Lawnorder Ain’t What It Was

To most folks these days “Law and Order” was a television series featuring Sam Waterston as the irascible Jack McCoy and Jerry Orbach as the scruffy but lovable Detective Lennie Briscoe, plus a lot of other great actors and their characters. The spinoffs never quite came up to the level of the original, IMO.

But before that “lawnorder” was a common buzzword, particularly during the Nixon Administration, that excused police brutality toward racial minorities and “hippies.”  Crime was a great wedge issue for conservatives for a few decades, because liberals — with their confounded ideas about civil rights and fair trials — were seen to be “soft on crime.” And make no mistake, the word “crime” was very racially tinged in the minds of white Americans. Popular entertainment reflected the desire to throw out the rule books at meet the threat of thuggish criminals with more thuggishness. You could find this expressed in everything from Dick Tracy comic strips to Dirty Harry movies. Charles Bronson also became known for acting out common vigilante fantasies on the big screen. And even as recently as the 1990s many New Yorkers talked about “Giuliani time”as if it were a good thing.

Today the Washington Post is running an opinion piece titled I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. And boy howdy, the comments are ripping this guy to shreds. Thousands of comments. Granted, the article itself is not as provocative as the headline. But I sincerely think that if it were, say, 1970, most of the comments would be “Yes, of course. Thank you, officer.”

Things didn’t change over night, but between 1970 and now, something has changed. Whether it’s us or the cops, I’m not sure. Maybe because there was no Internet in 1970, and most of us never heard of police dumping paralyzed people out of wheelchairs (seriously; google “police dump man out of wheelchair”; it’s a regular genre).

Hard core conservatives still make excuses for police brutality even as they wave their flags for “liberty.” So not everyone is keeping up. In Ferguson, the “authorities” are playing their usual game of selectively dribbling out information to make the shooting of Michael Brown appear justified. But it seems to me there is not so much widespread acceptance of the official narrative as would have been true even two decades ago.

12 thoughts on “Lawnorder Ain’t What It Was

  1. In general, as a society, we have many, many more guns than we had in the 60’s and 70’s.

    When I was growing up, only my friends whose fathers were hunters, had guns. And those were hunting rifles – carefully locked away, and inaccessible to their kids and their friends.

    Then, the NRA changed from a safety organizations, to the marketing arm of the gun manufacturers.
    And guns spread all over this country.
    And first, it was handguns.
    Then, assault rifles.
    This is why the police – imo – freak out when having to go into a home – something which in NOT needed as often as it’s done!

    And they freak out when in minority neighborhoods, because they think everyone has a gun.

    It’s been a self-perpetuating circle of marketing, racism/bigotry, gun violence, police escalation and over-reaction.
    Which the NRA than uses to sell more arms to bigots, and the process keeps escalating.

    And, sadly, I don’t have a clue about how to stop it, because at this point, gun control appears to be completely out of the question.

  2. Huh, how does one become a “professor of homeland security at Colorado Tech University”? Is it because, as Bill the Cat used to say, one is a “Hack… hack… hack”?

    I couldn’t access the comments on the WaPo post, probably my workplace firewall or something. But jeez, I thought “Might makes right” went out with King Arthur and the Round Table. “Do what I say because I’ve got a gun,” really? What does the hack have to say about police officers who sexually assault women under those circumstances? It happens far too often, although not as often as Getting Shot For Walking While Black.

  3. I worked for many years in programs for people with severe disabilities. I had a number of clients and friends who use wheelchairs who had interactions with law enforcement officers or the criminal justice system. The level of understanding of disability and its effects on the body was abysmal. For a number of years, people with disabilities and their advocacy groups seemed to be winning the battle against ignorance, but, sadly, it seems the tide has turned against them.

    I started to give some examples of abuse, but, it just got my anger up, so I deleted them. Let’s just say some were as bad as the video.

  4. Also, the only hope for real gun control is if the “Blah” people started “policing” their own areas like the Black Panthers did.
    That made even Gov. Ronald Reagan of CA into an advocate of gun control.

