Police Are Civilians

Police Are CiviliansPolice are civilians. They are the civil power. They are not soldiers. They are subject to the rule of law adjudicated within civilian courts — not military justice. They are tasked with special powers and thus burdened with specific responsibilities and duties — but they’re civilians. They answer to mayors and (civilian) police commissioners and city councils and ultimately the public.

It’s an expression of the dangerous militarization of the police to distinguish them from “civilians” — those who are in fact citizens, fellow citizens, the commonwealth.

Say “police and the community.” Say “police and the public.” Don’t say them and us, even when that’s too often what’s felt. We can’t get from there to here if we encumber cops and everyone else in language that preserves the wall between those of our fellow citizens who carry badges and guns and those whom they serve.

—Tom Levenson
Pet Peeve

H/T: Elizabeth

17 thoughts on “Police Are Civilians

  1. That’s completely right. And I’ve been guilty of using the “civilians” term myself. It’s an easy habit to slip into, given that cops tend to act and talk like an occupying army; we “civilians” don’t appreciate the stress they’re under, blah blah.

    For that matter, I dislike the phrase “law enforcement.” Cops are not supposed to be “law enforcement.” That’s what our legal system is for, to enforce the laws our democratically-elected representatives enact. If I’m going to be legally murdered, I want it to be by unanimous vote of twelve peers and the agreement of an experienced judge. Not some random guy who thinks I look oh-so-scary.

    I almost applied for a parking cop job this week. Because I love parking cops! People who break parking laws mess up parking for everyone else, parking cops deter them from doing so, and useful fees are gathered to make government work better! You don’t carry a gun! What’s not to love?

    But then I thought of the uniform. And how black people on the bus these days aren’t saying “bye” or “see ya later” when they get off. They’re saying “be safe.” Even if I wasn’t doing evil by wearing that uniform, I’d be ashamed to wear that uniform.

    And I suspect some cops are starting to feel ashamed, which is why they’re doubling down on “we’re heroes! Don’t disrespect us!”

    • Your discussion of being a parking cop reminded me of this:

      Some civil servant are
      Just like my loved ones!
      They work so hard and they
      Try to be strong!

      I think you should do that, though. I think it would be great. It’s a small step in the right direction. I’m getting tired of hearing that “the vast majority of cops are good.” I just don’t believe that. The vast majority of those “good cops” give total and complete cover to the “bad cops.”

      Also, pretty much the only thing I remember from the show That Girl was when she got a similar job, but she was too nice, she was constantly adding money to people’s meters.

      Anyway, it sounds a lot better than what you have been doing!

      • The issue isn’t “good vs. bad,” it’s accountability. Even people who try to do good will take shortcuts if they think they can get away with it. There has to be a strong system to keep them from getting away with it.

        • I agree. However, no system is perfect; so having people of good will is better. Power corrupts, but many don’t even need that.

    • They won’t change unless enough good people start being among them. Kind of like how Frank is always saying that women make men better?

      • Goddamnit you vicious fuckers. I spent 17 years in a job I knew from the start had major issues, I stayed in it because I knew it was important to have reformers, I got thrown away in about the nastiest manner imaginable and I don’t DON’T DON’T want any part of fixing a broken system ever again. That shit’s hard.

        Then I make some offhand joke about wearing a cop uniform (I really enjoyed wearing a construction uniform for a week, I consider that an honorable job) and you, Elizabeth, mention how bad institutions don’t get better unless people fight to change them. And you, Frank, quote one of my favorite songs!

        Leave me be! You know how much effort I currently want to put into reforming shitty institutions? Zero, zilch, nada, and none! I did my goddamn time! I wanna get trained in copier repair or some shit!

        And then you’re all like “well, just getting your foot in the door of policing would be interesting, and you could possibly do some good.” Shut the fuck up! I don’t want to fight for good, ever again! I wanna repair copiers! Don’t tempt me, you assholes!

        • Do what you think is best, I suppose. As a former public school teacher, I empathize with your rant about how frustrating it is to try to change corrupt and hidebound systems from within.

          • Yeah, exactly.

            The odd and amusing thing is my SO is a former public school teacher. And doesn’t want any part of fixing those problems anymore. Yet has moonlighted for 20+ years at this same damn job I just left, stays there because “If I don’t do it, jerks will.” Huh? That’s why you left teaching!

            People are totally strange, and thank God for that …

          • No, I know you didn’t. Sorry I came off too strong.

            You know the cop job I’d really love? Traffic cop. I’m guessing (I have no idea if this is true) a lot of people who don’t pay the meter are short on money, or stressed as hell. But we all know who disregards traffic laws. Tons of people! From all walks of life!

            I’d be such a totally unfair traffic cop, and I’d love it. Driving that endangers other people, you always gotta bust that. But fairly harmless violations? I’d be a major jerk. Car seat for a kid, and you ran a red light? I’m probably letting that slide. Bumper sticker of Calvin peeing on Obama? Hello, traffic fine. Middle-aged white guy in expensive luxury car? Hell, I’d just follow them for an hour waiting for them to make a mistake.

            And, naturally, let teens off with a warning whenever possible. If I’d had to pay for all my mistakes, I’d so be dead or in jail. Forgiveness is one of the best mammalian traits (and why the stubborn, hard-working donkey is a better political logo than the elephant who never forgets old grudges!)

            So, again, my apologies. I used vitriolic language in an exaggerated way to try and be funny. Sometimes in restaurants friends put a hand on my arm and say, “I realize you’re being silly, but there is a family with kids sitting right behind you …”

        • I’m sorry, James. I meant no offense. You made reference to the good works of parking cops and it made me think of “Don’t Worry About the Government.” It wasn’t actually a reference to what you should do.

          The rest was some advice. But I was countering your resistance to doing the job because it would make you complicit in a corrupt system. If you would like to do it, why wouldn’t you? The system may be corrupt, but your joining it would make it less so. Thus you would be improving the world by doing something you want to do. I don’t see the problem.

          But I mean no offense. Nor do I think does Elizabeth. But it sucks looking for work and I’m sorry you are going through it. I’m sure you will do what is right for you.

          • Oh, shoot! I’m sorry. I was pretending to be cranky. I actually thought everyone had kind and well-considered insights. Sometimes I get the Internet sarcasm right, just as often I completely mess it up. It’s an acquired skill, like everything…

              • I’m always thinking I’m going to offend people. I’m good at it, so… But I also know how stressful looking for a job is. Oh well.

              • I’ve never heard the phrase “kidding on the square” before, but I like it! And it sums up well what I overdo a lot. Among the crowd I grew up with, sarcasm was considered the only acceptable form of human interaction. This is probably not the healthiest attitude. But old habits, you know …

            • Satire is dead, my friend! I suppose it is just being concerned for you. Looking for a job does suck. And there is absolutely no reason in the modern world that anyone should have to. Except that we must have super wealthy people because how else can you tell who “wins” life?

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