When Police Get Woke, Society Gets Broke

One of the blessings of growing older is, when tensions roil the social landscape, being able to look back on the troubled times of an earlier day and say, “Those tribulations I survived, these I shall also.” I am a Baby Boomer, born in the late ‘50s to a World War II Navy veteran and a stay-at-home mother, both of whom were conservative Republicans who did their best to usher their children through the tumult of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Nearly all of my friends growing up came from similar backgrounds, but we came of age as the Vietnam war came to its ignoble conclusion and as the Watergate scandal gripped the nation. It was a time when “questioning authority” was oh so fashionable among my generation, and, like nearly all of my friends, I rejected my parents’ conservatism and embraced liberalism, at least as the term was understood in, say, 1976.

I’m ashamed to admit it took some years to accept that my parents weren’t wrong about absolutely everything, and that the “authorities” I had so enthusiastically questioned and rejected had achieved that status for the simple virtue of having been correct. And I became a cog in the authority machine itself when I joined the Los Angeles Police Department after graduating from college, but even then it was only after a few years of patrolling the streets of L.A. that the scales fell from my eyes and I came to realize the liberalism I had embraced, far from improving the lives of those it purported to help, made them worse.

Los Angeles then.

I spent the greater part of my police career working in South Los Angeles, where I was confronted daily with the grim harvest of liberal policies that, however well intentioned in their origins, resulted in the dissolution of families and sent forth thousands of fatherless young men who, lacking guidance in the home, found it on the streets though membership in gangs like the Crips and the Bloods, both of which originated in Los Angeles and have since spread like cancer across the country.

The city’s gang culture brought horrific bloodshed to Los Angeles, most especially in South L.A. In 1976, the LAPD handled 517 murders. By 1980 the number had almost doubled, to 1,028, and when gang culture coalesced with the crack cocaine epidemic in the early ‘80s the result was even more explosive. It wasn’t until 1997 that the city’s murder total fell back below 700, and by 2010 the number was below 300, where it remained for ten years.

That reduction in violence was brought about largely through the efforts of police officers willing to go into the neighborhoods most affected by crime and confront those responsible for it. Yes, some of those confrontations were violent, and yes, it resulted in many black and Latino young men being arrested and sent to prison, as it was blacks and Latinos who committed 90 percent of the violent crime in Los Angeles, an uncomfortable but nonetheless persistent fact mirrored in any American city you can name.

There existed among police officers, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, an ethos that demanded we challenge the status quo that said violence and disorder were the inevitable byproducts of long overdue social transformations. These transformations were welcomed and applauded by the elites, but when a police officer sees a shooting victim take his last breath, when he sees the victim’s mother running down the street to see it too, he cares little for the opinions of elites fortunate enough to live and work safely distant from the violence they have fostered, and it arouses in him the will to act so as not to see such a scene repeated.

Or at least it used to.

L.A. now.

Since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, and most especially since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, police work has changed so radically as to be unrecognizable to those of us who worked the streets in the ‘80s and ‘90s. America’s police, already in retreat against the advancing woke mob, now recognize that their leaders have abandoned them and the battle against crime is no longer worth fighting.

But as demoralized as police officers are today, it is not they who are paying the heaviest price. If the Black Lives Matter movement has proved anything, it is that the only black lives that matter to its adherents are those few that are lost in confrontations with the police. The thousands upon thousands of others who die at the hands of their fellow blacks inspire no protests, no outrage, no calls for systematic changes, but rather are greeted with a blithe shrug of acceptance. The police, rendered inert by political overseers kowtowing to the mob, are now bystanders to the carnage, reduced to documenting murders while doing little to prevent them.

This is not an accident or an unfortunate side effect of an otherwise benign development. This is the aim of the modern left that now dominates the political, academic, and media classes who shriek to the skies whenever a police officer uses force against a member of some favored minority, but who stand mute when some member of that same minority murders another.

When police officers are no longer useful to fight genuine evils, they will be re-tasked to fight imaginary ones, as has in fact already occurred with cops enforcing mask mandates and other restrictions on liberties most Americans viewed as inviolable only a year ago. When this occurs – and the process is already well underway – those cops best suited to fighting violent crime will drift away from the profession and find employment elsewhere, to be replaced by the type of meek, enervated drones that reflect the political eunuchs ushering in this transformation.

This summer the country will experience violence at levels unseen in decades, and by the time it awakens from its woke torpor, there may be no one left who knows what to do about it.

