A frequent argument often cited during the recent unrest surrounding police behavior in the U.S. is that officers are simply “following orders” or “doing their jobs”.
One of the arguments often used to defend poorly behaving police officers is the claim that they are “just doing their jobs.”
This particular argument is one that I have a personal disgust for on many levels. It seems to me, even with my limited knowledge of behavioral psychology, that many of the past and current horrors of humankind are only carried out because of this mentality. Examples are too numerous to provide. To name a few cases, the Zimbardo prison experiments, the “Trail of tears” committed by the U.S. government against the Cherokee, the Nazi death camps. Driving this point home seems far too simple.
People can both be “doing their job” and simultaneously committing evil. In these examples, the systems they operate within turns even moral people into potential monsters. Gestapo officers may have had no ill will towards those they performed atrocities on, but they knew if they rebelled a similar fate awaited them. This mental prison does not excuse their actions but does at least gives us some basic rationality as to why they act that way.
On a lesser but potential as corruptible level, as a result of police training, police officers here find themselves in an all too similar situation. Trust in the public whom they are supposed to serve and protect seems to be at an all-time low these days. Here the situation has some other peculiar aspects.
Yes, the U.S. government uses coercion and aggression to make it’s civilians act to it’s wishes but we have some voluntary freedoms and liberties that really matter. For example, nobody is forced to take a job, say a police officer, if they do not want to (at least legally).
This is why I do not find the “just following orders” as compelling evidence to justify unnecessary violence on the public, particularly in a day and age where most interactions are filmed by the police and/or public. Nobody forced you to be a police officer. Further, I don’t believe “the system” should always be involved towards enforcing victim-less crimes.
It’s foolish to say a large police officer who body slams a teen on live television is “just doing their job” in the Constitutional permissible sense. We should not condone their actions, we should condemn them and find officers who execute their role fairly without abusing their power. If someone tries to convince you otherwise remind them the officer chose his job, hopefully with a clear conscience, knowing he or she would have to enforce some questionable laws or face reprimand.
An intact monopoly backed by the Feds such as our police force do not have to answer directly to the citizenry. Incentives for mass incarceration and increased arrest over trivial crimes abound. It is a direct result of coercive government involvement in a system that desperately needs truth, transparency, and consistency.
The police force serves an important and potentially noble role. If the system they are a part of conducted it’s true purposes and bad cops are held accountable we can have a better police force who actually serve and protect.
A voluntarily police force, privatized only to the extent that no benefit exists for over-arrest, is the best solution for a free and prosperous U.S. The federal government can stick to what they are Constitutionally allowed– national defense.