In the past year, we have seen countless events of police brutality, corruption and racism which have left a major wound in the psyche of many Americans, especially those directly affected by such acts of violence.
While these events have been nothing short of tragedies, it has given people the ability to truly begin addressing issues of racism and power dynamics when it comes to our police force. One of the issues that has become a large point of contention in these controversies has been the rhetoric surrounding resisting arrest.
Let me start off by saying that I in no way agree with any unnecessary violence toward unarmed, innocent civilians, let alone toward those who may have actually committed a crime of any sort. Anytime a person is wrongfully killed I, like most people, would hope that justice would prevail.
However, regardless of the fact that many of these issues are often more complex than the media would have us believe, it seems common that officers tend to blame people for resisting arrest when things don’t go as smoothly as they would have liked.
Many times resisting arrest is used as an excuse to help legitimize controversial arrests and brutal actions taken by police.
In almost all of the more recent cases of police brutality, resisting arrest was cited as a primary reason officers felt the need to resort to lethal force. Officers will also use the claim that a suspect was resisting arrest to abuse their own authority.
Just in the past year, a California public defender was arrested and detained for nothing more than resisting arrest, regardless of the fact she was not being arrested for any crime and was, in the view of the officer, deemed defiant for simply trying to do her job.
Sometimes one can be detained for simply responding slowly, having an attitude, or a mere difference in opinion of what is actually going on.
People who tend to get caught up in the rhetoric of resisting arrest are essentially trying to denounce what is happening and put the blame on victims rather than institutional racism and power structures.
While I can recognize that police can and do abuse the whole resisting arrest thing, I feel having a discussion about how someone should respond to officers has been neglected. Quite frankly, the success of an officer’s job depends upon people cooperating with them and following the law.
Resisting arrest is against the law, and it directly interferes with the police’s ability to maintain order and public safety. If you resist arrest, you incite confrontation, and by inciting confrontation, you may incite violence which does very little to help a cause or prove your innocence.
No one would argue that police don’t abuse their power, but I feel we cannot suspend their authority and ability to enforce the law because some cops misuse it. With this in mind, people need to be respectful toward police officers.
Under no circumstances do I think that police officers are justified in taking extreme measures in order to subdue criminals who don’t pose a real threat. However, resisting arrest is never a good response.
If you downplay the role defiance and resistance has in many of these cases of police brutality, you give ammunition to those who want to dismiss the racial factor and let institutional racism run its course.
Sadly, this can quickly turn a populist/progressive movement into an us versus them archetype. These recent conflicts give us all the more reason to encourage people to not resist arrest, to not run away from police officers, and to not directly act defiantly toward them.
Police officers do not have the option of walking away when faced with possible criminal offenses; if they did then their role as enforcers of the law would be undermined and unreliable.
I would argue that for a modern democratic nation to exist you must rely upon the rule of law, and that rule of law does require you to relinquish authority for enforcing the law, making judgments and using lethal force to those who can bare that responsibility.
It’s a shame that in today’s world I would have to advocate that people shouldn’t resist unjust action for fear of potential violent escalation that all too often seems to result in the tragic end of a human life. Sadly, that’s the world we live in.
We must feel free to criticize police officers for potential misuse of power, but we also must respect the fact their role is essential to civil society.
Criticism and disrespect do not have to go hand-in-hand but if you encourage resisting arrest, downplay it or justify it, it becomes hard to separate those two things.