The Police Problem
Two recent viral videos of (probably) improper police behaviour merit some analysis.
Video 1: https://imgur.com/a/4XeOO4u
Video 2: https://youtu.be/6a28r2yc_GM
The first video portrays part of an encounter where the police arrested a man in a case of mistaken identity. The sequence of events appears to be the following: The police approach the man, whom they believe to have a felony warrant, identify themselves, and tell the man to put his hands up. The man complies. The police attempt to taze him, but the leads fail to connect. He jumps slightly when the tazer prongs strike him, but he keeps his cool. Then a police officer kicks him in the back. The man stumbles forward, catches himself and turns, lowering his arms and looking at the police in bafflement. Then the police tackle him. A brief scuffle ensues.
When the man turned out not be whom they suspected, the police penalized him anyway for “resisting arrest”, which is ridiculous. It is unreasonable to expect an innocent man to be able to overcome all his natural instincts to protect himself when he has received an unprovoked attack from anyone, even the police.
The second video begins with a young woman in a full-body Stormtrooper costume awkwardly shambling around in front of a Star Wars-themed restaurant somewhere in Canada. The date is Star Wars Day (May 4). She is holding what appears to be a toy gun, a recognizable Star Wars prop. Then there is a time jump in the video, after which we see the girl surrounded by police officers holding shotguns and rifles at the ready. The toy gun lies on the ground a few meters away from the girl. The police shout at the girl to get on the ground, but the girl appears to be confused, looking around uncertainly. Her field of vision and hearing is limited by her costume, so she may not know who is shouting at her, either the police or some bystander. The owner of the restaurant appears and starts shouting at the police “It’s a toy gun!” The girl eventually gets down onto her knees and then onto her belly. She starts weeping but not hysterically. The police cuff her and help her to sit up.
The police are obligated to investigate reports of someone “brandishing a weapon”, which they no doubt received from some nincompoop, but upon arriving at the scene and identifying that the person in question possessed nothing but a toy, they should have left it at that.
(Note: the man filming the second video and providing commentary is not strictly accurate when he says, “This is Canada! We don’t have guns!” Canada has the seventh highest rate of gun ownership in the world. Some city folk in Canada have the impression that Canadians don’t own guns simply because other Canadians, including other city folk, do not advertise their gun ownership.)
In the first video, the behaviour of the police may have been maybe-not-justified but at least understandable if they suspected the man of being a violent criminal, but penalizing the man for instinctively protecting himself is ridiculous. I don’t think they did anything for which they should have to forfeit their jobs, but they should have at least apologized and let the man go. It is an abuse of police power to take a man into custody for “resisting arrest” under these conditions. They are essentially punishing the man for not crumpling before a mistaken application of their power.
In the second video, there is no way to justify the behaviour of the police, at least if you take the big picture into account. Technically if the police have initiated an encounter with a person suspected of illegally carrying a weapon in a public space, they are entitled to ensure their own safety as best they can. Even if someone is carrying an obviously fake weapon, there is a possibility they may be carrying a concealed real weapon, however unlikely this may appear. The police rarely go into an encounter with all the relevant facts. The weapon that was reported may not be the obviously fake weapon that is immediately visible. The Canadian police are forced to behave in such an autisticly precise manner due to the stupidity of Canada’s gun laws and policies put in place by insane Canadian politicians. In Canada, some idiot made it illegal to stroll down the street with a gun, so if someone openly carries a weapon, the police can reasonably assume that you may be intending to use the gun for nefarious purposes, leading to the ridiculous scenario where the police are forced to brandish their own weapons at an awkward young woman shuffling around in a Star Wars costume in front of a Star Wars business on Star Wars Day.
The internet is full of videos similar to the two described above. Sometimes, after learning the full story, the behaviour of the police becomes justified. Other times, what really happened or who was in the right seems impossible to determine. In virtually all cases, however, it appears to an outside observer that the police close ranks, obstruct investigation, and protect their own regardless of whether the behaviour of their fellows was justified.
There are two true things about police:
1. Police are necessary.
2. Police have power and will thus (sometimes) abuse it.
It is inevitable that police will (at least sometimes) protect their own when they are in the wrong. It’s always going to happen, no matter what. The question then becomes how to limit the abuse of police power, since it cannot be completely eradicated, and the answer is to minimize the power disparity between the police and ordinary people. The greater the power disparity between the police and the people, the more “fascistic” the police will behave --- they won’t be able to help themselves. Power, or power disparity, corrupts.
The primary means by which ordinary people possess power is through the possession of firearms. Any restriction on their possession or display of firearms lessens their power. Therefore, the only way to limit the corruption and “fascistic” overreach of the police is to ensure that ordinary people can carry the exact same sort of weapons used by the police.
More gun rights would have done little to modify the course of events in the first video. It is presented merely to demonstrate how the police will instinctively and irrationally try to protect their own, retroactively justifying their behaviour by accusing a man who could not have behaved otherwise of “resisting arrest”.
In the second video, more gun rights would certainly have resulted in a different outcome. In Canada, police are allowed to carry weapons while the people are not. In practice, it is illegal for the power of the people to approximate that of the police. Because of this, the police have to feel threatened by displays of power equal to their own, which is just asking for trouble. If the police were used to the sight of perfectly ordinary people carrying their guns around, they would not end up making fools of themselves dealing with cosplayers with toy guns.