Localism is forgotten bulwark against violent policing and militarized law enforcement

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This 10-minute video suggests the extent of police brutality that has occurred with the militarization of policing.

By David Tulis

By one calculation we are 29 times more likely to be slain by a police officer than a terrorist. This alarming count makes us wonder about the problem of the militarization of policing, and to ask how far the structure of American society will allow this trend to go.

I suggest that local financial support of police and sheriff’s departments will help limit the damage against members of the public.

An essay suggests that while 4,489 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, the number of people gunned down and killed by the constabulary is at 5,000. The process of converting police forces into forces of occupation began with the creation of SWAT in Los Angeles in 1967 and the donation of used military equipment to police departments.

Chattanooga witnessed military seiges as recently as Dec. 11 against a man believed holed up in a North Chattanooga house. On the same day the city settled a suit filed by Adam Tatum for F$125,000 after he was beaten by police in a videotaped incident.

America’s localist structure

American society originally was localist and county-oriented. Influenced by the Bible, early Americans esteemed the best government was local. The children of Israel were organized by  county (via tribes) in a confederation that became a kingdom under a single monarch. It attained unitary government despite the warnings of the prophet Samuel. Before that time tribal elders governed. Moses early on, taking advice from Jethro (an outsider), delegated judicial tasks to heads of 10s, 50s and 100s in the tribes, accepting only final appeals. Israelites identified with their neighborhoods also because families were tied to land doled out under Joshuah. They identified with locales, which they viewed as precious. Biblical government was local.

“Localism in [c]hurch and state ensures that justice will be tempered with sympathy,” says James Jordan.

When local churches and states are governed by people far away, true order is impossible. Local people know one another best. They have personal interaction. They understand one another’s problems, and because they know each other , they can tell the difference between high-handed sins and sins of ignorance. They know who is poor and who is rebellious. They know how to deal firmly but charitably with one another.

Americans who take a states’ rights position in seeking restoration of ancient rights lost under the federal constitution need to consider that position as insufficient. The old order in the colonies and early states was not the state, but the county. Three fundamental powers rested at the county level. The property tax paid for local government, and because it is assessed locally is unlikely to allow for despotism. The second is criminal law. In former times police and judges were from the county, and capital crimes were punished in the county. Today executions are held in state isolation and invariably heard by supreme courts. Civil law, thirdly, was county law enforced by locally elected officials.

Heritage stands against military cops

This heritage is forgotten under centralization that accelerated after the war to prevent Southern independence and two global wars. But many important elements remain, one being the tax base that supports local police.

Chattanooga has just published its CAFR, its comprehensive annual financial report, indicating that its net worth exceeds F$2 billion. The budget for city police in 2014 is F$54.36 million, and I expect most of that is based on local taxation.

Thirty years ago, American police and sheriff departments were largely decentralized, efforts in one county unrelated to those in another (federal drug task forces excepted). Police were not a military body, even if in uniform. Their authority was civilian, their orientation local, Jordan says, citing R.J. Rushdoony’s history, This Independent Republic.  Even though federalization has been in progress for nearly that length of time, these structures are still evident, and to the extent they survive they are a means of resisting violent military-style policing.

“In non-Christian thought, the most important level of government is not local, but central,” Jordan says. ”The centralized imperial state manipulates the nations (peoples) in order to destroy them. The Christian faith, committed to localism in the political realm, stands firmly against this.”

Sources: James Jordan, Christianity and International Relations, Symbiotica, The Journal of the Institute for Christian Economics-Europe, Vol. 1, No. 4, Autumn 1991, Also, Chattanooga Times Free Press.

See also Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop, which “traces the arc of U.S. law enforcement from the constables and private justice of colonial times to present-day SWAT teams and riot cops. Today relentless ‘war on drugs’ and ‘war on terror’ pronouncements from politicians, along with battle-clad police forces with tanks and machine guns, have dangerously blurred the distinction between cop and soldier.”

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