Whenever I write about police abuse and use-of-force issues, I often hear from the “back the badge” crowd to defend whatever it is the police officer did in a given situation. They’re not always wrong, of course, but one recurring theme always sticks in my craw, especially given that these writers typically describe themselves as “conservatives.”
Police defenders instinctively view most situations—and expect the rest of us to do so—from the perspective of the officer. “Well, sure that African American teen was holding a cellphone rather than a gun, but how was the officer to know before he shot him?” “Sure, the SWAT team broke down the door to the wrong apartment, but mistakes happen (note the passive voice).”
One of the stated principles of conservatism is fealty to the constitution, which protects the rights of individuals against the abuses of government. Police are the face of that government. They enforce the rules that lawmakers pass. Having the right to detain or even kill you, officers literally hold all of your “rights” within their grasp.
Therefore, I spend less time worrying about the genuinely difficult challenges of officers than about my fellow citizens’ right to life and liberty. As Charlton Heston says in a Touch of Evil, “Only in a police state is the job of a policeman easy.” Likewise, I worry less about the frustrations of IRS agents than I do about the rights of taxpayers. Tax collectors have a legitimate job, but a true freedom-lover is primarily concerned about protecting individuals from the state.