Beware of the Mask Police

If I’m calculating this correctly, we’re about to enter our forty-second week of “Two Weeks to Stop the Spread.” I’m just a cop with no claim to medical expertise, but if I may offer a layman’s opinion, weeks three through forty-one don’t seem to have been any more effective than the first two. What would lead anyone to believe the next two, three, or forty-one will be?

And we’re still being inundated with grim news about how the worst is yet to come. Every day at the top of the Los Angeles Times website one finds a collection of stories presented with the apparent intent of arousing dread in the reader.

Here’s a sampling of recent headlines: “New, potentially more contagious coronavirus variant found in California, Newsom says,” “L.A. County mortuaries struggle with rising toll from COVID-19,” and “‘Super-spreader’ event feared in L.A. as singer defies health order for concerts.” And it’s the L.A. Times, of course, so there’s the obligatory bit of class- and race-mongering thrown in as well: “L.A. hospitals serving the poor and people of color hit hardest by COVID-19,” and “How race factors into decisions about who should get priority for vaccines.”

After such a long period of lockdowns, not to mention mask mandates, social distancing, and the ever-shifting goal posts, people are understandably getting fractious. We should expect to see many more scenes like this one from Dec. 22, in which a Texas man was arrested at a San Antonio mall while participating in an anti-mask protest.

Who is that masked man?

Which places the police in an uncomfortable dilemma. There is a growing and seemingly irreconcilable divide between those who still believe these measures can be effective and those chafing under the restrictions.

I witness this divide daily as I walk the dog or ride my bicycle through my own suburban neighborhood near (but not too near) Los Angeles. I wear a mask when required by whichever local business I visit, donning and doffing it as I cross the threshold, but I never wear one while outdoors. I’m taken aback by all the people who do, especially those who veer into or even cross the street lest they cross paths with me and inhale some deadly molecule I may have expelled.

I’m tempted to ask these people (but do not ask them) what they think they’re accomplishing by behaving this way. One reason I don’t ask is that I’m afraid they’ll call the police and accuse me of trying to infect them. Another is that I haven’t time for a lecture on the errors on my maskless ways.

Not long ago I was in a grocery store in which the aisles were designated as one-way, thereby, one supposes, facilitating the proper social distancing. I was properly masked and proceeding down an aisle when I realized I had passed a needed item. I turned around and walked back about ten steps when I was upbraided by some clucking harridan who, I must note, chose to come within six feet to harangue me on my misconduct.

Joe Biden has premised to enact a national mask mandate upon taking office, though it’s unclear how he can do so under existing law. But then, the law itself has been shown to be far more elastic than one might have imagined prior to the arrival of the Wuhan virus, so heaven knows what he might pull off with the cooperation of like-minded state and local officials.

Who is this masked man?

Beginning last March, governors, mayors, county health officials, and every brand of petty bureaucrat took it upon themselves to impose whatever measures they saw fit in the name of protecting us from the virus, and the collateral damage -- lost jobs, ruined business, increased drug and alcohol abuse, to name just a few -- be damned.

If such a mandate were to be enacted, how big a leap would it be to see supermarket one-way aisles decreed into law, thus inspiring people like the traffic monitor mentioned above to summon the police when they witness a violation? And how will the police handle such a situation?

Not long ago I assumed police officers would ignore these petty disputes, but now I wonder if I haven’t been too sanguine. The sight of the man being manhandled and arrested in San Antonio, along with stories like this one in Oregon and this one in Ohio serve to warn us that police officers are not immune to mask hysteria. Granted, the officers in these cases were technically enforcing trespassing laws when the alleged offenders failed to wear masks when required to do so by businesses and schools, but by now it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see these confrontations become commonplace under a Biden federal mandate.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal helps to illustrate why this is so. Writing in the Dec. 24 issue, Tunku Varadarajan introduces us to John McAuliffe, who has just retired after a 38-year career with the New York Police Department. McAuliffe told of a lesson he learned as a rookie in 1983: “Never embarrass a guy in front of his kid.”

It was once commonplace for older cops to pass on such wisdom to those they are charged with training. I join McAuliffe in lamenting this is no longer so. Police work has changed a great deal since 1983, not all of it for the better. I joined the Los Angeles Police Department at about that same time, and I was taught by some wise and worldly seasoned cops, some of whom were veterans of the Vietnam War.

