The Last Ten Meters - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Last Ten Meters

Without the police, would any lives matter?

Some years back my friend Michael Pack made a superb documentary about the biggest battles of the Iraq War, Najaf and Fallujah. He called the film The Last 600 Meters because, after all the expert advice, after all the Congressional Resolutions, U.S. foreign policy was executed by the U.S. Marine Corps over the distance of about a mile.

At home, the rule of law is administered over the last ten meters by the country’s police forces. After all the laws legislators pass, after all the sentences judges impose, after all the prosecutions by District Attorneys, it comes down to the men and women of our police forces. Mocked by our elites, reviled by extremists on the Left and Right, the humble constable on patrol is the indispensable man, and the thin blue line the final guarantor of the rule of law, of our civilization.

That is why unthinking attacks on the police are so very dangerous. Consider October’s presidential debate, where the Democratic candidates were asked to choose between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” It takes a moral idiot to give priority to black lives over all lives, but Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley all choose Black Lives Matter. Only Jim Webb said that all lives matter, and from his bemused expression I gather he wondered what he was doing there. A few months later he dropped out of the race and announced that he wouldn’t be voting for Hillary Clinton.

In the contest between the police and the mobs, the Democrats reflexively take the side of the mobs. In any dispute, the police are deemed to be in the wrong and the mob is seen to have social justice on its side. We saw an example of this during the 2015 Baltimore riots, where the Mayor, taking Valerie Jarrett’s advice, pulled back the police to give the rioters “space.” And space was just what they wanted. They targeted minority Asian stores, and many families lost everything they had worked for. Until the National Guard arrived three days later to quell the disturbance it wasn’t safe to go out, and the violence continued for a week.

Not surprisingly, homicides now are up in Baltimore. The city recorded 43 homicides in May 2015, the highest in more than 40 years. Nationwide, the murder rate had dropped precipitously in recent years, from a high of 10.2 per 100,000 people in 1980 down to 4.5 in 2014. Now it’s trending upwards, however. In the last year there has been an alarming spike in the murder rates in many cities. The riots were like a wildfire that jumped across boundaries, from city to city. And then there was the way the police themselves might have reacted to attacks upon them from both the rioters and from city hall and the federal Department of Justice.

The police, it seems, have figured it out. Policing is dangerous, and if city hall and the Justice Department won’t have your back, if in fact they will be looking at prosecuting you, then why bother? “There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime,” said FBI Director Jim Comey. “The getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’”

Not everyone believes that there is a “Ferguson effect” that links the increased murder rate to more cautious policing. Obama rejected it, and it’s not the sort of thing that econometricians can easily measure. But the police are human, after all. They’re not going to wade into a crowd of rioters unless their blood is up, and if having your blood up might get you indicted, it’s a lot easier to watch a Korean laundry get torched from across the street.

The Department of Justice sued the city of Ferguson over allegations of bias, and the city has entered into a consent agreement after assurances that the federal government will pay for the additional costs. Expect this to happen across the country, as policing is federalized by an intrusive Justice Department. A signal of the change came last February, when Obama met with Black Lives Matter activists in the White House. Everyone was happy with the meeting, but Comey’s warning should be heeded if Black Lives Matter, since most of the new victims have been African-American. If this is allowed to continue, the real message is that black lives don’t matter.

The other message is that we don’t much care about the rule of law. More than an efficient contract, tort, and property regime, the rule of law requires a reliable and trustworthy criminal justice system. The best private law system in the world won’t help the merchants whose businesses are torched.

Minneapolis police at Black Lives Matter protests last December (Tony Webster/Creative Commons)

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