Police Work is Almost Always Political

Disparities Ideas and Issues Policing Politics

            Pearl River     Let’s talk about the FBI searching Trump’s place at Mar-de-Largo and the hootenanny from the right that followed their look see for all of the secret documents that Trump had been playing hide-and-seek with the National Archives since he left office.  My kneejerk reaction has been, “get over yourself!”  Where are these people from?  Not America, I’ll tell you that.  Here in this country, you take something from your workplace, it’s theft, if you don’t get your ass in gear and give it back.  It’s against the law, just as on the federal side there’s a law making five-fingering White House documents and not turning them into the National Archives a felony that could be worth five years in the pokey.  Trump can’t claim he was ignorant of the law, because he’s the one who signed it!  So that part of this news cycle is boring to me, because it’s all about posturing, when both sides know better.

What’s more interesting to me is the vast part of our population, on the right and left, who seem to be just thunderstruck at this latest news flash that everything about police work from the beat cop to the FBI is political, and, in fact, everything about the so-called justice system, both when it works, and often when it doesn’t, is also political.  Where to police at whatever level; who and where to investigate; and what we see as criminal, big or little; is based on a decision-making process that is inherently political.  Someone in a position of governmental authority ceded to them in a political process of elections and legislation makes a decision in no small part based on their assessment of community and public sentiment and opinion on what is right and wrong, the penalties that accrue, and where and how aggressively enforcement is dispatched.  It mystifies me that there can be any argument about the political nature of the justice and police system, except from the most hopelessly naïve, sheltered, or willfully oblivious.

Admittedly, most people have never seen police authorities search their homes or businesses, except on television.  Fortunately, that’s the vast majority of Americans.  Not having the experience and not shackled with any level of empathy for others, they are allowed to live under the lettuce leaves where they were born.  Live in a lower-income or minority neighborhood, and the police and the political decisions that put them ever in your midst are ubiquitous.

I can’t count myself in that number, which may have jaundiced my view of all of this.  In our work, we’ve paid the lawyers and loaded the vans with boxes of documents for grand jury investigations.  In our work, we’ve seen state, local and federal police at different times come into our offices, search the premises, take computers and hard drives and boxes of documents for little or no reason, only to call us in some cases years later so that we could go pick them up from the FBI’s building or some federal, state, or local repository.  The press was often there on the front end, but never at the dénouement.  Politicians often put out press releases in order to underline the politics involved.

Justice isn’t blind.  Who still believes that?  If it is blind, the seeing eye dog and the white cane are the politicians and legislators leading the way for the police and the public, with blindfolds over their eyes as well, talking incessantly to each other and all of us about how none of this is political and hoping we’ll continue to believe these fairy tales.