I was trained to seek out and where possible arrest the people who made life miserable for their law-abiding neighbors. Robbers, burglars, and violent gangsters were a priority, and there was a measure of shame attached to hauling in some average Joe who had committed some minor transgression.

Sadly, focusing one’s efforts on violent criminals only invites trouble for today’s police officers, for to do so brings the risk of violent confrontation with people whose conduct is readily ignored or excused by their sophisticated betters in government and the media. The result is as predictable as it is tragic: a rise in violent crime and more deaths by homicide among those these same sophisticated betters purport to champion.

Until the pendulum swings back, as it surely will someday, more robbers, burglars, and violent gangsters will be getting a pass, and more mask scofflaws will be brought to heel. If you thought 2021 would be an improvement over 2020, think again.

The Thin Blue Line is Under Attack

And now it’s Philadelphia, which joins Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Kenosha, Wisc. on the list of cities where routine police encounters have gone violently wrong, leading to days of rioting and chaos on the streets, all of which, we are endlessly assured by our sophisticated betters in the media, meets the ever more capacious definition of “mostly peaceful protests.”

On its face, the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia should not be controversial. Police were called to Wallace’s home for a domestic disturbance, and when he defied orders to drop the knife he was holding and advanced on two police officers – who had already retreated from the sidewalk into the street – they opened fire, an outcome to be expected in a rational world. But this is not a rational world, and in no milieu is it less so than in the realm of police encounters with black men.

There has arisen in certain quarters the preposterous notion that someone facing arrest has the right to resist an officer’s efforts – even to the point of assaulting him with a deadly weapon – and still expect an injury-free apprehension. Wallace appears to have shared this notion, as do the people “protesting” his death. Even Joe Biden, proving he can be just as uninformed about police work as he has been about everything else for 47 years, thinks police officers can shoot an attacker in the leg and somehow expect to survive the encounter.

Old-fashioned detective work may soon be a lost art.

How long can this continue? How long can we ask police officers to venture into America’s inner cities and combat crime while placing upon them these unreasonable expectations? And finally, who wants to be a police officer at all under these circumstances?

Raymond Chandler, the creator of the fictional detective Philip Marlowe, said it best: 

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.

Whenever some heinous crime occurs, one that rises above the ordinary daily American mayhem to shock the nation’s conscience, we remain anxious and unsettled until an arrest is made, even if we have no direct connection to the victim. Last July, for example, who could help but be horrified by the video of Anthony Robinson being gunned down while walking hand-in-hand with his seven-year-old daughter on a Bronx street corner?

We take it on faith that the perpetrators of such crimes will be identified and arrested, and indeed we found some measure of comfort when, less than two weeks later, three men were arrested and charged with Robinson’s murder. But what if there came a time when we could not have that faith, a time when we had no choice but to resign ourselves to seeing this kind of savagery go unpunished?

That day is coming, and soon.

The Robinson shooting was captured on video, which quite naturally raised public expectations that the killers would be apprehended. The police would find the car shown in the video, it was assumed, then they would find the killers. Easy, right? Just like on television.

The reality was not so simple. Finding the killers required the practice of what soon may be a lost art: old-fashioned detective work. And detective work in its turn demands the mastery of a number of interrelated fields, including forensic science and video technology. But far more than technical knowledge, detective work requires talents much less easily conveyed in a classroom or a textbook.

The presence of DNA at a crime scene and video of the crime as it occurred are powerful evidence, certainly, but in the overall scheme of a criminal investigation they are all but useless until they can be woven into the fabric of the case by a skilled detective. And any criminal case, even one buttressed by the strongest forensic evidence, can collapse in the absence of someone adept at the most overlooked skill in police work: talking to people.

There might be a hundred witnesses to a murder, there might be video of the crime as it occurred, there might be every type of circumstantial evidence tying a given suspect to the crime, but to secure a conviction it all must be tied together by a detective who can walk into an interview room and elicit the truth from people who in many cases would prefer to keep it hidden.

And that same detective, after having assembled the case and secured a criminal filing, must then be able to take the witness stand and persuade a jury that the man seated over there in the defendant’s chair is guilty as charged.

Tough even without a gun.

But where do we find such detectives? They come from the ranks of street cops, of course, men and women who learn, while riding in a radio car or walking a foot beat, how to talk to the parties involved in crimes – victims, witnesses, and suspects – according to each the appropriate level of skepticism, which may approach but never reaches zero.

