A powerful revolutionary wave has been sweeping the nation. One of its bywords is “Defund the Police.” In reality, however, it is about law and order. Emasculating or even dismantling the police is plainly an assault on law and order.
The postulate to defund law enforcement officers has gained some traction in Democrat-controlled cities in particular. Minneapolis city council voted to dissolve its police force. Berkeley has shifted some aspects of policing, in particular traffic control, to town civilian inspectors. Seattle has mulled a motion to dismiss all white officers. It is all about racism, we are told.
My experiences with the police have been mixed. For the first twenty years of my life the encounters were almost uniformly unpleasant, to say the least. For the next 38 years, they have been fine for the most part. As to the former period, I’m referring to the Communist terror apparatus in Poland. Even then I had a scale of comparison because I had sampled the professional courtesy of Danish and English policemen when I was a teen visiting family in Western Europe for extended periods.
By the standards of my family my encounters with the police in Poland tended to be rather mild. My grandparents on both sides were prisoners of either German Nazis, Soviet Communists, or both. My paternal grandmother, Irena Chodakiewicz, had the dubious distinction to suffer torture at the hands of the Gestapo, the NKVD, and the Polish Communist Security Office. My parents had it tough, too. When she was three, an auxiliary SS man kicked my mother down the stairs because she was in his way. When she was five, the Polish Communist secret police arrested her (along with her eight-year-old brother). Because they detained the parents, they thought it would be best to take the kids to jail as well. My father’s lot was comparable and then some.
Thus, we should keep my story in a proper perspective. At five, my grandmother taught me canvassing and surveillance. She showed me how to identify people who were following us and how to shake off the tail. The lessons came in handy later. I was proud of myself until I recently received a copy of a Communist report showing that, at 16, I was followed while driving the family car. The secret police thought it was my parents moving about. I had no idea they were following me. My grandmother never taught me this. I had been too little.
I was teargassed for the first time at the age of six when my father brought me to an anti-Communist student demonstration in 1968.
As a teen in the 1970s, I was cornered and interrogated in a claustrophobic elevator by sweaty and meaty thugs in plain clothes who wanted to know about my father’s dissident activities. It was not fun. To break the ice, they cracked anti-Communist jokes to see if I would bite. I was actually relieved to realize that they were secret police because when they crowded me I had at first feared they were child molesters.
I remember stewing in an impotent fury when, in the winter of 1982, during martial law, the secret police kept my mother, my sister, and me, along with dozens of others like us, outside of the Białołęka jail. We stood stood there in freezing weather for eight hours, waiting to see my father, who was imprisoned by fiat as a “Solidarity” activist.
The red riot police seriously gassed me and my closest friends three times: in December 1981 and in May and August the following year. Several times I evaded capture for violating curfew and for painting anti-Communist graffiti (including on the second night of martial law, which could have been punished, theoretically, up to the death penalty) by running faster than the cops.
Arguably nothing was more unpleasant than early morning police searches. One time secret policemen woke my little sister up at 5:00 a.m. She said, “Good morning.” Embarrassed, they left her bedroom and concentrated on turning the rest of our place upside down.
Another time I was at my late grandmother’s apartment, where I lived after her passing. It was a safe house for fugitives and a hub of all sorts of illicit activities. One night we were printing an underground sheet on a primitive frame with a kitchen roller. We also played some music. A neighbor snitched—whether because of the obnoxious noise or the foul smell of spirit-fueled duplicator, I do not know. The police showed up at dawn. The crackling of the walkie talkies outside woke me up as I usually left the window slightly open. They pounded on the door, burst in, and started milling about, checking the place out and us, too.
We had worn surgical gloves while printing, so our fingers were clean. We had stashed the printing equipment and our output into a bed box, and the Communists fortunately did not think to check there. They were mere beat cops, poorly supervised on this occasion. Had it been otherwise, perhaps I would not have had the chance to become a historian in Washington, D.C., my friend and co-conspirator would have never become a brilliant professor of psychiatry in Alabama, and our underground supervisor would have never secured tenure as one of the world’s leading forestry researchers in Georgia.
Given these circumstances, one can understand why my expectations of the American police are admittedly low. The police, in general, are a neutral tool to uphold the system. If the system is evil, the police are evil automatically. In a democratic system, the police are a function of the people. And since the policemen are like the rest of the people, there are good, bad, and in-between among them. Bad apples are always few, but they give others a bad name. That’s what my experience dictates.
