Domestic Policy, Government

Abolish the Police, not the Policeman

Theodore Roosevelt as New York City Police Commissioner

If the police power is used oppressively, or improperly, let us by all means put a stop to the practice and punish those responsible for it; but let us remember that a brute will be just as much of a brute whether he is inefficient or efficient. Either abolish the police, or keep them at the highest point of efficiency.

The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (1917.) Scribner’s Mem. Ed. XXI, pg.73; Nat. Ed. XIX, pg. 63

After the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin case, I am republishing this article from 2020 on how Theodore Roosevelt might have approached the modern policing crisis. Unfortunately, the lessons still ring true even after a year.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, this blunt observation of Theodore Roosevelt is particularly timely and provocative. As police commissioner of New York City, TR knew the difficulty of preserving the legitimacy of a police force in an ethnically diverse city.  Police corruption, whether in the form of bribery or brutishness, sapped that legitimacy and needed to be swiftly and certainly punished.  He also knew that such corruption often arose from systemic failures in society that were foisted on the average police officer to solve.  Whether the slogan is Roosevelt’s or today’s “defund the police” chant, any sustainable police reform movement must address these past policy failures.

The Militarization of Police Departments

After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government decided that every metropolitan police department needed to be prepared to deal with a terrorist attack. This ended a successful era of neighborhood policing based on increasing the number of police officers walking a beat or otherwise regularly connecting with city residents. Instead, cities stocked up on military-style equipment, which had the effect of separating the police from the public and glorified the use of force over early intervention. Hollywood then further glorified it through television shows like “SWAT” and a host of police buddy movies.  This resulted in a culture that ruled by fear instead of respect.  It is past time to reverse course and reinvent the policeman as a community problem solver and give him or her the necessary support and resources.  To do so, though, we must face another reality.

The Reduction in City Police Forces

The calls to abolish or reduce police forces are gratingly ironic in light of Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that two-thirds of the 50 major police departments reduced the number of officers per capita over the last two decades.  Smaller police forces were cheaper because of the lower personnel cost, as opposed to riot gear and other equipment that do not demand employee benefits. We cannot implement neighborhood policing without more policeman, which requires more funding, and soon.

It is equally ironic that the relevant model may be the “surge” in military force that temporarily pacified Afghanistan and Iraq.  The federal government should fund a similar surge in the number of city police over the next ten years subject to strict rules to insure it results in more and better-trained officers on the beat. Cities would then be expected to pick up the funding for this increase afterwards.  Accepting the higher federal and local taxes necessary to achieve this more humane and sustainable form of policing would be the most concrete way to show our commitment to remedying past police abuse of poor minority communities.  However, even this change will be insufficient if we neglect another crisis in law enforcement.

The Expansion of Criminal Law

Roosevelt’s police force was plagued by bribery caused by the attempt to enforce Sunday blue laws that were deeply unpopular among poor immigrants and which he personally opposed. Today’s police officers are asked to not only keep order, but also enforce a myriad of new financial and economic rules.  George Floyd was being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, which is a federal, not local, crime.  Eric Garner of New York died while being arrested for failing to pay the state cigarette tax. If the police become identified with laws that have little legitimacy in their communities, they will inevitably face resistance and a lack of cooperation in enforcing other laws.  Many cities already refuse to assist in enforcing the federal immigration laws in order to encourage illegal immigrants to cooperate with police in preventing violent crime. 

The accretion of federal, state and local criminal laws over the years has placed all of law enforcement in an increasingly untenable position. All levels of government should conduct a thorough review of their criminal codes with the goal of either repealing minor criminal statutes, converting them to civil violations or developing new enforcement methods.  Local police could then return to enforcing laws that preserve neighborhoods rather than disrupt them.

Conclusion

For most of this year, our nation has been concentrating on breathing freely by avoiding the coronavirus.  Both the yearning to reopen and the George Floyd protests show that breathing freely is not enough for Americans. We must also be able to breathe free. Resisting arrest is never excusable, but resistance will occur more frequently if Americans believe they are not free.  Blaming the police without examining the policy failures that affect all of us regardless of color will only sow the seeds of more resistance and a less efficient police force.

