One of the main subjects in the contemporary national news is police brutality. A less discussed subject would be violence against law enforcement within the nation. This can be discussed both within the context of such violence as a backlash against police brutality and as an independent phenomenon in and of itself. This sample criminal justice essay explores this subject and the general nature of the problem.
Overview of violence against police
Generally speaking, law enforcement officers (i.e. the police) fulfill a relatively dangerous social role; and in this sense, violence against law enforcement is to be expected as a somewhat natural element of the officers’ basic effort to catch criminals. The relevant literature has made it clear that police officers are at a risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Accord to Dudek and Szymczak, this is due to the fact that the violent situations experienced by police officers often fall beyond the pale of what they had become cognitively prepared to experience over the course of civilian life, with the result that he has extreme difficulty processing the new experiences. In the broadest sense, then, law enforcement officers are essentially signing up to be potentially exposed to gun violence and other dangerous actions.
Not all violence associated with high-profile crimes
More specifically, though, violence against law enforcement would seem to refer to the phenomenon of police officers being consciously assaulted independent from specific situations in which they are pursuing criminals.
For example, the U.S. Department of Justice’s VALOR program affirms that its object is to “prevent violence against law enforcement officers and ensure officer resilience and survivability following violent encounters during the course of their duties. VALOR responds to the precipitous increase in ambush-style assaults that have taken the lives of many law enforcement officers” (paragraph 1).
Violence against police officers can thus take the form not only of the “shoot-out” that the average person may be given to imagine but also as part of coordinated attacks on law enforcement by criminal elements within society.
Morally speaking, it would seem important to take efforts to prevent violence against law enforcement out of a simple moral concept of loyalty (see Kleinig). Essentially, the idea is those police officers on foot or car patrol are putting themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the citizenry of society, and that society thus has a corresponding responsibility to ensure that officers are kept as safe as possible.
The logic here would be similar to the logic that inspires a commitment to providing support services for members of the armed forces. This kind of mutual assistance, (or in popular language, “having each others’ backs”) could be understood as one of the foundational elements of all social morality. This would be why in addition to the moral outrage provoked by police brutality, there is also moral outrage provoked by violence against law enforcement. Both these issues imply a basic breach of trust between society and its citizenry.
Statistics of violent actions against law enforcement
There have been recent concerns about potential increases in rates of violence against law enforcement. There is perhaps some evidence for such concern, insofar as one is looking at the problem within the context of a rather narrow timeframe. For example, the data presented by Carter shows that there was an increase of violence against law enforcement between the years 2009 and 2010.
However, from a broader perspective, it becomes clear that the numbers for 2010 were by no means atypical, and that 2009 saw the lowest level of violence against law enforcement in almost five decades. So, despite various news reports that would seem to suggest the contrary, there would seem to be no empirical reason to believe that violence against police officers has in fact significantly increased within the nation over the course of the last several years.
Police brutality breeds violence towards law enforcement
Of course, if violence against law enforcement has become an issue in the immediate history of the nation, then this would largely be related to the violence that has been committed by police officers against citizens of the United States, particularly Black men (see Sanchez). For example, members of the black community started acting violently towards police officers immediately following the Ferguson shooting.
Within this context, a renewed emphasis on violence against law enforcement would likely be an effort to balance the attention being dedicated to violence committed by police officers by dedicating attention to the problem of violence committed against police officers. To some extent, this may just be a tactic of propaganda; but violence against police officers may also be a legitimate renewed concern within the context of the present political climate.
In this context, a better understanding of the issue at hand would require a special consideration of the issue in light of recent events of police brutality and protests against those events. This is for the simple moral and conceptual reason that it would not be possible to evaluate violence against police without some reference to violence committed by police.
Recent protests against police brutality
Of course, as Sanchez has pointed out, recent events of police brutality have caused protests to emerge across the nation. By and large, these protests have been peaceful; however, violence has not been entirely absent from them; and certain recent explicit acts of violence against police officers cannot be properly comprehended without some reference to how they essentially serve as acts of protest, no matter how misguided.
Jonsson has made reference to the Dec. 20 murder of two NYPD officers by a man who espoused anti-police feelings on social media (para. 3). Given recent events, it would be absurd to even imagine that such feelings can be understood independently from violence committed by police officers themselves. Obviously, the murders of the NYPD officers must be understood as an act of retaliation for the murder of Eric Garner and other Black men across the nation.
The proposal of the National Fraternal Order of Police (as reported by Jonsson) that violence against police officers should be classified as a hate crime must also be understood within this context. At face value, the logic would seem to make sense: just as a person should not be subject to violence because of the color of their skin, they should also not be subject to violence because of the uniform they wear.