    However, now with the “Stand-Your-Ground Laws” in various states, any black man (or woman) who walked down the street ‘openly-carrying,’ would be seen as a terrible threat to the safety of the white folks around, and be killed on the spot.

    So, that’s not really within the realm of possibility.

    “Nice catch, that ‘Catch 22.'”

  5. CNN has a piece online on the firestorm over Dutta’s post. It ends with these paragraphs:

    Dutta, a professor of homeland security and criminal justice at Colorado Technical University, could not be reached immediately for comment Wednesday on the uproar over his column.

    In a tweet linking to his response, the Washingtonian’s Benjamin Freed wrote, “I challenged Officer Sunil Dutta. Hopefully he won’t come hurt me.”


    The CNN article mentions the mentally-ill woman who was walking too near a California freeway a while back. A CHiPs officer had her on the ground and was videotaped by a motorist crouching over her and punching her repeatedly, mostly in the head. Small wonder Dutta “could not be reached;” his arguments are undefensible in the face of contemporary reality.

  6. his arguments are undefensible in the face of contemporary reality.

    Amen! Don’t forget the story of the guy who got the 3 enemas, 2 colonoscopies, x-rays, and a finger wave searching for drugs that only existed in the police officer’s mind. What a gross abuse of police power!

  7. Hard core conservatives still make excuses for police brutality even as they wave their flags for “liberty.”

    As I’ve said here before, conservatism is about hierarchy. Freedom, to a conservative, is the freedom to hurt the next person down the totem pole. It is not the freedom to mouth off to the next person up.

    Banning police brutality limits the cops’ freedom, and that is only an acceptable thing to do when the cops are punching up, e.g. by joining unions, inconveniencing wingnut ranchers &c.

  8. Evan,
    Conservatism is also about gloating and taunting the people below you while you pull-up the ladder as you go up, or stay, on a rung.

  9. There’s a lot we don’t know about the shooting in Ferguson. The account of the cop who did the shooting doesn’t agree with the accounts of black witnesses. The autopsy hasn’t proven much. There may not be enough to charge the cop, even if he is guilty. It hasn’t been proven yet, IMO.

    There is enough evidence to fire the cop, IMO. The defense of the cop says that he was only acting in self-defense. The victim was big, 6’4″ much larger than the officer. So why did the cop get out of his car? Did he call for back-up? If not, why not? He could see the kid was too big to take down alone. If he did call for back up, why didn’t he wait? The kid was walking in the street – there was no immediate threat to life or property.

    Where I live, the county cops clearly ‘gang tackle’ a vehicle. If one cop puts the lights on, it seems like a back up is dispatched before the officer of the first car gets out. It’s common to the point of being SOP that a second car at least drives by to back up the first car if there’s any trouble. This cop did a John Wayne on his own. There’s got to be a manual of procedures, and getting out of your car to confront someone who is not a threat to health or property and is someone you can’t take down alone has to be a violation of procedure. Not to mention stupid. If he’s not lying, the cop created the circumstances where lethal force was his only option. For that he should get a pink slip. The city should say that they are accepting the cops word for what happened, and holding the officer responsible for extremely bad judgement using the account of the cop to can him.

    Is that enough? No. But without evidence you are barking up the wrong tree to demand prosecution. The police force is overwhelmingly white in a community that’s mostly black. There has to be a commitment in hiring and promotion to change the complexion of the police force. Next, the state or federal police need to put the police force on probation – watching the hiring stats – the promotion of qualified officers of color (which may mean recruiting from outside) – and the cops (particularly black cops) need to have a contact (State or federal) to report anonymously where the problems remain. Potentially bigoted cops need to be tested in ‘sting’ operations. And removed if they fail to perform professionally.

    This could be done now – all of it. The commitment could be made today to do all of this. The community is still angry because the commitments so far are BS – a pure commitment to the status quo with no mechanisms for real reform. And the authorities are at a loss to understand why the protests continue.

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