This article is about the Constitution. It is a departure from my norm (a rant really!).
“The ability to learn from others is central to the evolution and persistence of culture, and it is viewed as part of the reason humans have come to dominate the planet. Sometimes individuals copy the behaviors of others seemingly at random; other times they appear to decide who to copy based on the level of prestige of the individual” [Source]. An example is a person who learns to affix a sharpened rock to the end of a stick. We do the same so as to successfully take down a wooly mammoth and survive. Famed sociologist Max Weber writes about this evolutionary adaptation in his leadership theory, wherein he says that we have a need to place “charismatic leaders” in a position so that we may emulate their success. Weber defines charismatic leadership as “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him” [Source]. Who are our cultural leaders today?
With the advent of television and our celebrity culture we see the destructive nature of this evolutionary drive. In America, we have eschewed the valuable thinkers in government, philosophy, science and the arts in favor of celebrity. Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton (among others) are emulated and their desires and actions implicitly placed as examples for society to follow. What we know of evolution dictates that a significant portion of people will follow them as an example worthy of emulation. We acquiesce without conscious thought based on the unseen drive to copy the behavior of the successfully adapted. It is yet to be seen if we can survive and adapt as a society if we follow the leadership and example of people who have no discernible talent (except that of maintaining attention and fame).
The point of this post is to have us examine what we place in front of police officers as charismatic leadership behavior. Recall the early days of cinema where law enforcement was seen as upholding the law; so much so, that they would defend the prisoner against the mob at the risk of their own lives. The rule of law was important and we were only safe if we submitted ourselves to it. Lawlessness and chaos were kept at bay by the brave men (usually only men back then) that understood the rule of law was sacrosanct. Early television shows like Gunsmoke, 1-ADAM-12 and Dragnet followed this philosophy. The characters found their nobility in upholding and trusting the system. The police, sheriff, marshall, FBI agent, were all US. They valued “us” because we shared with them a value system rooted in our mutual respect for the law and each other.
Somewhere in the 1960′s we lost faith in each other. Depictions of law enforcement behavior changed accordingly. Now, the system was the enemy. Instead of a shared value system worthy of respect; Dirty Harry taught us that it was not to be trusted. Only the law enforcement officer could reliably inflict punishment and justice. He was a lone force for good. Detective Sipowicz on NYPD Blue was lauded for his ability to “work around” the rules and intimidate criminals into confessions. “Colors” is a film about a 19 year veteran (Robert Duvall) who is teamed with a rookie (Sean Penn). They debate (via their attitudes and actions) which approach to policing is best in our modern society. Not surprisingly, the values of rapport and diplomacy are symbolically killed with the death of the Duvall character. The charismatic leadership takeaway for aspiring officers: we are not in this together; the citizen is the enemy; don’t trust the Constitution because it does not work. This had a cultural impact. [language warning for clip].
Beginning in the 1980′s we see the courts begin to adopt the same philosophy toward the Constitution as that depicted in the culture. We began to see our cherished Constitutional American values shown as technicalities that protected criminals. Is it any surprise that we see an erosion of the 4th Amendment, 5th Amendment and other Constitutional protections? Should we expect anything less than the police seeking military grade weapons to protect itself against us? Since the criminals are “the other” why not just lock up and store as many people in prisons as we can? Why should we not adopt any tactic, no matter how unscrupulous to attack people who use drugs — they are the enemy! Red-light cameras, civil asset forfeiture, mass incarceration, the drug war, and ultimately the sanctioning of torture by our government can be traced back to this cultural adaptation. Some more evidence -Almost 60% of teens think torture is ok! According to a Red Cross poll looking at attitudes US citizens have about the use of torture on enemy combatants. So is it a stretch to think that teens, who grew up in the last decade now think torture is an acceptable form of punishment? In my particular practice (DUI defense) we see no shortage of advocacy groups who seek to remove that pesky Constitution from their goal of punishing the “other” the drunk driver — the enemy!
Let’s change this! Support the Constitution. Let’s be American again! It begins by believing in the system and believing in each other. Police officers are not our enemy and we are not theirs.
-Charles M. Rowland II (Jan. 20, 2012)