Government Enforcers Are Still Cops
by Jayson Hawkins
The police-involved killing of George Floyd in late May 2020 has proven to be a rallying cry against systemic racism across America. The sight of a man begging to breathe while a cop knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes has become the defining image of abuse by law enforcement, and thousands have taken to the streets nationwide to protest. Advocates were outraged, and those who had been on the fence about the need for reforms began to find the notion that “cops are just doing their jobs” hard to swallow. The air was ripe for change.
The debate over what form that change should take has raged since.
As early as June, calls to either “defund” or “abolish” police started to gain traction. New York City, for one, responded by reallocating a billion dollars from the police force budget to agencies like mental health and emergency services, which was intended to shift responsibility for part of the police caseload into more appropriate venues. It is too early to determine the effectiveness of this move, but the political right responded immediately by forecasting chaos and anarchy
while those on the left criticized that the measures did not go far enough.
Therein lies two opposing visions of America: a conservative one where the country’s cop problem will paradoxically be solved by piling more cops on top of it and a liberal one that proposes simply banning the problem. The Trump administration’s threat to send a “surge” of federal law enforcement into cities like Chicago and Portland drew parallels to failed military tactics used in Iraq and Vietnam, and employing them on American soil would almost surely enflame already volatile situations.
A suggestion from the left to replace all cops with enforcement from particular government agencies, however, is unlikely to produce better results.
An editorial in Reason.com (July 13, 2020) pointed out that government enforcers, regardless of which badge or title they bear, are merely cops by another name. Replacing general policing with specialized employees charged with hunting contraband or collecting taxes will effectively change nothing.
“Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence,” warned professor Stephen L. Carter of Yale Law School following the killing of Eric Garner by New York City police in 2014, which was captured on bystander video. Garner was placed in a fatal chokehold, and his chest compressed after cops confronted him on a sidewalk about selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
When unarmed civilians are being killed in the streets, it is obvious that America has a police problem, yet replacing cops with other agencies empowered to operate in the same manner is a solution that serves no one and solves nothing.