Why Do We Have Police, Anyway?

In a way, I can see the cunning Marxist logic of defunding the police. If your 911 call gets forwarded to a social worker for all nonviolent crises, what’s not to like? The social workers will all be non-cis-gendered women with “studies” degrees and will all be reliable lefty voters.

But why do we have police forces anyway?

Naturally, when I called my Seattle City Councilman Dan Strauss last week, after he had voted to reduce the Seattle police budget by 50 percent, I left a history lesson about police on his phone.

Because it just happens that I have been reading all about it in the Autumn of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga and The Broken Spell: A Cultural and Anthropological History of Preindustrial Europe by Pieter Spierenburg in recent months. Dutch scholars, dontcha know.

Here’s the deal.

Back in the day, there weren’t any police forces. So who kept order? Simple: the patriarchs!

So, you lefty freaks. If you ban the police you are just going to take us back to the days of the jolly old patriarchy. Betcha never thought of that one.

Actually we all know what went down back in those days, thanks to Dead White Males. In the countryside, the nobles had their own private armies. That’s why in Dead White Male William Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses plays we get the English nobles endlessly worrying about when “our powers” will get to the battlefield. They are talking about their own private peasant armies. But in the 16th century all the European monarchs went to work nationalizing their armies and disarming the nobles. The nobles all became courtiers and characters in Trollope’s Palliser novels. And the peasants went to the wall.

In another Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet, we learn what was going down in the towns. La Wik:

The play, set in Verona, Italy, begins with a street brawl between Montague and Capulet servants who, like their masters, are sworn enemies.

See, back in the day there were no police forces in the cities. Instead the notables -- such as the heads of the Montague clan and the Capulet clan -- each ruled their clan and kept order within the clan. Outside the clan? Well, occasionally there might be a “street brawl” on the clan borderlands.

Here’s another Dead White Male: Charles Dickens. His Oliver Twist is all about gangland London -- Bill Sikes, thug; Artful Dodger, pickpocket -- before its pacification by the Metropolitan Police.

And in Lenny Bernstein’s West Side Story we see the Romeo and Juliet scenario played by All-American ethnic gangs that are not yet assimilated to the middle class. Finally, a police officer: Officer Krupke, not that he was good for anything.

Huizinga and Spierenburg write about the “pacification” and “privatization” of European society in the last 500 years. What they mean is the gradual replacement of clan and gang feuds and public executions with police and courts and prisons.

Here’s the prison story. First they imprisoned madmen; then they imprisoned the poor in workhouses (see peasants, above); then they imprisoned the criminals. Way to go, guys.

Why do we have our modern pacified middle-class cities? Nobody knows, least of all lefties, but I have an idea. It is because violence and blood feuds and gangs do not pay. Hello Minneapolis? Anyone there?

Notice that in the USA every immigrant wave involves a surge in gangs. The Irish had their gangs in the 19th century; the Jews had their gangs at the turn of the 20th century; the Italians had their gangs till the day before yesterday. But as each immigrant wave climbed into the middle class, their gangs disappeared. Today we have Black gangs and Hispanic gangs, because those are the ethnic groups that have not yet climbed into the middle class.

And now we have Gentry kids and their fake gangs. Like Antifa. Remember Lenny and “Radical Chic?”

The problem with police is that people want to have their cake and eat it too. In nice liberal journalist Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside we find that minority communities are angry that the police and justice system do not catch and convict murderers when everyone knows who dunnit, and they are also angry that the police arrest young gangbangers for minor crimes. Guess what? It’s hard to prosecute gangbangers for murder because they intimidate the witnesses; it’s easy to prosecute murdering gangbangers’ minor offences because the police are the witnesses.

Defund the police? Sure, but then we’ll get more gangs. And the gangs will not be led by nice non-cis-gendered social workers, but by rough, tough clan chieftains and patriarchs, as of old.

So we are back to Benjamin Franklin: “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that.”

But I am puzzled. Regular schools charge tuition in advance, but the school of experience charges its tuition after the fact.

I wonder why?

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.

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