.
expects the public to be governed by the assumption that anytime a
police officer is involved in a violent encounter, the officer is in
the right – and that if the target of the officer’s attention is
resisting, bystanders have a legal obligation to help subdue the

“I’m frightened for my cops”: Chief Nestel.

Under Alabama’s statute, onlookers are
not liable to prosecution if the failure to render aid “was
reasonable under the circumstances,” but the burden of
demonstrating that this is the case is placed upon the accused:

“A person is not liable under this section if the failure or refusal to aid the officer was reasonable under the circumstances. The burden of injecting this issue is on the defendant but this does not shift the burden of proof.” (Emphasis added.)

While this formulation doesn’t require that a defendant prove his innocence during a trial, it assumes that a “refusal to aid” an officer is unreasonable, and places on the accused the “burden” of overcoming that presumption. The default assumption is that the accused committed an offense by doing nothing.

course, in the event that a citizen obeys a police officer’s command
to intervene, and is unable to help subdue the suspect, he
could conceivably find himself charged with obstruction, which is a
Class A misdemeanor
. This means that a police officer can charge
an onlooker who declines to participate in an arrest, or –
conceivably – one who makes an unsuccessful bid to help. It should also be remembered that a citizen, unlike a police officer, is not protected by “qualified immunity” in the event the subject of an arrest is injured without justification.

In any case, citizens are told that they have a legal
duty to come to the aid of an embattled police officer – but police
have no corresponding duty to intervene on behalf of a citizen.

It is a well-established legal
principle that police officers are not criminally nor civilly liable
when they fail to protect individual citizens from specific acts of
criminal violence. The seminal 1981 decision Warren v. District of Columbia held that it is a “fundamental principle of
American law that a government and its agents are under no general
duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any
individual citizen.
” (Emphasis added.)

In that case, two women reported an
assault on a friend to the police. Officers were dispatched to the
scene of the crime, but declined to enter the building. The desperate
women called again, and this time the department didn’t even bother
to respond. The attackers overheard the second call, and punished the
women who had sought police assistance by detaining and assaulting
them for 14 hours.
Coward cop with killer: Howell (l.) with Gelman.
Police have “no special duty” to
aid a citizen facing an immediate lethal threat,
contended David Santoro, City Attorney for New York, in a successful
bid to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Philadelphia native Joe Lozito
Lozito was nearly killed while subduing a slasher-killer named Maxim
Gelman during a 2011 subway attack. Lozito, an unarmed man trained in
mixed martial arts, tackled and subdued Gelman, who was being sought
for the murder of three people.

As Lozito desperately sank a chokehold
on Gelman, the maniac cleaved open the back of Lozito’s head.
Bleeding and struggling to retain consciousness, Lozito pleaded for
help from NYPD Officer Terrance Howell, who was cowering behind a
locked partition and refusing to get involved. It wasn’t until Lozito
managed to pin Gelman down and disarm him that Howell emerged from
his secure location, officiously telling Lozito, “You can get up

Howell did nothing to detain or subdue
the murderer, but he was the one photographed triumphantly escorting
Gelman away from the scene in handcuffs, and was hailed as a “hero
cop” in the media. He later admitted to a member of a grand jury
that he
hid from the suspect out of fear for his safety
— and no moral
or policy consideration is more important than the sacred principle
of “officer safety.”

The unqualified duty to protect the
police extends from the streets to the jury room. Nowhere is this
assumption more deeply entrenched than Harris
County, Texas
, where
Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth was murdered last week. 

In a multi-part investigative series
published a year ago, the Houston Chronicle found that Harris County grand juries “have cleared HPD officers in shootings 288consecutive times.”

This reflects the fact that the Harris
County Courts use a board of commissioners to select grand jurors, a
process that tends to fill grand juries with older, more conservative
panelists – retirees who are “elite members of the community,”
in the assessment of District Judge Denise Collins. The ideal Harris
County juror would be sort of person who nods along with, or chuckles
approvingly over, Bill O’Reilly’s authoritarian monologues.

A second filter for police shooting
inquests has been the official in charge of reviewing police
shootings on behalf of the District Attorney, Clint Greenwood, a
police officer. Last year, Greenwood was hired as a major at the
Harris County Sheriff’s Office, a position he most likely wouldn’t
have landed had be pursued police shootings with vigorous

The most significant factor behind the
long string of police exonerations, however, has been the DA’s
practice of having jurors “play the role of police officer” in a
training simulator as part of their deliberations.
Terri Burke of the Texas state ACLU
describes this procedure as a form of “brainwashing” that “all
but guarantees immunity for the cops.” Former grand jury foreman
Tom Kennedy stoutly disagrees, insisting that the experience is
“extremely beneficial” for jury members, because it helps them
empathize with the officer who used lethal force by showing them “the
split second he or she needs to make sometimes a life or death

It is not incidental to this
discussion that Kennedy “edits the Houston Police Officers’ Union
publication,” the Chronicle reported. Not surprisingly, criminal
indictments of police officers who use lethal force are all but
unheard of in Harris County. This would suggest either that police
officers within that jurisdiction are beings untainted by human
weakness, or beyond human accountability.

“We heard `black lives matter,’”
Sheriff Ron Hickman
following the murder of Deputy Goforth. “All
lives matter. Well, cops’ lives matter too, so why don’t we drop the
qualified and say `lives matter’ and take that to the bank.”

Sheriff Hickman’s anger was genuine
and understandable, but his exhortation was either insincere or not
fully thought through. The official view of the caste to which he
belongs is that police lives matter more than those of mere Mundanes
– because every police officer is an incarnation of the divine
state, to whom reflexive obedience is to be given, and whose
sanctified personage is owed protection by the lesser beings who
surround him.

This means shielding police not only from violence
directed against
them, and the legal consequences of violence used by
them, but also from the “rhetorical violence” supposedly
committed by people who scrutinize their conduct and condemn their

Authoritarian herd-poisoners of all
varieties claim that the murder of Deputy Goforth demonstrates a
dramatic escalation in the purported “war on police” that is
propelled by “anti-police rhetoric.” 

During the thirty-day period in which
Deputy Goforth was murdered, the number of people shot
by police
(at least 84 — remember, the killings of Mundanes are
not officially tallied) was roughly
equal to the total number of police killed on-duty
all causes
– including
traffic mishaps, work-related accidents, heart attacks, and other
non-violent episodes – through September 2
Firearms-related line-of-duty police deaths are down
by 13 percent so far this year.

Police union officials and the pundits who regurgitate their pre-chewed soundbites are pretending that “anti-police rhetoric” is inhibiting cops and emboldening cop-killers. The available use of force statistics suggest that something akin to the reverse may be true. That possibility hasn’t occurred to
those who urge the public to form a protective barricade around their
armed overseers.

(This essay has been slightly expanded to include more details about Alabama’s “Refusal to Aid” statute.)

Dum spiro, pugno!


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