New York State residents outside the five boroughs of New York City tend to regard political developments there with a certain detachment. After all, city ordinances and practices don't affect us directly. The city can't tax or regulate us. The city is fairly well confined to its current boundaries. Were it to attempt to annex portions of the nearby counties, as has occurred around other major cities, the reaction would be swift and terrible to behold.
But developments in the two leading cities of these United States, New York and Los Angeles, can never be safely ignored. They set too many trends -- and some of the trends are very unpleasant.
Attempting to further bolster a de facto monopoly of violence in New York City, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton proposed additional edicts to tip the power scales even more in favor of enforcers over citizens, the New York Observer reported Wednesday. In addition to stiffening penalties for things like wearing protective body armor, tinting windows and holding police to similar information disclosures that “civilians” (a telling attitude in itself ) are subjected to, Bratton said it would be “very helpful” if charges of resisting arrest were upped from misdemeanors to felonies....
“NYPD Has a Plan to Magically Turn Anyone It Wants Into a Felon,” Gawker Justice observes in a more hard-edged assessment that includes examples of resisting arrest charges being deliberately unjustly applied. And it’s that felony rap that should most outrage right to keep and bear arms advocates, because such convictions will result in lifetime prohibitions against owning guns, outcomes Bratton and his boss, socialist mayor Bill de Blasio, wouldn't mind seeing more of. Understand, these are people who want to deploy with machine guns to control protesters, a wish they've apparently publicly backed down from -- for now.
Ponder that for a moment.
What is a policeman, in the American context of our time? He’s a municipal or state employee, protected by a powerful union and laws akin to those that protect civilian Civil Service employees, and effectively answerable only to his superiors in the police hierarchy. He’s been granted certain legal privileges – already we’re in murky waters – and a default presumption of justification regarding his uses of coercive force. He may have had some training in police procedure and the restrictions on his activities, though the smaller the district and its police force, the less certain that will be.
What does this policeman do? More to the point:
- What must he do?
- What may he do?
- What must he not do?
The “must” part has grown very slender. Recent Supreme Court decisions have decreed that, regardless of the prevalent conceptions, the police have no “duty to protect” and no “duty to intervene.” If you deem yourself to be in danger, the problem is yours, even if the police agree with your assessment. You can be in the midst of an actual criminal victimization, yet the police have no duty to intervene to stop it or to protect you, even if they can see it happening before their own eyes.
The “may” part has become very broad. For example, numerous court decisions have ruled that all a policeman needs to detain you is “reasonable suspicion” that you are or have been involved in a crime. What constitutes “reasonable suspicion” has proved remarkably flexible. A cop who wants to search your car can simply say “I smell marijuana,” and suddenly the most invasive imaginable search is “reasonable,” no matter what his original reason was for detaining you. Regardless of any and all circumstances, you are not allowed to refuse his “lawful order” – yet another serious departure from American norms.
The “must not” part has effectively vanished. State and local police forces have become quasi-military bodies. They’ve been equipped with large amounts of military-grade hardware that no private citizen would be permitted to own. They frequently stage violent intrusions and “no-knock” raids on private institutions and private homes. Most of the time, they have court authorizations for those activities...but often on suppositions that later prove to have been wrong, or based on testimony or “evidence” that was convenient but fictitious. Despite all that, courts have ruled that persons subjected to such treatment do not have a right to resist it – that any violence committed in the process of resistance will be held against the citizen, not the police.
Does that seem relevant to Commissioner Bratton's request that "resisting arrest" be upgraded to a felony count -- a charge that the police could use a posteriori to justify killing a "resister?" Bear in mind that the cop's claim that he ordered you to halt, and that you refused, is deemed sufficient foundation for a charge of "resisting arrest," even if no other offense was ever charged to you.
There's been a lot of discussion about the burgeoning of police-state tactics in the United States these past few years. Skeptics have dismissed it as just "loose talk" that tries to elevate "isolated incidents" into patterns of abuse of power. Now that you've been apprised of Commissioner Bratton's latest request, does it seem all that loose to you?
David Codrea, the author of the article quoted above, is a long-time activist for the right to keep and bear arms. His observation about the special danger to firearms enthusiasts:
And it’s that felony rap that should most outrage right to keep and bear arms advocates, because such convictions will result in lifetime prohibitions against owning guns, outcomes Bratton and his boss, socialist mayor Bill de Blasio, wouldn't mind seeing more of.
...should alarm any city dweller with a legally owned firearm. City authorities, not just in New York City but in many other cities as well, are passionate about disarming their subjects. Exceptions among them are few. New York City is merely the "leader" in this regard: except for the well connected and very well-heeled, it's become all but impossible to get a permit to possess a firearm -- handgun or long gun -- within the five boroughs.
Were city residents who possess already-registered and permitted firearms to be targeted with "no-knock" raids under specious justifications, and killed for daring to appear at their own doors with their guns, what would the popular reaction be? That the police have become an instrument of tyranny? Or that one foolish enough to "resist arrest" deserves whatever happens to him?
Opinion is sharply divided on this subject. The geographical cleavage is plain, but the political cleavage is more interesting, as it defies party affiliation. Staunch conservatives passionate about the right to keep and bear arms become queasy when confronted with a case of police overreach. Their natural tendency is to support and defend the police as "the forces of law and order." Conversely, staunch liberals generally hostile to private ownership of firearms are more likely to judge the police harshly for such tactics...at least, when the victim isn't a prominent conservative.
New York State has already made severe incursions upon the right to keep and bear arms. Yet city and county police forces are accumulating military-grade weapons and equipment at a record rate. Should the City Council look with favor upon Bratton's suggestion, and should the state legislature proclaim the change in law state-wide, Andrew Cuomo's campaign against privately owned firearms could receive a significant boost.
It's been said that a state in which only the police have weapons is the essence of a police state. Perhaps that's not quite enough, but when we add the provisions that "resisting arrest" shall constitute a felony and that a "civilian" may not refuse a cop's "lawful order," we're getting very close. Given that the definition of such a "lawful order" is effectively "whatever a cop tells you to do," I'd say we've arrived.
No, it's not safe to ignore developments in the Big Apple. Stay tuned.