Domestic Policy, Immigration

Time for Action, not Evasion

An old proverb advises there are two things decent people should never see being made –  laws and sausages. Both processes can be disgusting to watch.  Immigration legislation certainly falls into that category. For example, the crisis at the border should be focusing the attention of Congress on immigration enforcement and border control issues.  Instead, globalist Democrats and some Republicans in the House of Representatives sent two bills to the Senate with the transparent objective of avoiding the duty to enact any meaningful reform by creating two sets of amnesties.  This allows them to side-step the controversial, but necessary immigration limitation and enforcement issues.  The goal of legalizing some long – time immigrant residents is laudable and necessary, but should be part of comprehensive immigration reform.  

The first bill (HR 6) is the American Dream and Promise Act, which would legalize the so-called Dreamers, though it would extend this protection far beyond those currently covered by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and associated programs. Currently, only those children who entered the United States without authorization prior to June 15, 2012 (and their parents) are covered by DACA and associated prosecution deferral programs. HR 6 would extend the program to cover 3 million children, including children of other visa holders that ordinarily would be required to leave.  Many of these are deserving of relief, but it again should be part of a comprehensive bill. 

The second bill is more problematic. The Farm Worker Modernization Act (HR 1603) would allow up to 1.5 million farmworkers who have worked without authorization for up to 10 years to obtain temporary status and the opportunity to attain a green card and then obtain other employment.  It would also grant amnesty to the employers who illegally employed them. The main saving grace of the bill is that it would require farm employers to use E-verify for their workers in the future.  It also updates the visa programs for farm workers and strengthens protections for their wages and working conditions. 

Again, both of these bills could be appropriate ways to bring these workers out of the darkness and give them the fundamental rights they need.  However, the Senate should not take up either bill now until it considers a comprehensive immigration bill with effective limitations and enforcement mechanisms. I  urge you to write or e-mail your state’s senators to ask them to table or vote against the two bills until it considers such a comprehensive bill.   

Coronavirus, Domestic Policy

A Stimulus Plan Only a Pandemic Hero Could Love

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus response plan is better thought of as a stimulus bill designed to lift the economy out of the recession caused by the pandemic. In that manner it serves the same purpose as the Trump economic stimulus plan of 2018. In contrast to the Trump program, the Biden plan stimulates the economy through government spending and redistribution of the wealth towards the poor and middle-class rather than tax cuts and regulatory relief.

A good way to understand and justify the over 500-page bill is to distill it down into four subject areas:

  • COVID-19 response –   These provisions include not only the marquee $1,400 per person stimulus checks and funding for vaccines and testing, but also increased unemployment assistance, extended food stamp assistance and housing aid as well as extending the temporary right to paid sick leave through September.  This article from CNBC is a helpful guide on how the recipients can best use these aid programs.  
  • Social welfare – The bill essentially implements Biden‘s promise to expand Obamacare coverage during the campaign, but also increases the child tax credit to $3,600 per child and allows those payments to be paid monthly rather than once a year. It also expands the earned income tax credit for childless individuals. In addition, $86 billion is earmarked for shoring up approximately 200 underfunded pension plans. This is essentially a rescue of the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which is currently insolvent because of past rescues of bankrupt employee pension plans.   
  • Education – The legislation grants $130 billion to K-12 schools and $40 billion to colleges and universities. The K-12 money could be used for long-overdue classroom expansion and capital improvements to schools. 
  • State and local government aid – Probably the most controversial provision of the bill is the $350 billion in aid to state and local governments to make up for revenue losses caused by the pandemic. These grants come with no strings attached. 

I criticized Washington last year for wrangling over political details and delaying help for those suffering from the pandemic-caused recession (see here). Despite the excesses of the bill, Roosevelt’s advice remains sound. Assisting the poor and lower middle class who have borne the brunt of this crisis is the best form of politics because it is decent thing to do. The remainder of the bill should simply be considered the fulfillment of a four-year set of Democratic and Biden spending promises in one year.  

It now falls on Congress to oversee these new programs and prevent them from expanding into new entitlements that institutionalize these huge expenditures and thus risk inflation and a collapse of the dollar. Today, however, we should concentrate on the aid to those in hardship due to the pandemic and the programs necessary to defeat it. This bill accomplishes this goal and is thus worth celebrating.