Permanent impact of violence towards police patrols
In light of recent events, though, this logic would seem to be permeated by an immense and willful naivety. Of course, the public perception is precisely that law enforcement within the nation has itself engaged in hate crimes, insofar as the recent string of police brutality has specifically targeted Black men.
In this context, violence against police officers would clearly not be motivated by some purely irrational hatred of the uniform they happen to wear; rather, it would be motivated by the moral judgment that police officers constitute a violent and dangerous enemy, and that violence against them would constitute a kind of self-defense (especially if one happens to be a Black man).
Police officers as emissaries of the government
It is also worth considering the specific role of law enforcement within a democratic society. Essentially, police officers are representatives of the state, where the state has a monopoly on the legal use of violence. This prerogative is granted to the state on the basis of the assumption that the state will use it exclusively in order to protect the citizenry from dangerous criminals and genuinely enforce the law of the land.
However, when the state fails to live up to this condition, it’s monopoly on violence fundamentally loses legitimacy; and conceptually, citizens could thus be expected to feel justified to take matters into their own hands again.
Again, this is because, within a democratic society, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights essentially provides a means for citizens essentially delegate their own inherent powers to the state, under the assumption that the state will make use of these powers in a responsible way. If the state fails to meet this obligation, then citizens could well demand that the return of their delegated power.
Defining political roles
In political theoretical terms, this could also be understood in terms of the conflict between constituted power and constituent power. Constituted power refers to the established power structures within a given society; constituent power refers to the inherent power of the people to create social structures in the first place.
In a democratic society, it is understood that constituted power is ultimately dependent on constituent power; and moreover, that citizens can dissolve constituted power back into constituent power in the event that the structures of constituted power no longer fulfill their purposes in an effective way. In this context, police officers could be understood as representatives of constituted power; police brutality can be understood as abuse of constituted power.
Violence against law enforcement (when specifically motivated as a protest) can be understood as an effort to reclaim constituent power. Given the nature of what police officers represent within a democratic society, then, the situation is no means as simple as plain violence being committed by one group against another.
The present essay began with a general discussion of the problem of violence against law enforcement; and it was concluded that not only such violence virtually an inherent part of the occupational hazards of being a police officer, rates of such violence have also remained fairly consistent over a span of decades. So, if this issue is relevant within the contemporary context, then it is because of the relationship that violence against law enforcement has re-emerged in light of recent events of police brutality.
Within this context, though, the moral dynamics of the situation are significantly complicated. This is because, given recent events, violence against law enforcement is due, in part, to tense race relations in the U.S. and cannot be understood as motivated by a plain and irrational hatred of police officers.
Rather, it is surely motivated on the one hand by a desire for revenge, and on another by the legitimately democratic sentiment that given what police officers were done, they should perhaps not be permitted to maintain a monopoly on the use of violence any longer.
Obviously, this is not meant to justify violence against law enforcement, any more than incidents of police brutality can be justified in way whatsoever. Rather, the purpose of the present discussion is to shed greater conceptual light on the nature of the problem within the contemporary historical moment so that all of the society could perhaps devise a strategy for moving forward in a productive way.
Among other things, it would seem to be clear that efforts proposals such as declaring violence against police officers to be a hate crime are not only morally absurd but would in fact likely exacerbate violence against police officers by reinforcing the growing public opinion that the entire legal system is corrupt and the power of police officers is ultimately illegitimate.
In order to move forward in a more productive way, it would probably be necessary for the nation to recognize that there is likely a causal relationship in today’s world between events of police brutality and events of violence against law enforcement.
Carter, Pauley Parmeley. “Is Violence against Cops Really Increasing?” Cop Block. 5 Apr. 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. http://www.copblock.org/2198/is-violence-against-cops-really-increasing/.
Dudek, B., & Szymczak, W. “The Role of Cognitive Schemata in the Development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Results of Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Studies.” International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health 24.1 (2011): 29-35. Print.
Jonsson, Patrick. “Anti-Police Violence as Hate Crime: Do Officers Need More Legal Cover?” Christian Science Monitor. 6 Jan. 2015. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2015/0106/Anti-police-violence-as-hate-crime-Do-officers-need-more-legal-cover.
Kleining, John. “Loyalty.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2013. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/loyalty/.
Negri, Antonio. Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Print.
Sanchez, Ray. “Protesting Police Shootings: Demands for Change Sound Out Nationwide.” CNN. 13 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/13/us/nationwide-police-protests/.
U.S. Department of Justice. “VALOR: Preventing Violence against Law Enforcement: Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability.” Bureau of Justice Assistance, n.d. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. https://www.bja.gov/ProgramDetails.aspx?Program_ID=99.