27 October 2015
Obama: Cops are scapegoats
Whenever there's an amoklauf in America, and whenever the President of the United States expresses his frustration with resistance to gun control measures he believes would prevent many such incidents, the example of his old home town of Chicago is thrown at him in an attempt to prove him wrong. It is said that Illinois already has fairly strict gun regulations, and yet Chicago is perceived by many as the murder capital of the U.S. To gun-rights absolutists, Chicago proves that criminals will always find ways to get guns regardless of regulations, while law-abiding people end up helpless against them. All this really shows is that the gun people are more afraid of the generic criminal than the amoklaufer or school-shooter, while the reverse is true for the anti-gun people. In any event, the President went to Chicago today to talk about guns and police. He told the police -- specifically the International Association of Police Chiefs -- that they should be on his side on gun control, since "fewer gun safety laws ... mean more fallen officers." Police are probably more afraid of the generic criminal, too, though whether they are as pessimistically confident as the gun lobbyists about the criminal's ability to find a gun if he wants one is unclear. The trouble with police in many eyes, of course, is that they profile the generic criminal with too broad strokes. The police gathered in Chicago found the President in conciliatory mode, though it appeared that Obama was losing track of the narrative. He told the police chiefs that "Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system." That sounds like he's overanalyzing the issue. Does he really think that people in poor communities hate cops simply because they're poor or unemployed? That wasn't my impression. My impression was that people hate cops, however unfairly in general, because too many individual cops abuse their power. Obama can't deny these abuses -- he's denounced several cases in the past -- but today he shrugged them off as "bad apple" exceptions, offering an analogy, unlikely to persuade many, between police and politicians. Individual bad cops don't discredit the police as a whole, he argued, any more than individual bad politicians discredit the entire political class. But in both cases, the power that exists to be abused is at least as problematic as the potential for unworthy individuals to abuse the power. To analyze the situation in this way, however, would be "scapegoating" as far as the President is concerned. Yet he was probably going out of his way to attempt damage control after his FBI director attributed an increase in violent crime in some places to police reluctance to be caught on camera doing what they gotta do to keep the hoodies in line. This is the so-called "Ferguson effect" for which many blame Obama for having "politicized" killings there and elsewhere. His sincerity in supporting police will be doubted by some who see it, dare I say, as less than skin deep. Whether he's calling for gun control or better police-community relations, his words will be wasted on those people in both the police and private sectors who think the real solution to "failures of our society and criminal justice system" is to exterminate all the brutes or let them exterminate each other. Obama's own attitude, to the extent that it can be inferred from his remarks in Chicago, may be that the police with all their problems are still preferable to the complete privatization of law-enforcement, re-branded as "self-defense," of which many Americans dream.