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Of the Powers of Police


There is a scene in Fred Zinnemann’s great film, “High Noon” (1952), in which Will Kane (Gary Cooper) loses his head in a bar room. Desperate for help against the bad guys, he slugs some dink who is standing around jeering at him. Off the floor, the downed dink nonetheless looks up at him from the moral high-ground: “You had no call to do that, Marshal. You wear a badge.”

The moral principle: a unilateral monopoly on the use of force is a terrible thing, and it sets those who presume to claim it fundamentally apart from everyone else. To my mind, it is impossible, but the necessary political implication is that they must always tolerate behavior around them to which most people would take righteous offense but can never be proscribed in criminal statute. They have to be better than ordinary men because of the moral claim that they advance.

Sleepy afternoon [1]I don’t believe that is possible. In any case, police departments nationwide are failing this test atrociously now.

Very little question on that score, Billy [2]

To some degree, the problem is one of design.

I question, however, just how much of the problem is each cause… how much is design and how much of it is increasingly impossible expectations placed on the guy with the badge?

I mean, consider your example of High Noon;  He’s already facing impossible odds; and then he ends up with, as you call him, a dink pushing his buttons, and then claiming offense when the badge responds as a man would. You’re correct, there’s few people who could NOT respond to that kind of situation. Keep prodding the lion and eventually he’s going to respond, and the result has a fairly high chance of not being  a happy one. We have no substantial disagreement, here, but I do wonder how much of our current issues with Police are caused not by the design of law enforcement, but by the attitudes of the populace they deal with.  And how much of that police anger is justified?

Consider the bit with Rodney King, and look past the night of that tape being made of the cops whipping the snot out of him.  Look at the record of the guy, both before and after that particular arrest.  It’s cases like that that make me wonder at whiles is we’d not be better served by ignoring excesses in cases like that. Oc course, that, in turn, is a question that wouldn’t need to be brought up at all, were the courts a bit more reliable in dispensing justice.

Keep in mind also, this is a completely different situation and a different set of questions, from, say, the wrong house on a drug bust. To my mind, the question of unilateral force applies more to the latter situation, than it does the former.