Disrespect should not be a capital crime

So a meme I saw circulating on FB today blamed police violence on a lack of respect for police. If a cop stops you or gives you an order, treat them respectfully. Do whatever they say. Then you won’t have any problems.

The first problem with this argument is that it’s factually wrong. To give just one example, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger walked into Botham Jean’s apartment and shot him dead. Not because he’d done anything wrong, she simply assumed it was her apartment and murdered him as an intruder. Or consider the senior citizen the cops knocked to the ground recently; he wasn’t doing anything wrong but they slammed him down anyway. Were the police who slashed protester tires in Minneapolis reacting to the tires sassing them?

The second problem is that this fundamentally gets the police/public relationship wrong. We are not obligated to do whatever a cop tells us; their orders have no validity if they don’t have a legal basis. If a cop demands to search our house without a warrant, we’re under no obligation to let him in. If a cop stops are car and tells us to just stick around, we’re entitled to drive off if he doesn’t have valid grounds to hold us.

That’s not to say refusing is a smart move, particularly if “us” is black. Refusing a cop’s order could end up with us shot, possibly dead — but that’s part of the problem. Refusing a police officer’s order isn’t a capital offense. Neither is disrespecting a cop. They do not have the right to shoot or injure someone for being disrespectful. Or taser a ten-year-old for talking back. And people shouldn’t have to worry that this is a possibility. I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to refuse an order and I’m a white guy who’s never had a bad interaction with the cops.

This reminds me of an article I wrote for And some years back, now offline (they took a hard right turn a couple of years ago) about the whole “an armed society is a polite society” concept. The only way that works is if people are willing to shoot someone for rudeness or disrespect and that’s a horrible idea. Being insulted is not a justification for injuring or killing someone. I’m sure some people think of it in a kind of duel of honor, shootout at high noon way (“You insulted my wife! Now you will pay for your lies!”) but it’s just as likely to be shooting a man for texting during a movie. And when you throw race and gender into the mix, it becomes something much worse.

That’s without even getting into the question of what constitutes disrespect. I’m sure the cops slashing tires thought the very act of protesting their awesome police selves was disrespectful. A South Florida SWAT team just resigned after the police chief took the knee in solidarity with protesters. If you look back at the days when dueling was common, any gesture could be grounds for a duel because honor was fragile and without honor there was no respect.

And as countless black corpses show, being respectful and obedient won’t in fact save you.

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