Chesterton’s cops

When encountering a fence in his way, Chesterton writes, “the more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’”

If you are interested in what defunding the police looks like, Seattle has provided an excellent example in the form of CHOP, the few blocks of the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that the city’s supine municipal government ceded to the occupation of a left-wing militia, which declared itself the law of the land. Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, useless as teats on a boar hog, declared that the scene in CHOP was just a big block party. The block party soon broke out in gunfire and other acts of violence, and it ended with the murder of children. Seattle did not send a platoon of social workers into militia-occupied Seattle to restore order — Seattle sent the police.

Call them Chesterton’s cops.

If they would be reformers rather than deformers, the people who are calling for the abolition of city police departments — “Yes, We Literally Mean Abolish the Police” reads the helpful New York Times headline — should begin by trying to understand why it is we have police departments in the first place. (They are not interested in being reformers; that Times headline is followed by the underline: “Because reform won’t happen.”) . . .

Those police forces have serious problems. In many cities, the local police have through acts of unjustified and excessive violence lost the confidence of at least part of the population, usually in low-income non-white neighborhoods. Practically every big-city police department in this country has been penetrated by organized-crime syndicates at one time or another, from Los Angeles’s Rampart unit, which at its nadir was little more than a gang with badges, to the NYPD detectives acting as enforcers and hit men for the Lucchese and Gambino crime families. Less dramatic forms of police corruption — soliciting and accepting bribes, extortion of drug-dealers and other criminals, sexual exploitation, covering up the crimes of other police officers — remain distressingly common. The headlong foolishness of the police-abolition movement should not blind us to the severe and widespread problems of modern police departments. . . .

The current atmosphere of chaos is both the fuel and the fire. As of June, murders were up 34 percent year-over-year in Chicago, and shootings were up 42 percent. In 2019, murders in Dallas spiked 30 percent, reaching a ten-year high, and the city’s violent crime is rising in 2020. Cleveland’s homicide rate is up 55 percent year-over-year. Violent crime in Denver increased 21 percent during the coronavirus lockdown.

Reform is a never-ending task. But we cannot address the problems with the police departments if we ignore the problems to which the police departments were a response to begin with.