33. How Did Law Enforcement Get So Much Power?

A lot of people are talking about police officers and whether or not they should have so much power.

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Here is the transcript of our conversation:

 

Connor: Hey Brittany.

Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: A while back there were a lot of protests and there still are here and there about the police, so I wanted to take a minute and have a conversation with you. Maybe let me ask, what were those protests like in your neck of the woods? We live kind of on different sides of the country. Did you kind of notice there were a lot of protests in your community? Well,

Brittany: I was actually an interesting point where I was in Utah when they started, so I was in your neck of the woods when they started, and I was pretty scared with how crazy things were getting even there. And then I flew back into DC and things were pretty much on fire here, so it was pretty scary. Yeah,

Connor: There there’s been a lot of people who have been upset and I think it would be helpful to talk about some of the reasons. I think most of the protests started really concerned about race. There were some black people who were hurt and killed, and a lot of people got really angry about it. And I think there are very legitimate reasons for that. But there’s also been this tension about law enforcement or police that’s even bigger than issues just dealing with racism. And so a lot of people have been really paying a lot more close attention, I think to issues dealing with police. But one thing that I found interesting, we actually work on these types of issues in my day job as Brittany and as we talk to a lot of people about the police, there’s kind of an interesting pattern where part of the main problem is that there’s just a lot of laws that the government is required to enforce. So Brittany, have you ever heard the idea that we are all felons? In other words, we’re all lawbreakers. Have you ever heard of that concept?

Brittany: Yes. I think the average person even commits like two felonies a day or something like that. Maybe it’s three.

Connor: Yeah, I think there’s a book called Three Felonies a Day, and the author was talking about this concept and how there are just so many laws on the books where people don’t even know the laws they’re breaking. They don’t even really realize they’re breaking the law. Another way to think about this too is and so I have a lot of friends who are in law enforcement, so we talk about these issues a lot. I also have a lot of friends even more friends than those who are police, a lot of friends who are criminal defense attorneys. In other words, if you ever get in trouble with the police, you’re gonna wanna call a defense attorney, someone who will help defend you against the government. And so I work with a lot of these attorneys, and several years ago they made a really interesting point and it’s something I’ve paid attention to ever since.

And that is, if a police officer wants to arrest you they’re going to be able to find a way. And one of the easiest examples that these attorneys have pointed to me is traffic laws. Now, this really just applies to the adults but it’s really interesting where there are so many laws dealing with how you’re supposed to drive that. Let’s say officers are wanting to go after me cause they don’t like my political views, or maybe I’m black or they think I’m doing something else, but they don’t have evidence for it. Well, they can just follow me on the road, and chances are I’m going to drive too closely to the car in front of me, or I’m going to change lanes without blinking my blinker for two seconds. Or maybe I’ll go one mile an hour

over the speed limit, things like that. So then becomes very easy to pull someone over, and start talking to them.

Maybe that person’s had a bad day and the altercation or this kind of incident between a person, the police officer can sometimes get heated, sometimes tensions will go up, and that starts leading to a lot of these problems where maybe the police officer shoots the other guy, or there’s some violence that happens or whatever. So a lot of this I think boils down to the fact that we’re asking police officers to just do a lot. Brittany, as you think about policing today versus policing maybe when you and I were extremely young or even before we were alive, what kind of contrast do you observe between the way policing used to be and the way it is today? Yeah,

Brittany: And I don’t think this is even in my day. I think this is before our time, but I used to see the typical American town and you’d see a sheriff, a community sheriff who knew everybody in the neighborhood. He even knew the local town drunk. I’m thinking of, what’s the show? I’m thinking of the whistling. Do you know what I’m thinking of?

Connor: Oh, I’m trying to remember now that you put me on the spot. Yeah, I don’t remember.

Brittany: No, I can’t remember. But the famous show, Anyway,

Connor: Famous enough that we can remember it on the spot,

Brittany: But there used to be this vibe of local police knew the community, and so they didn’t over penalize somebody. You didn’t have any instances of police brutality. We see now because everybody knew each other and it was more of a community, like a family, a big family. And now you don’t really see that. A lot of the police officers don’t know or don’t live in the communities they’re serving. And so there’s a little bit of a disconnect. They’re not really understanding each other. And I think that’s the biggest thing we’re seeing. And I think it’s leading to a lot of problems because people don’t understand each other anymore.

Connor: There’s an interesting book called Rise of the Warrior Cop that I read several years ago. It’s by a gentleman named Radley Balko. And he talks about this transition Brittany, like you were just mentioning, where community policing, where the police officer would be one of the people and policing among his neighbors, whereas now you have this warrior cop who is trained to see individuals in the community where he works as enemies that he works in a combat zone very much like the military.

