Ferguson and the Changing Attitudes Towards Cops

One of the fascinating layers of the Ferguson riot story is how this tragedy has exposed what is a rapidly changing attitudinal climate towards law enforcement officers (LEOs). What was for years a stable predicate -- conservatives being reflexively ‘law and order’ and inherently giving cops the benefit of the doubt -- while liberals with the built in ACLU type disdain for cops tending to always assume the worst of those in power – is now a vortex of confusion, cross currents,and contradictions.

It’s not a total flip-flop of the convention, but it’s moving in that direction. After all, we’ve seen Rand Paul and Eric Holder agree on this in the past week. Did I mention confusing and contradictory?

Consider: many young liberals have of course discovered a love for big government, and take to Twitter and Facebook to support cops harassing Tea Party types and Nevada ranchers just as they cheer the IRS and Lois Lerner persecuting conservative business people and political groups. Meanwhile, liberal voters in Boston cheered their ‘Boston Strong’ reaction to the Marathon bombers, which to me looked a lot like an entire city cowering from a wounded young teen -- while LEOs with Seal Team Six fantasies trampled on every liberty they could for 48 hours -- brandishing Kevlar, automatic weapons, neo-Nazi style helmets and riding around neighborhoods in hummers and kicking down doors.

The media, long willing to challenge the cops and take the victim's point of view, have been silent, or even dismissive, of recent fears by the right of militarized police departments and massive ammo buys by the Feds. Worship of Obama and support for public sector unions has trumped their former concerns apparently.

The old model of “neighborhood cops” -- who walk a beat in their blues and classic police hat look -- with both their shirt and cap prominently displaying a shield and with the revolver holstered, is now passé. Keep in mind that this was a carefully crafted image of trust, one of a fellow citizen officer who was there to “protect and serve” the community. And you can bet that this new image, that of every Podunk community having units that make the original Los Angeles SWAT teams look like cub scouts, is also carefully crafted. This is not about protect and serve. It’s about raw government power.

And keep in mind, almost every government agency now has their own army. We saw this when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mobilized their assault teams against Cliven Bundy’s ranch -- with machine guns, no less! 

In Dallas, a school board has a SWAT Team!! Again, think: Raw. Government. Power.

And this image is no accident. Much like the TSA being an agency of teaching sheeplike compliance (and guaranteed union jobs) --as opposed to the public mission of safety -- these demonstrations of government force and tactics are the part of the same coercion. There is an unsettling commonality among all of this, the IRS, the militarized police forces, the TSA, the BLM, ATF -- and many conservatives are starting to connect the dots. (Some are not, but more on that later).

My initial response to Ferguson, before knowing any of the facts, was codifying. My gut reaction was that the cops were very likely to be in the wrong. This is a complete 180 from my reactions to similar stories for most of my life. Like a lot of you, I was raised to inherently respect policemen. And I did. And you did too.

Setting aside the Ferguson case per se -- as the facts are still flowing in and there are millions of words written about that -- this is about a sea change in political attitudes that is coming to light. 

For a lot of us now, the first reaction to seeing a LEO is suspicion, or at least annoyance. We see the thousands of YouTube videos of police abuse. Many of us catch the blue wall attitude on boating forums, or gun forums, or fishing forums -- where LEOs openly mock the notion they “work for us.” We see the hummers and the automatic weapons and the assault style look everywhere. We hear about the government buying up ammo and see astonishing stories about newly discovered armies by this or that ‘alphabet agency’ of our Federal government. We saw the story about the grenade landing in a baby’s crib during a questionable raid. And we saw many images of ‘Boston Strong’ too.

While it’s not as visible, what happens on the water could be worse. There is a preposterous amount of duplication and overlap among departments with jurisdiction. And these LEOs, including wildlife departments, have all kinds of militarized speedboats and gear.

Talk about mission creep! Boaters, who tend to be overwhelmingly conservative, get boarded and harassed by these multiple agencies on a routine basis. Sometimes the LEOs cannot handle these pricey toys and up destroying private property.

And let’s not minimize the impact of art imitating life either. On TV, we see the cops on ‘Law and Order’ more concerned with their unions and their pensions than citizens. We see the arrogant and condescending attitude towards free enterprise of “CSI Miami”, “Numb3rs”, and many other shows – where the cops always have the liberal notion of business as being wealthy, evil, and not worthy of respect. These are not documentaries to be sure, but the unanimous nature of these traits by LEOs in entertainment is no coincidence either.

And if we are in the private sector and a victim of crime -- especially a white-collar crime like embezzlement from our businesses -- we see a system that moves glacially and has little regard for victims’ rights.

What reactions to Ferguson have demonstrated is that all of the above dynamics are contributing to a changing political narrative on the relationship between LEOs and those they (ostensibly) protect and serve. It’s not universal -- as Erick Erickson and others who have mentioned it have been chastised by some in their audiences -- but it’s significant. Frankly, I was much happier and much more optimistic about the country when I had automatic respect for all in law enforcement.

But I cannot ignore what my eyes have shown me for the past number of years. Things are different -- they just are. I no longer feel protected, and certainly not served -- by anyone and anything having to do with government. I suspect many conservatives, though not all, agree.

The author is a contributor to American Thinker, and commentator for Newsmax TV and Talk Radio Network. He also writes at www.cedmundwright.com

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