Why We Hate Cops
by Paul Bonneau
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
I remember the first time I heard anyone in "regular" society express hatred for cops (I'm not counting "revolutionary" times back in the '60's which on retrospect appear not to have been very serious). It was a friend of mine, a fellow engineer, who happened to like going fast on motorcycles, and he was complaining about a ticket he'd gotten. I was a bit shocked to hear him say that. I had thought until then of cops basically as decent people with an important job to do, with maybe a few "bad apples". I was pretty naive back then.
I've gotten the impression lately that cops aren't getting very much support in Internet forums these days, even in places where in the past you'd find almost unqualified support. About everyone seems fed up with 'em.
I wondered why this should be. Why are they becoming so much more frequently scorned?
Is it because they are parasites, tax eaters? They are that, but I find this implausible; if only because 95% of the population is on the dole in some way. Government schools, Socialist Security, Medicare, farmer and rancher subsidies, corporate welfare, people working for war materiel suppliers, the list goes on and on. It's hard to imagine folks getting riled about that aspect. Miss Smith the friendly librarian is no different, and who hates her? Cops are a waste of tax dollars, but so is everything government does with tax dollars.
I think one reason cops are hated is that people generally don't like being scrutinized, and put under suspicion for minding their own business; they really, really don't like that. Cops are always checking you out, looking for a reason to "brace" you (an old meaning of the word that looks very useful these days).
The War on Some Drugs has to cause some hatred, as more and more peoples' lives are ruined by it. Indeed, this prison industry boondoggle has stained all aspects of the "Justice" system, not just cops.
Another reason is that cops are treated, and see themselves, as superior to the rest of us. In innumerable ways, cops are always given the benefit of the doubt; certainly legally, and also informally—although the latter seems to be fading a bit, as trust in cops fades. They are "The Only Ones", we are "mundanes", "proles", peons. They can lie to us, we can't lie to them; they can beat us up and torture us, but if we touch them it is "assault".
Along with this insufferable attitude is a self-regard that what they are about is important and good. I suppose everyone suffers from this malady, but usually it does not impact a person as it does when one runs into a cop in the throes of it. As C.S. Lewis put it, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good, will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." What are cops, if not "omnipotent moral busybodies"? At least when the Mafia runs a protection racket, they don't deceive themselves they are doing you a benefit. One appreciates the Mafia's honesty, in comparison.
Notice, all of the above applies to all cops, "good" and bad. Now, there is a significant fraction of rotten cops, and some departments are overrun with them. There are lots of cops who enjoy playing the bully. But do we hate cops because they are as imperfect as we are?
It's hard to say. On one hand, if a person agrees policing must be done, and that government must do it, then it would be somewhat irrational to fuss about a small percentage of bad cops (although getting them out—good luck—might be a reasonable aim). On the other hand, even for those who agree with these premises, it's one thing to talk about this theoretically—another thing entirely to watch a cop beating a pregnant woman on YouTube.
There is one final reason to hate cops. All through history, every tyranny has used cops as its primary tool for sustaining that tyranny. They are the point of the government spear. And let's not deceive ourselves, although most "good" cops probably do deceive themselves about this—if we ever descended into a Nazi- or Stalinist-sized hellhole, few if any cops would resign. Some might feel bad about what they are doing, but they would never resign. Their livelihood comes first; it goes without saying. My guess though, is that this consideration does not enter peoples' minds when they are hating cops. It will if we descend into that hellhole, but not before.
People are questioning all sorts of government "benefits" these days, so it's not surprising cops are being questioned too. Looks like many folks are coming to the conclusion they are not worth the trouble.
Maybe it's just a return to sanity. Cops had it pretty good in this country for a long, long time. My impression, in talking to foreigners, is that cops are normally assumed to be crooks and thugs. Maybe we're just finally opening our eyes.