The Death of Goodwill

This is the first piece in what I intend to be a series, on the theme I think of as the Death of Goodwill. There was (and still is) a huge difference between the attitudes of people in America and the attitudes of those in third-world countries. I use the word goodwill for this difference. For centuries, Americans have been helping one another raise barns, live through hard times, and get up when they fall in the street. Unfortunately, goodwill is being strangled. There are numerous mechanisms for this, though all have bad governance at the core.

With the death of goodwill will come the collapse of civil society, and its twin sister law and order.

 

Too many ugly incidents are occurring in ordinary law enforcement. They are not random. There is a pattern to them. America is sliding down a long, slippery slope. The end of that trip is a third-world dictatorship. Here are 13 possible stages in one process. There are other similar processes occurring also.

1. Congress enacts bad laws. These laws criminalize acts that do not have a victim, in other words non-crimes. Things like drinking or selling alcohol. Or not having a permit.

2. Police become enforcers of these laws, in other words they are not protecting the rights of people. Instead, they become violator of those rights.

3. Criminals organize. They hire lots of trigger men, have sophisticated early warning systems, and they are willing to fight back. They are callous to murder people who get in the way, rival gangs—and police officers.

4. Cops respond. They are subject to random shootings, at any time, by highly armed, sophisticated, and remorseless killers. They become more defensive, more aggressive, and hair-trigger. It’s their lives on the line, and no one seems to care: not the politicians who sometimes sell the cops down the river, not the news media, and not the average citizen.

5. Unfortunate incidents. What do you get when you mix stressed-out cops with and the stresses of every day policing? You get Deputy Knox shooting an old veteran with a cane. You get an endless rash of such incidents.

6. Callousness. You also get the other kind of incident. We’ve all seen videos of a cop unloading a pistol full of bullets into a barking dog that could hardly be considered a threat. I am not talking about the 200 pound Rottweiler silently growling as it rushes forward with its tail lowered and ears laid back. I am talking about the barking Staffordshire terrier that can’t weigh more than 30 pounds, and it’s simply barking because it’s upset.

7. Rhetoric and attitudes. Cops feel increasingly on the defensive. More and more people who would otherwise be law abiding citizens begin to openly show contempt and hatred for law enforcement officers, and the law itself. There have always been people ranging from two-bit thieves to murderers who hate cops. But in this phase, it is a much, much larger group of people who are productive and gainfully employed. Most of these are honest people.

8. Asset forfeiture. Laws are put on the books that allow cops to take cash from people stopped for speeding. They can also take a private plane if a passenger has drugs. Or anything else. Under asset forfeiture laws, they don’t even have to charge the victim with a crime. They take his property and he can just hire a lawyer and spend years suing to try to get it back. Good luck. In the meantime, the asset is a godsend to police departments with shrinking budgets.

9. Militarization. Especially when enforcing laws against acts that have no victim, but increasingly standard operating procedure, cops adopt special forces tactics. Dressed in night camouflage (i.e. black), heavily armed and armored, they bash in doors in the middle of the night. They sometimes use weapons of war such as flash bang grenades, or riot control weapons such as tear gas. What does anyone expect to happen when groggy and terrified citizens are awoken so violently? The consequences are all too often tragic.

10. Further escalation. Cops lobby for budget to buy more exotic weapons, armored vehicles. etc.

11. The end of trust. Law enforcement officers fear and loathe the citizens, and the feeling is mutual.

12. Changing of the guard. Old cops—who remember patrolling a beat, sitting down at a diner and eating with citizens, and respect for basic civility—retire. New cops, trained from angry youths into ruthless agents of the state replace them. They see only endless citizen anger. They don’t understand its origins, but the threat is palpable. Their youthful inexperience is exceeded only by their adrenalin and testosterone, creating a volatile cocktail of raw emotions.

13. Nascent dictatorship. Orders can be given to grossly violate the rights of anyone at any time. The government through the police becomes the biggest violator of the rights of the people. Platoons of officers can be dispatched to confiscate gold, alcohol, drugs, or anything else. At best, these encounters will take someone’s property, leaving him scared and resentful. Increasingly, they take someone’s liberty and throw legions of innocent people into prison. And all too often, they take someone’s life.

I don’t know precisely what stage we’re at now, but our trajectory is clear.

5 thoughts on “The Death of Goodwill

  1. Mark

    Great thoughts. And when trust in government breaks down people start clustering together into militias and gangs – both equally scary. When that happens anarcy is just a step away followed by a dictator who promises to restore order “for the good of the people.”

    Reply
  2. Jawaid

    Are we sure the incidence of these incidents is actually increasing? I think violent confrontations with police have been on the decline over 20 years, based on data I saw (see link). To some extent, what we see as an increase may simply be an increase in awareness, and the use of social media and new technology to record and spread information about incidents.

    One of the issues police agencies face is lack of transparency over use of force. There is no requirement for police agencies to report police killings to any central authority, for instance the Washington Post recently published an article on death by police which they had to research for months. (Of course, many deaths by police were “suicide by cop”, or valid police self-defense or defense of others).

    Tracking use of force across all police agencies and making it transparently available in detail is the number one thing the government could do to help assuage people’s fears, which are being amplified by social media, that all police are out of control – which is certainly not the case.

    Each year there there are 40 million or more police-citizen interactions (and 800,000 police officers with arrest powers) and only a relatively tiny number of these result in an inappropriate outcome. I think this speaks to the overall quality of officers and departments.

    http://www.city-journal.org/2014/eon1204sm.html

    Reply
  3. C. Jeffery Small

    Great article. At what stage are we? I think the entire thing is a self reinforcing system. All stages are in play and the entire quagmire grows as time passes. The question is if — or when — we have passed the tipping point where the elements can no longer be disassembled. Awareness is the first, but and insufficient, step. Action is required.

    Reply
  4. Aleksey Nikolsky

    There is a logical leap towards points 11, 12 and 13, which are the key arguments in making a point of the entire article. There is no any statistic or factual evidence to support these points. Without this evidence the whole thing sounds like rhetoric. I see its point, and can relate to the corresponding to it things in life, but there is evidence of the opposite – active programs of wide participation of the population to support local police departments, for example. I am not sure if the tendency the author describes is powerful enough to overturn the entire status quo and indeed lead to authoritarian dictatorship of the police. Such prospect sounds completely fantastic.

    Reply

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