What If Police Officers Go on Strike?

There is an incident, recorded on video, involving two Buffalo police officers.  The video shows  several officers from an Emergency Response team clearing a street.  As they advance, protestor Matin Gugino approaches officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski and blocks their path.  He appears to get argumentative and almost immediately makes some sort of motion toward one of the officers' duty belt and gun holster.  At that point, both officers push him back and away from them. 

Gugino cuts a tall, lanky figure.  He stumbles backward, losing his balance, hitting his head on the pavement, where he begins to bleed.  Contrary to MSNBC reports that he was "left unattended," one of the two officers immediately bends down to offer aid.  His supervisor behind him taps him to keep moving forward and stays behind himself, using his radio to call for medical aid.  It should be noted that from the limited footage we're allowed to see, we can garner neither the hostility nor the size of the crowd, nor what was happening immediately before or after the incident. 

The video immediately went viral and led to the inevitable calls for the officers involved to be fired, imprisoned, drawn, quartered, and erased from all public record. 

The video of this incident, as well as so many other videos of police responding to rioters, appears violent because it is violent.  Pushing somebody is an act of violence.  Arresting somebody is an act of violence.  Deploying tear gas is an act of violence.  The distinction that we cannot lose sight of is that these are calculated, limited acts of controlled violence deployed by professionals who have been trained to do so.

Police are trained to employ what's called the "use of force continuum."  This means that police use only the amount of force required to stop or prevent crime.  It is also referred as the "one up" rule.  If protesters are marching, a mere police presence might prevent protesters from breaking the law where, had police not been present, they would have done so.  If protesters are passively resisting and refusing to move, police go "one up" and employ soft and hard control techniques to move or arrest the protesters.  If a protester brandishes a weapon and attacks police or other innocents, police go "one up" and employ deadly force. 

In the Buffalo incident, the protesters had been given multiple lawful orders to vacate the area.  They refused, Gagin being one of them.  Gagin then thought it the epitome of brilliance to approach a line of advancing riot police, block their path, and make hand movements toward one of the officers' duty belt (other reports state that Gagin was using his cell phone to "skim" the police radio, which is a method Antifa uses to monitor and disrupt police communications.)  At that point, Officers McCabe and Togalski pushed him back, a tactic that was completely within the scope of the use-of-force continuum and was probably the least aggressive physical action they could have taken.

The fact that Gagin was such a beanstalk who lost his balance and hit his head is unfortunate, but this does not change the fact that the amount of force the policemen used to back him off was both reasonable and within their legal scope of authority.  The fact that Gagin is 75 years old makes the incident look worse, but his age is not the point.  Those line officers had no idea who Gagin was or what his intentions were.  Police are not required to check the age of confrontational strangers reaching for their gun belts before defending themselves.  Plenty of 17-year-old "children" are tried as adults for heinous crimes on the premise that they're old enough to know better.  Certainly, Gagin can't claim that he was too old to know better.

If your argument is that the police shouldn't have authority to push protesters back to begin with, then make that argument.  But those police were ordered by deputy police commissioner Joe Gramaglia to clear the area and, when necessary, to use force.  Officers McCabe and Togalski pushed a non-compliant, possibly threatening protester in direct deference to both their orders and their training. 

In the resulting blowback, the two officers were publicly thrown under the bus by Mayor Byron Brown, police commissioner Byron Lockwood, District Attorney John Flynn, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.  McCabe and Togalski were immediately suspended without pay.  They have since been arrested and face assault charges (to which both have pleaded not guilty).

Here is where things get interesting.  In response to these suspensions (and, one suspects, the complete lack of support from their superiors), all 57 Buffalo police on the Emergency Response team immediately resigned from the team.  If the aforementioned "leaders" choose to betray their police to score political points with an unplacatable mob, that's certainly their prerogative.  But actions have consequences.  Police can stand in "solidarity" as well.  The 57 policemen who resigned from the team were right to do so.

In response to these resignations, Mayor Brown quickly changed his tune.  After panickily assuring the press that Buffalo had contingency plans in place, he described Gagin as an agitator trying to instigate further rioting.  He also said he wouldn't be firing the two suspended officers because they need "due process."  Nice to see you adhering to the Bill of Rights, Mayor Brown; that's mighty big of you. 

The lesson here is that police are starting to respond to these betrayals in more assertive ways.  The Ferguson Effect reflected the trend of police officers to be less proactive on the job, with the predictable spike in violent crime resulting from a lessened police presence.  City leaders apparently haven't gotten the message, so mass resignations like these are the next logical step.  But this mass resignation was only from the Emergency Response team.  Those 57 officers still work as Buffalo police — which raises the question as to what the next step might be if things still don't improve for them.

What if police officers go on strike?

Yes, there are strict rules in police unions forbidding this.  But...what if?  The City of Buffalo employs over 700 police officers.  If all of them went on strike tomorrow, does Mayor Brown have another contingency plan?  Theoretically, if he posted job openings for 700 new officers the following day, it would take months, even years, to vet, hire, train, and deploy them.  By that point in Buffalo's experiment in societal entropy, who would even want the job?  In the meantime, would he do what the Minneapolis City Council plans to do and replace police with (and I'm not kidding) social workers?

Police strikes are not unheard of.  In 1919, police in Boston went on strike, and in 1974, police in Baltimore did.  Both times, their numbers were temporarily replaced by state militia and state police, respectively.  Order was eventually restored, and the striking officers were suspended and fired.  But these were isolated incidents in an age before most people even had telephones, much less the capabilities of social media with which to coordinate inter-city strikes. 

Over the past few days, police in these same cities have been either overwhelmed or intentionally ordered to surrender the streets to the rioters.  The footage hasn't been pretty.  This is The Purge in real time.  This is what American cities look like with overwhelmed, handicapped, and struggling police.  What would American cities look like without any police at all? 

Not everyone will agree with the 57 officers who stood in solidarity with their brothers, or with the idea that police should use other forms of leverage to garner better treatment.  But the solution is not to expect superhuman passivity from human beings who, time and time again, suffer from their "leaders" using them as convenient punching bags to save their own skin.  We hear time and again about how police need to build up trust in their communities.  That goes both ways.  These communities, which most people wouldn't trust to drive through in broad daylight, have some trust-building of their own to do with police, as do the "leaders" who continually jilt them.

When Chicago public school teachers go on strike for double-digit-percentage pay increases, they're hailed as martyrs who shut down schools and throw the entire city in flux solely, we are told, "for the children."  If police went on strike tomorrow, it would be for the ability to do their jobs, already fraught with danger, without the additional risk of being thrown to the wolves by the same mayors and politicians who send them into the firing line.  The tragedy here is that they shouldn't have to.

Both the "leaders" and "activists" of our cities should pay attention.  That number 57 could multiply quickly.

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