Police Safety Versus Constitutional Rights

A cop blogs that Gates and others should avoid asserting their rights as potential crimes are being investigated.

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How should citizens behave when interacting with police officers? In the wake of Henry Louis Gates' arrest, one pseudonymous Los Angeles police officer warns that we should be deferential to the police, especially when suspected of a crime and even if it means sidestepping constitutional rights. "Jack Dunphy" frames the hypothetical scenario of an innocent civilian who is pulled over on suspicion of a crime:

At that moment I can assure you the officer is not all that concerned with trying not to offend you. He is instead concerned with protecting his mortal hide from having holes placed in it where God did not intend. And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own.

He further warns against "running your mouth about your rights and your history of oppression and what have you." Dunphy does not claim to be a constitutional scholar, but he is an active participant in that document's enforcement. This may be exactly why liberal bloggers are taking him so seriously.

Matt Yglesias of ThinkProgress argues that Dunphy, whose position he calls "insane," either isn't or shouldn't be representative of law enforcement, which Yglesias says is "a profession that's honored precisely because the people doing the job correctly don't do the job this way. Police officers, in the course of duty, subject themselves to extra-normal risk of harm for the sake of the welfare of others. This is the mentality of a foreign occupying army, not a well-functioning police force."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, however, considers Dunphy as representative of the police at large, lamenting, "A lot of police want the right to carry a gun, and they want to be empowered by the state to arrest and kill. But they also want to pawn off as much responsibility, or risk, that comes from that power as possible. Indeed, what this officer wants is for the people who he's supposed to be protecting to assume the risk."

Reason's Radley Balko accuses Dunphy of writing "to plant the threat that any noncompliance with an officer's demands may end with him shooting you." Digby explores the "philosophical underpinning" on threats of police violence, writing, "It's hard to argue that being argumentative with a cop is a dangerous thing. [...] But that's the problem isn't it? We shouldn't have to make the same calculations about how to behave with police as we would with armed criminals."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.