It has been my experience, after nearly 40 years in the trade, that the best cops, those who do most of the heavy lifting in any police department, would have found equal success in any other field they might have chosen, but they were drawn to police work not merely as a job or even a career, but rather as a vocation. Today that vocation is threatened by the corrosive politics of the Left, which would hold that the police are not a remedy to crime and disorder but rather the very cause of it.

The undermining of law enforcement has been a goal of the Left for decades, and the campaign has achieved varying levels of success over the years. But with the death of George Floyd last May, the assault on police legitimacy has accelerated beyond anything seen before. A February 2020 article at City Journal lamented what was already a police recruiting crisis, but that crisis has now grown even more dire. Worse than a lack of candidates applying for the job is the accelerated flight of tenured officers from some police departments. In Seattle, for example, the problem is finely drawn: more officers left the city’s police force in the first nine months of this year than did all of last year or in 2018.

Not coincidentally, as the number of police officers decreases, and as those who remain on the job grow more apprehensive about making arrests lest they find themselves fired or prosecuted should an incident go awry, crime has increased across the country. Violent crime has risen in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Baltimore, and most other cities you can name, including, yes, Philadelphia, where homicides are up 44 percent from the same time last year. Sadly, few people with the authority to do anything about it seem willing to speak honestly about the problem, as evidenced by Joe Biden's fatuous instruction that cops shoot attackers in the legs.

The world needs people like those Raymond Chandler described, but it may soon find them in short supply. Someday, when the carnage has not been abated by the legions of social workers now proposed, when the bloodshed has grown intolerable even to those who today ignore or rationalize it, people will once again look to the police to solve the problem. But when that day comes, the pool of accumulated wisdom that has been passed from generation to generation of street cops and detectives will have evaporated for lack of use. “Please,” some mayor will implore his police chief, “do something about the crime.”

And the chief will shrug his shoulders and say, “We don’t know how.”

'Climate Justice is Racial Justice!'

In the wake of the recent death of George Floyd during an arrest by four Minneapolis police officers, the United States has seen some of the worst civil unrest in decades. As these events were just beginning to heat up, activists from various corners began a synchronized campaign to defund police departments, seemingly out of nowhere. Much of the public was undoubtedly bewildered by this blitzkrieg against policing, which most normal people regard as the last line of defense between law and order and law of the jungle.

The abruptness of the defunding campaign has had many liberals (though not Leftists) denying that it means anything beyond some sort of reform, despite the abundant early evidence from Minneapolis, New York, and elsewhere that “defund the police” does indeed mean defund the police. Given how extremely unpopular abolition or reduction in policing is with the public, backers are probably content with those misconceptions – for now.

To the rest of us, it was pretty obvious that this unidirectional “national dialogue,” as the Left likes to portray their finger-wagging diatribes and tantrums, was never really about George Floyd or “systemic racism” in police departments. Nor was it ever intended to be an intelligent discussion that considered the risks police officers face every day. It was all about causing chaos on President Trump’s watch and setting the stage for a Leftist revolution. We certainly get that the insurrectionists in the streets are demanding something, but we aren’t dumb enough to believe dragging a statue of Columbus into Baltimore harbor has anything to do with police tactics at this point. The proper interpretation of the current crusade is the same one that applies to every crusade of the Left, whether it be eliminating police, abolishing the suburbs, gay marriage, or climate change. It is about radicalization, retribution, and redistribution.

Radicalization

In the old days, liberals sought to push the idea of “root causes” of crime, but it fell out of fashion when their theories were debunked, or the things they uncovered were matters of embarrassment and shame, so they did what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “defining deviancy down,” which is the theme of the modern Left. Instead of having to apologize for or explain away the dysfunction, much less refuse to accept it or confront it, they simply lower the standards of acceptable behavior and raise the threshold of criminal behavior. Proven methods of fighting crime like erasing graffiti, fixing broken windows, and practicing proactive policing are now under renewed attack.

The assault against law and order has been slowly evolving for a long time. One of the best examples is that of sanctuary cities, which provide criminal aliens special protection from federal immigration enforcement, and came into realization at least as far back as 1979 under Special Order 40 in Los Angeles. Today, most major cities are sanctuaries for criminal aliens – some would call them little confederacies – that openly defy federal law by harboring aliens who are clearly a threat to public safety. Despite many shocking examples of how ill-conceived the sanctuary policies are, public safety was always trumped by political correctness. The intent of these policies is to remake our society, to increase the number of warm bodies for census purposes (increasing blue state electoral power), to supply cheap labor and new customers to business, and to provide additional clients in need of public services, growing government in the process.

