The Left-Right Paradox at the Center of Our Debate Over Law Enforcement

Law enforcement has been much in my mind recently, for obvious reasons. As I’ve discussed with friends and family the recent violence perpetrated by police on civilians, and by civilians on police, I’ve notice something of a paradox in the views of liberals and conservatives.

My liberal friends, who are generally in favor of solving societal ills with bigger government, are often very critical of law enforcement. These people who see themselves as the champions of the poor and marginalized, who trust in government programs as the instrument for uplifting the downtrodden, are quick to criticize one of the largest and powerful divisions of government for being abusive to minorities (to one degree or another).

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Maybe the left could learn that skepticism of government institutions that aren’t law enforcement is a deeply healthy thing, and maybe the right could learn that police power is as worthy of a critical eye as every other manifestation of government authority.[/mks_pullquote]

They’re not entirely wrong in their criticism, but they don’t seem to recognize that the problems in our deeply imperfect criminal justice system, which is a fraught place for people without the resources for a buffering force of lawyers, is emblematic of abusive big government in general.

The harassment of an urban black community by the Ferguson Police Department, for instance, is probably recognizable in a way to white rural Americans tasked with fighting to keep the EPA away from their farms and ranches. Both represent use – nay, abuse – of government authority in pursuit of the wrong priorities.

This would be a good opportunity for conservatives to remind liberals of why skepticism of big, muscular government is a good thing. Except conservatives are often too busy serving as knee-jerk apologists for the cops.

‘Leave me a lone’ conservatives, people who in any other context think the best government is small government, are often shouting derision at cop critics from the back of the police state bandwagon.

It is more than a little ironic to see devout 2nd amendment adherents, people who believe (rightly, I think) that the right to keep and bear arms is a check upon government tyranny, turn up their noses at evidence of mistreatment of certain racial groups at the hands of the police.

Observing this odd reshuffling of ideological roles around law enforcement issues, I wonder if it isn’t an opportunity for the right and the left to understand each other a little better.

It’s hard to say that something as awful as violence by and against law enforcement has a silver lining, but maybe it does.

Maybe the left could learn that skepticism of government institutions that aren’t law enforcement is a deeply healthy thing, and maybe the right could learn that police power is as worthy of a critical eye as every other manifestation of government authority.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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