UPDATED – 2012-04-05
In Nazi Germany it was the police’s (by any other name) job to arrest Jews and send them to their deaths. Even though the police made a vow to uphold the law, no reasonable person would argue that the Nazi police were morally bound to uphold that law because it was blatantly unjust.
In modern day America the police take a vow to uphold the law as well, and the law says that smoking or selling marijuana is illegal. I would argue that calling the police on your neighbor for smoking or selling marijuana is one moral step down from calling the Gestapo on your neighbor for being Jewish. Likewise, any police officer who enforces unjust laws is one moral step down from the Gestapo especially considering the inhumane conditions American prisons force the humans inside them to endure. Convicts may not get gassed, but they’ll be stripped of their humanity and often beat, raped harassed or even killed. If they’re released with a felony conviction on their record they’ll be lucky to ever get a job again. For some ex-cons it would have been a mercy if they were just gassed the day they got caught with marijuana.
This is what American police are ordered to do to the civilian population, and they wash their hands of the blood of the civilians they sacrifice to the industrial prison system by saying, “It’s not our place to question the law, only to enforce it.” They may even be asked to recite an oath and take a vow saying as much when they join the police force, but that doesn’t settle the issue. That’s not good enough.
Where do all those laws the police vow to uphold come from and what gives them validity? The laws were written by politicians and hold validity for the same reason money holds value. By active or passive consent, the majority of the population has made a social contract with each other to agree to give politicians the authority to pass laws and assign value to money.
The Gestapo had their orders that came down the chain of command from the highest level politicians in their government too, but no reasonable person would argue that every rule Hitler told his police to follow was automatically and unquestionably valid simply because the leader of the government said so. People are just people no matter what man-made rank they wear. Things people say or write are just things people say or write. The American Declaration of Independence said the rights of man are self-evident and exist regardless of any laws written by men, even if those men are kings. The only way we can know these unwritten rules is by reason, not faith. Thus it’s up to the individual to think for themselves to determine whether or not the laws of their land are just.
This is all good and well for the average citizen who isn’t in any position to push their morals on other people anyway, but it becomes especially poignant for police who are charged with the responsibility to enforce a canned version of morality on all the citizens within their jurisdiction. This issue becomes even more poignant the more power the police have to fine, detain, imprison, black list, beat, bribe and kill the citizens without facing any repercussions.
The American people have already told their government they want Marijuana legalized and the president literally laughed at them. If elected politicians won’t honor the social contract then who else is there to stand up for the citizens who have to suffer the indignity and danger of unjust laws and an inhumane prison system? The only people standing between the citizens and the unjust laws are the police who enforce those laws. The police are the first line of defense against tyranny. And by rights the police should serve the interests of the public over the interests of politicians. Police officers’ paychecks come from taxes, and their authority comes from the social contract they have with the people they’re charged to protect.
You still may not be convinced though. You still may be saying, “But you simply can’t make it a categorical imperative that every cop should enforce whatever laws they personally feel are just, because that would just result in anarchy.” As true as that may be, what’s the alternative? If we make it a categorical imperative that cops should never be able to exercise their own judgment then that literally makes them slaves, and that gives their leaders unlimited power to oppress the civilian herd. That doesn’t immediately make civilians slaves, but if executive branch and judicial branch can use thugs to force civilians to follow rules they don’t believe in then you can’t say those civilians are free.
We don’t have to choose between a praetorian slave state or anarchy, but if civil servants aren’t allowed to question the morality of their actions then we’re well on our way to a police state.