To this we've come.

The anti-law enforcement agenda of the Left has only gotten more extreme in the decades since Special Order 40 was enacted: demands to abolish ICE, open the borders, expand refugee resettlement to people who might be a poor fit for America, and give asylum to all who ask for it. There have been successful parallel efforts to end incarceration for many offenses, decriminalize drug use, raise monetary thresholds for property crimes, accelerate early release from prison, and end bail. The role of outside pressure and activism in the coddling of criminality is not the whole story, however.

Across the country, radical candidates for district attorney (DA) who have pledged not to prosecute many serious crimes are being recruited and well-funded by Leftist donors. Once humdrum DA races have turned into high-stakes dramas with eye-popping amounts of money being spent by George Soros and aligned ultra-Left organizations like the Tides Foundation and the Open Society Foundation. Almost $2 million of Soros-connected money was spent on the 2017 Philadelphia DA race, and another $800,000 on the 2019 Monroe County, NY, DA race. Chesa Boudin, son of Weather Underground parents and a red-diaper baby if there ever were one, was elected as San Francisco DA in 2019 with assistance from these same pots of hard-Left money. As current Los Angeles district attorney Jackie Lacey faces a challenge in November from Soros-backed opponent George Gascon, the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys is sounding alarm bells over the far-Left’s attempt to buy DA races.

In many cases, the locals are more than happy to save the ultra-Left political donors the cost and trouble of installing their preferred choices by voting them in without any prompting. During an interview with CNN, Minneapolis City Councilwoman Lisa Bender went on CNN to suggest that having police protection when your house is being robbed is white privilege. Similarly, socialist Seattle City Councilwoman Tammy Morales offered a revolutionary’s blessing for lawlessness and looting:

What I don’t want to hear is for our constituents to be told to be civil, not to be reactionary, to be told that looting doesn’t solve anything.

Apparently, “peaceful protests” are not always what they’re cracked up to be.

Retribution

The Left’s antipathy toward the police is, of course, nothing new. We are familiar with their usual "terms of endearment", like bastards, pigs, and parasites, and the "love notes" they leave behind, but the venom they spew isn’t just for the police; it’s for you too.

In a recent interview in Mother Jones, Brooklyn College Sociology Professor Alex Vitale, who has made his academic career out of attacking the police, reveals the malice of his anti-police policy prescriptions with one jaw-dropping answer to a question:

Question: “How would things change for the white people who reflexively rely on and trust the police—the Amy Coopers of the world?”

Vitale: “They won’t have this resource that they can weaponize against people. They’ll have to figure out other ways of resolving their problems.”

Vitale is essentially charging whites with using the police like Mafia dons use hitmen against their enemies. Absent this "blue army" (which he probably imagines are at their beck and call) whites will have to figure out how to solve their problems. If they are victims of crime, well, gee, that’s too bad – they’re on their own.

In the old days, community leaders and the business community would have had the influence to put an end to this kind of madness, but now they are either coerced into support, or they pick up and leave.

Redistribution

Finally, one cannot fully understand the defund-the-police movement without recognizing the Left’s police-envy. According to the Urban Institute,

From 1977 to 2017, state and local government spending on police increased from $42 billion to $115 billion (in 2017 inflation-adjusted dollars). However, as a percentage of direct general (state and local) expenditures, police spending has remained consistently at just under 4 percent for the past 40 years.

The special interests on the Left have been drooling over law enforcement money for years, ready to pounce on any opportunity to take it for themselves. Just a small fraction of $115 billion can keep a lot of community organizers, social workers, and bureaucracies administering “programs related to mental health, housing and education” and green climate policies quite happy.

Even if there is an eventual drop-off in attention toward and follow-through for "Defunding the Police" and Black Live Matter (BLM), the intersectional Left has made it clear that they have their fellow social justice warriors' backs and that reinforcements from the red brigades and the green brigades are on the way and here to stay. Climate activists and their organizations have joined in support of BLM to insure the two causes are inextricably linked, and that an attack on either is an attack on both. Their intersectional cry is, “Climate justice is racial justice!”

Whether there is any justice remaining for the law-abiding citizenry of America after law enforcement is dismantled is another matter.