Brittany: I was gonna say it sounds like war. Almost

Connor: Yes, very much like the military trains its soldiers to be willing to use force against other people almost seeing them as not our equals and not humans and so forth is really interesting. And so in the book, he gives examples of how officers are trained this way, and how the culture has shifted this way. And so you definitely see now when you go out on the streets, back in the day it was a police officer wearing a blue shirt and just walking among the community. And now it’s like what’s called riot gear, right? When police officers basically look like soldiers and they have all kinds of gear and they

Brittany: Have pinks. I mean, you see that during protests.

Connor: Yes. Yeah. What’s very interesting about that, Brittany, there’s a program that the federal government, that the national government has been with all the wars that they’re involved in that they’ve been involved in for decades now, they have of course use tanks, grenade, launchers, guns, helicopters, things like that. But after a few years of using them in the military, in the Middle East or wherever they’re fighting these wars, they will then give them away. They’ll buy new ones. So they’re always using the latest and greatest. But then with the old equipment, the old tanks and helicopters and so forth as of about 15 or 20 years ago, they’ve started to give those the old equipment to local police. And so local police used to just have traditional cars and stuff, and now they have tanks and helicopters and grenade launchers. And so it definitely has helped or encouraged, I think a lot of police officers to think of themselves almost as soldiers working in this community to see dangerous people as not just someone having a bad day or maybe they have a mental health problem or something that we can help calm them down and resolve the situation.

But hey, that’s a threat and I need to stop that threat. I think that’s really kind of harmful because the police, we want people to keep the peace. We want bad guys held accountably. But when we talk about this in The Tuttle Twins learn about The Law, this concept where sometimes there can be bad guys in government and when it’s, In fact, there’s kind of this fictional example of what if the police officer stole some tomatoes for the lady across the street? Would that be wrong? Well, of course, it is, even though it’s a police officer doing it. And so we don’t want this society, I think, where police officers are the one’s kind of abusing others’ rights or causing problems. And so, I think the question for us is how do we turn the tide back? How do we try and prevent this? I don’t know what your thoughts there are, Brittany.

Brittany: Well, That’s a little hard because of something, and this has come up a lot in the news, in fact, I’m sure some of our listeners have heard this anywhere, really something called qualified immunity. And that does is instead of saying a police officer did something bad to someone, they violated their constitutional rights. We’ve talked about rights a bunch that you would be able to basically take them to court and say, All right, this is wrong. And a judge would say, Okay, you need to pay money or you need to do this. Well, qualified immunity is actually a legal doctrine that was created by judges that protect police officers. So if you have something bad happen to you, if you are mistaken, your identity is mistaken and somebody thinks that you are Robert Connor, let’s say maybe you fit the description of somebody who just robbed a store and is fleeing and you get picked up and let’s say maybe because they think that you are a bad guy, you get hit in the face or something happens. Now, since you are not a bad guy, normally you should be able to sue and say, All right, this happened to me and I didn’t even know what was going on. But with qualified immunity, that would never happen. You’re not even allowed to seek recourse. So basically a lot of bad cops or a lot of cops who made mistakes don’t ever get any punishment or any discipline. And so the whole thing just keeps happening.

Connor: Maybe let me offer this example to make it relatable to kids. I think of myself as a parent in a situation, What if one of my children had this qualified immunity that you’re talking about? And let’s say it’s my son. And so my son has immunity, which means he’s never gonna be held accountable when he does something wrong. Well, the listeners are already kind of maybe snickering a little bit, understanding what that would be like. He can steal things from his sister, he can sneak candy that he shouldn’t have. He can beat up his sister or take the toy or whatever. Knowing that there won’t be any accountability, knowing that he’s gonna be able to get away with it, it becomes an incentive to be able to do bad things. Not to say that he’s a bad kid or that police officer are bad people, but when the government creates this type of incentive where, hey, if something bad happens or if you do something bad, you won’t be held accountable.

What I think that does is it attracts certain people to that profession of policing who are maybe more willing to boss people around who do want to be able to go on a SWAT team call, where they get to shoot at people. Cuz it’s like this adrenaline rush, like playing video games or who knows. But when you have a government that says, Oh, hey, if anything bad happens to you or if you do anything bad, nothing bad will happen to you. Well, there are certain people I think, in the world who would be attracted to that type of career. And I don’t think that’s the type of police we want. We don’t want anyone who’s behaving that way. And so we gotta figure out a way to get around it. In fact, Brittany, maybe you can give a little update. The Supreme Court here was going to maybe hear some cases, but some cases dealing with qualified immunity, but then they decided not to, right?

