Many people in our community are working hard to spread the message that it is essential that we comply with the orders of police. This message is important and it should be affirmed and followed. It should be followed because it is the law.
It should be followed because it is the right thing to do. It should be followed, maybe most importantly, because we have seen the videos of what happens when we don’t comply with police orders. We have seen the beating of an 18-year-old woman in front of a mall right here in Madison. We have seen the video of a man bleeding to death on the ground after being shot in Louisiana. We have seen that man’s child break down crying for his daddy who is never coming back again. Ever. He is gone forever. We have seen that we are the ones who suffer and die when we don’t comply with police orders. For all of these reasons, please comply with the police when they tell you to do something.
I also want to share a message that I think is equally important, if not more important.
The discussions about the importance of complying with police orders cannot be allowed to convey the idea that failure to do so justifies the use of excessive force by police against citizens.
Just as citizens have a duty to comply with orders, police have a duty to exercise restraint, discretion and act in a professional manner when citizens do not comply. Both of these discussions must occupy the same space and time. One without the other renders both ineffective and irrelevant.
Even if we have an incredibly successful initiative to encourage compliance with police orders, we know that there will still be some small percentage of people who will not comply. If this was not the case, if everyone always followed the law, there would be no need for police. Because we know that there will always be some small percentage of people who break the law, we have to be serious about making sure that the people who we grant the authority to police us are properly trained to respond appropriately in those situations, and that there are real consequences when they do not.
Yes, the people grant the government the authority to police them. If they are not policing us in a manner that is consistent with justice and our community standards, it is our right and duty to use political means to make changes in practices, and if necessary, in leadership.
When citizens do not comply with police orders, police have the authority to use a level of force reasonable and necessary to bring them into compliance. When the “reasonable” part of the equation is left out, we end up with tragedies. The variable that results in the tragedies is not the lack of compliance in most of these cases, it is the unreasonable and excessively violent reaction to the lack of compliance.
We also know that officers can exercise restraint and discretion in a manner that is not inconsistent with officer safety, which is an important consideration as well. We know this because officers do so in the vast majority of interactions with citizens, even those in which the citizen is not compliant. What we have to figure out is how to make sure that officers exercise restraint and discretion and only use a reasonable and necessary level of violence to resolve these issues ALL of the time, and not just a vast majority of the time. This is one of those areas where we cannot accept any level of error because error equals death in too many cases.
These conversations have to continue and they have to address both sides of the issue, not just one. Just as we in the community have an obligation to encourage our members to engage in appropriate behavior, members of law enforcement and law enforcement leadership have an obligation to do the same within their ranks. We cannot make arguments that fear or distrust of the police justifies refusing to comply with their orders and they cannot make arguments that failing to comply justifies some of the disproportionate violence that we have been seeing.
We have a lot to do. This has to stop.