‘The police are the people, and the people are the police’ | In Focus

We need to shift how we think about police in our society.

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

The TV images of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol were shocking and terrifying. It’s clear that the Capitol police did not expect to be overrun by an angry mob intent on destroying property, hammering doors and windows, and attacking police with bats and fire extinguishers.

Obviously, there was a breakdown in respect for authority and for government. We have government in this country only because there is a social contract between the government and the governed. The governed agree to obey while government agrees to rule justly. Government only exists because of what the Declaration of Independence describes as “rule by the consent of the governed”.

The rioters lost trust in the government, and they saw that the only way to protect their rights — meaning the continuation of Donald Trump’s presidency — came not from the ballot box but by bats and clubs and violent battles against police. This is a dangerous precedent that has been incubating in the nation for decades. It must be reversed.

One way to reverse this trend is to change our view of the role of police. How do you view enforcement? Do the police exist to make arrests or is their main function to maintain peace and order?

According to the British Peelian philosophy created by Robert Peel and codified into English law in 1829, “The police are the people, and the people are the police.” In other words, all citizens uphold the law as part of their obligation under the social contract. Police are just paid citizens who formally carry out the consent of the people. All citizens have the civic duty to obey the law, whether we agree or not. That’s where the Capitol rioters lost their senses and ignored their duty as citizens.

The primary role of the police is to prevent crime and disorder, not to punish offenders. Part of the movement in many cities to hire more social workers comes as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is an alternative to arming police with military equipment. It is not a “liberal” philosophy. The concept is based upon the Declaration of Independence.

In order for the police to maintain order, they have to be trusted. Trust comes from acting justly and fairly with all portions of society, no matter the color of their skin. It means extensive training to rid police of racial biases by educating them to greater self-awareness, self-control, and humility.

Peelian philosophy means that police must be extensively and thoroughly trained to know how to deal with the few minutes of violence they may encounter in their jobs. The rest of the time police should be building relationships and acting as public citizens in police uniforms.

A second way to reverse the trend is for our government leaders to engender respect for authority through both their actions and their words. A leader who uses lies and encourages conspiracy theories to maintain power for himself/herself needs to be removed from office. If these leaders remain, they become a cancer on the body of the nation.

Former President Trump needs to be convicted by the Senate of his incitement to riot and attempts to overturn the rule of law. Other state and Congressional offenders must be encouraged to resign or be demoted from their positions of power, either by legislative or Congressional censure, or by being voted out of office as soon as possible.

The third way to reverse this trend is for our citizens to realize that apathy towards those who encourage disregard for our founding documents only encourages more rebellion. Fortunately, enough citizens became concerned with the direction that Trump and his allies were going that they came out in force to vote Trump and others out of office. Enough citizens possessed the ability to think critically and to see past the lies. Unfortunately, millions of Americans seem to lack the ability or the understanding to perceive evil even when their freedoms are in danger. There is nothing that can be done for that group except to wait until they die off.

The social contract has frayed and become deeply damaged. Capitol rioters now must be charged, tried and convicted as a warning to their like-minded comrades.

The fate of our republic requires that all of us become more actively involved in our government. After all, the Constitution and its principles were founded on the premise that “We the People” — not “we the rioters” — are the ones who are really in charge. Either we exercise our power or we lose our rights and freedom to authoritarians and their supporters. The Capitol riot shows how chillingly close we came.


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