Although I am sure that the charge of “disorderly conduct” has a long and glorious history, only with the arrest of Robert Louis Gates, a Harvard professor, the public finally realized that police is only there to serve and protect you if you are a well-behaved and respectful citizen (preferably, of course, white and middle class). Overly expressive fellow was arrested in DC the other day for loudly stating his distaste for the police (arguably a stupid stunt only a white DC lawyer would attempt). ACLU responded with a fine description of the situation: “Current D.C. law on disorderly conduct (section 22-1307 & 1321) is confusing, overbroad, frequently used by police to harass disfavored individuals and violates constitutional rights of free speech, assembly and petition.” Really? Police harassing people they don’t like? Get right out of town!
It seems that the public’s opinion about the police is about the same as their opinion about their health care coverage: those who have insurance and never got seriously sick cannot understand the whole hoopla about the health care reform – “We have insurance, dear, we don’t need to worry – all those stories about other people with insurance are rare and are meant to scare us into socialism, we’ll be fine”; those who don’t have insurance are hoping and praying they don’t get sick, because they havehad an experience or two of going to the hospital without insurance. People love the police the most when they never had a chance to deal with it (or dealt with it only when complaining about the loud neighbor or suspected robbery in progress across the street), once you actually interact with the police, you know there’s something not quite right there – these folks are not your friends with guns, “working with the community to provide safety and security” (as one liberal town put on their police cars), they are representatives of the state, their job is to maintain order by any means necessary.
Where I come from, no one likes the police – no, I don’t come from a poor neighborhood (read, non-white neighborhood) or an ethnic neighborhood (read, immigrant neighborhood) or urban setting (read, both non-white and immigrant) and there are plenty of other places where people do not like the police – I come from a country where police is not only corrupt and dangerous, but where people also understand that both army and police are arms of the state, the means of societal control and not your friendly neighborhood security guards who like donuts and handlebar mustaches (and, argueably also earn for authority and control). A month or so ago, right when the media was obsessed with Iran electoral crisis, we were watching some documentary about Nixon which included the infamous footage of 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago – the strange parallel, you ask? Not if you observe the police behavior in both cases: beating innocent bystanders with clubs, arresting “instigators” right and left, forceful presence and so on. That is their job, it’s not getting your cat off a tree or making sure you are enjoying your nap while they quiet the loud kids playing too close to your lawn.
When I was growing up, I loved detective stories and films – in the Soviet films it was the cops that ultimately cracked the case and arrested the perpetrator, not Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes, so when I first saw an Italian film about a cop who discovered that a certain attractive lady stole the diamonds he was looking for but instead of arresting her he joined her and they drove away into the sunset on his motorcycle, I was shocked – is it possible then to get away with a crime? Of course it is, and that’s why people commit crimes. While in college, I had a sociology class in which a question was raised that still sort of puzzles me – Why do news report about crime? I don’t mean that special case when a dangerous maniac is on the run and we need to be careful about it. I mean just your regular so-and-so was shot and killed over here or so-and-so was robbed over there. Why do I need to know that there is crime being commited in my city? Is it to warn me that crime exists? I know that already, I don’t need the news to tell me about every single case on the evening news. I still don’t really know the answer to this question, but I suspect it might have something to do with both my developed curiosity about crimes (they report because I would want to know because they have been reporting about it) and my learned appreciation of the state’s potential protection of me from that crime, because there’s always police arriving on the scene and hopefully (we never really hear that part) cracking down on criminals and sending them to jail, thus justifying its existence in the capacity of providers of our security – without police our neighborhoods would go wild with rioting, without army we would be immediately attacked by our enemies, without going to college we would never be able to get a decent job or be happy, and so on. But is it ultimately the case? Is our system imperfect but the best we can have? Is there another societal arrangement that might be better than this one? I don’t know, but I better not raise these questions for the fear of mental “disorderly conduct”…