I remember one night in January 1983 when I was pulled over in San Mateo, California. The cops spotted me leaving a liquor store with a small TV set. They waited for me to get into my car, followed me a few blocks, and stopped me. They looked into the car, checked me out, and, upon hearing that I worked at Ernie’s Liquors of San Mateo and had brought my own TV to watch the Super Bowl (my first!), they let me go. “Drive carefully, please,” they said.
I was virtually fresh off the boat, and very excited to have been stopped by American cops. My American foster father later told me that I had been profiled—young, exiting a liquor store in a hurry, and carrying an odd item. It is logical that I was stopped. Better safe than sorry, he said. I agreed.
Later on, my opinion about the cops became less rosy. I was pulled over and my car was searched without my permission and without a warrant in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee while on a cross-country trip. The state troopers told me quite frankly that they suspected I was carrying drugs. In Manhattan late at night, I was driving below the speed limit, but the cops halted me to find out if I was drunk. No probable cause. They just waved me off afterwards.
In the early 1990s, a New York state trooper intercepted me by Utica for speeding. (It was my fault.) Yet he let me go because I told him I was late to deliver a lecture. I also informed him, out of the blue, that when my aunt had been caught speeding in Connecticut an officer gave her a break when she told him she would pray for him because she could not afford a ticket. (This is a true story.) My state trooper was very perplexed because I had a California driver’s license but no ID with my New York address. Instead of arresting me, he asked me to swear that I was telling the truth, and he told me to plead guilty to speeding once I received the summons from the local court, and then to pay the ticket. I did swear, and he let me go. It was a good thing, too, because my passengers had no driver’s licenses. Later, I paid through my nose for the ticket, which totally ruined my student budget.
Many years later in D.C., I was busted allegedly for speeding, by a team headed by a cop with a decalibrated radar gun. He and his partners, both African American, were initially quite forceful with me as I refused to allow them to search my car. They put me in a squad car and took me in. I sensed that I’d been racially profiled: I was a white man in a business suit.
I was wrong. As soon as I passed the sobriety test, the officers relaxed; it turned out they had been unsuccessfully chasing a similar vehicle with a suspected drunk driver. Officer F. told me he would not even bother to show up in court. They let me go and did not even tow my car away. Thank you, Officer F.!
Some of my friends have worse stories. The late Professor Thaddeus Radzilowski, a third generation American in Michigan and a Vietnam veteran, told me of being halted and harassed by cops who called him “a stupid Polack” and tossed his driver’s license down the hill. That was some Army homecoming.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ripping into the police as an institution. I approach policemen as individuals. I even like a few. One is a NYPD police captain, though he tends to be grim. (And who can blame him?) None of this stops me from looking at our law enforcement critically and dispassionately.
The police are but a fraction of our population, something like 0.2 percent. That’s over 620,000 officers out of about 325 million Americans. They risk their lives daily for us. They interact in a variety of ways with over 53 million people yearly. Some handle things better than others. Nobody’s perfect.
From what I can gather, American policemen in general are not racist murderers. According to such disparate sources as the Washington Post database and the National Review, there is no epidemic of anti-black murder by the police.
First, most people killed by law enforcement happen to be white—456 in 2018. Second, blacks account for 229 dead. And I am told by a source at the FBI that at least some of the killings occurred when thugs attacked female police officers who, fearing for their lives, pulled the trigger out of desperation. Further, the Washington Times mustered statistics proving that most black casualties happen at the hands of African American policemen.
If we defund the police, it would be mostly African Americans who would suffer, as Heather Mac Donald has shown persuasively. When faced with a permanent barrage of vitriol from “community organizers” the cops pull back. They tend to go on Italian strike, pretending to police. Then the thugs have the run of the inner city. And black people die. Don’t they deserve better? Don’t black lives matter?
If you want to defund something, defund universities, not the police. The current wave of radicalism is not nurtured by anti-racism but by leftism, which is groomed in our colleges, often on the taxpayers’s dime, in a misguided attempt to appease our red professoriate, the tenured radicals.
Supporting our police is indispensable to maintaining law and order in these United States. And that is something we need today more than ever—arguably since the Civil War. If we do not wish to fight another one, let’s give the cops a raise!
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