Brittany: No And that’s the scary part about this is the only place we can change this law is in the courts. Now, there have been some lawmakers who’ve tried to propose some policing reforms, which are big pieces of legislation where they can maybe change the system, but those take a long time. Sometimes they don’t even get passed. So the Supreme Court was gonna have an opportunity to talk about it and say, No, this isn’t right. And they refuse to hear it only, I think it was only one justice dissented, basically only one judge who said, No, we should definitely change this law. And that was my favorite, Clarence Thomas, but I believe everybody else was against even hearing the case. So it doesn’t look like it’s going to get changed through the Supreme Court.

Connor: We talk about police, but I think there’s a couple of other synonyms or other ways to refer to police that are kind of interesting for this discussion. On the one hand, they’re sometimes called peace officers and that’s kind of been a historical nickname if you will, or a term used to refer to police. And then, on the other hand, you use the term, you have a term that you and I have used a little bit here on the show or in this episode specifically, and that is law enforcement officer. And so you think about if it’s a peace officer, you’re kind of vision for that role is really just keeping the peace, making sure that people aren’t hurting one another or violating one another’s rights. And so you’re kind of a peacekeeper. You’re just making sure that everyone is kind of doing their thing and leaving everyone else alone, not bothering people.

And then on the other hand, you have the law enforcement officer, I think of, wasn’t there a 1980s movie like a robocop, right? , a rob cop? Yeah. Yeah. I haven’t watched that in forever, so I don’t even know, remember if it’s a good example, but I at least think of this robotic type of enforcer. I have this law I must enforce. And so as legislatures and elected officials say, Here’s a law, there’s a law, let’s make all these new laws. Well, every time they do that, the people who don’t follow those laws can have the police come after them. And I remember Eric Garner’s name one of these black gentlemen who was targeted by police and really upset a lot of people with what happened because all he was doing was selling cigarettes. Now, those are bad for you, but there are a lot of adults who choose to smoke.

And in New York where he was, there was a law saying that you couldn’t sell cigarettes outside of their car. Cause what would happen is people would buy a pack of cigarettes and then, excuse me, they would take single cigarettes, which they nicknamed loosies cuz they were loose from the package and they would try and sell individual cigarettes just to people on the street and they’d mark up the price a little bit. So these are many entrepreneurs in a way. But New York had said, You’re not allowed to do that, probably because they couldn’t tax the transaction but they had this law. And so this gentleman, Eric Garner was doing this. He was selling cigarettes and loosies to other adults. And the officer came up and one thing led to another and the officer ended up putting Eric into a chokehold. A lot of people have heard in recent protests this term, I can’t breathe.

And Eric Garner used that term himself. He was choked and eventually was killed by police all over selling a single cigarette. Now we can say smoking is bad and we can say, Okay, maybe there’s a reason for that law or whatever. But when police become the Robocop law enforcement officer they end up creating harm, creating even death, where there was totally a different way to do things or even just let’s not have a law for that at all. Cuz really, do we really wanna send police to create problems where maybe none exist? I think that’s the danger with policing, is that we need to get back to this idea of peace officers and just keeping the peace between people so that we can all prosper and get along versus, hey, whatever the mayor says, or whatever the governor says, I’m now the robocop to come and force it on everyone. That’s not really the vision of policing that I enjoy very much.

Brittany: No, I think you’re absolutely right and I think it kind of sums up everything that we need to be. We need to change these laws, we need to get rid of qualified immunity because people are actually dying. And that’s pretty sad. But I think that there’s hope. I think a lot of people are starting to realize that we have a problem. I don’t know what you think, but that’s what I think.

Connor: I think so. And I think more people are becoming aware of these issues. We’ll link on the show notes page to The Rise of the Warrior Cop book, which is really interesting. There’s also a documentary that might be worth sharing, certainly for the adults, but probably wouldn’t be appropriate for the kids, but it’s called Peace Officer and it deals with some of these issues. As I said, we’ve been working on these issues for a few years, and so I’m actually in that documentary and it was very fun to do. There are a lot of important discussions to be had because especially for the kids, right? Parents want to teach their kids to respect authority to do what they’re asked. But we also have this weird thing where sometimes the authority is wrong. Sometimes what they’re asking is a bad idea and the laws they’re enforcing are a problem. So it raises questions of when is it okay to resist and when is it okay to say no. Certainly a very interesting subject. So check out the show notes page for today’s episode. You guys, you can find all these show notes pages, at tuttletwins.com/podcast. Scroll down, find the episode that you listen to, make sure to subscribe, and share with friends. We’ll see you in the next episode. Thanks again, Brittany.

Brittany: See You next time.

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