As the country struggles with unrest, the concept of law & order has been pushed to the forefront of American discourse. At the center of it is President Trump, who as tweeted his heavy-handed desire for law & order more than a dozen times.
It was during one such tweet-storm that I realized what Trump is missing in his insistence that law and order be restored: law is administered by the state, on to the people, where order is the willingness, the consent, of those people to abide by the laws issued by the state.
In other words, order is the reaction to just law. If order is not freely given, it is not truly order, but oppression. And that’s the mistake Trump and police forces across this nation are making on a nightly basis: trying to beat back our deliberate disorder protesting excessive state force with additional state-sponsored force.
Not all laws are just, and the total collective of laws does not guarantee justice by their very nature. Sometimes this is nuanced — is it more just to have strict border laws and send aid to countries in need, or is it more just to allow free immigration to those in need? Other times, it is not nuanced at all, such as the case of legalized slavery. While it may be the law, it is in no way just.
In the case of police brutality, it has become clear that our current laws — or, more accurately, the uneven enforcement of those laws — represent an injustice to minority communities. We seem to have reached a critical mass of sorts where the injustice has been made clear and obvious enough that we the people will stand for it no more. So we protest, and not always peacefully. We retract the willingness to provide order.
(I won’t make the case for or against violent vs nonviolent protests here, but I think it’s worth noting that, historically speaking, both have merit.)
In the absence of justice in law, we have retracted our consent to be governed. We have made the collective decision to deny order until we have justice.
In response to that, the President and his supporters have called for law & order, seemingly and concerningly at any cost. The current cost of implementing order without justice stands at unleashing the might of the United States military against its own citizens, who are have been beaten back with force despite their attempt to remain peaceful.
It is clear, then, that Trump and his administration do not understand the social contract of law & order, instead seeing it as a state of being. And we are seeing that approach fail, as unrest continues, and angry citizens become more and more enraged with the growing police state.
On the current course of attempting to restore order through force, only two outcomes are possible. The first is the absence of order — people refuse to accept the state of our justice system and continue to deny order in protest. The second is order restored through force, which is nothing short of an authoritarian police state. While that may be supported by some — hell, even if it was supported by a majority — it does not change that its an act of an aggressive police state against its citizens. It is order, without consent. It is tyranny rule.
Hopefully, we agree that either of those outcomes is not acceptable.
How To Restore Order
How, then, might we restore order? How can we get those that have refused to be orderly to fall back in line with a civil society, free from protest and disruption?
The first thing that should be clear already is that we cannot accomplish that through additional force. That doesn’t mean that all police departments should stand down — although I think that would actually do more good than harm, but that’s little more than speculation. It means that we have to regain the consent of the citizenry to return to order. We have to find what it will take to appease their calls for justice until we reach a state where they once again consent to live under the laws of our land.
So instead of police power, we need changes in policy. It is amazing to me that, after 9 days of unrest in what’s become the largest protest movement in American history, we have had so few discussions on policy, and nearly none on the federal level. Compare this to the civil rights movement of the 60s, where after less than a week of unrest, the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Where are our federal lawmakers? Where are the conversations? Where are the bills, and why are they not being brought to the floor? How can we hold our elected representatives responsible for upholding the wishes of their constituents if no such debates are taking place?
There has been but the slowest of ebbs on policy at the state and local level. The LAPD has had its funding cut by 5% (interesting that the $150M cut is less than the $200M they pay out annually in civil suits). There has been some talk of ending qualified immunity, a century-old interpretation of a law that shields police officers from civil liability for their actions. There have been renewed calls for police transparency, body cams, community funding, and more.
But it’s not enough, especially when so little is being done at the federal level. While I agree much of this could and maybe should be left to the state level, I challenge that the coercion of order by the United States military — a federal entity — dictates that the federal government be equally passionate about reform.
We are in a precarious time. Our administration seems adamant about restoring the social contract of law & order through force. We must insist that our willingness to be orderly be given freely, most especially free from the coercion of the United States military.