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The Right vs. the cops

I can remember a time when the primary concern of the political Right in America was “law and order”– or rather the lack thereof. Conservatives treated law enforcement officers with respect sometimes verging on reverence. They considered the police a “thin blue line” standing between civilization and rampant criminality, and they didn’t seem overly concerned about the methods used to deal with the threat.

At the same time, leftists and liberals were portrayed (sometimes justly) as cop haters. Talk of the police as “pigs” serving as a brutal occupying army in inner-city neighborhoods was popular among the “revolutionary” Left. Among liberals, there was a belief that the police routinely violated the rights of the poor and minorities, and needed to be brought under control.

While much of this dynamic still exists, I’ve been noticing some interesting counter-trends, especially among “gun rights” advocates.

As Adam Winkler wrote at The Atlantic, the National Rifle Association– a bulwark of support for mostly conservative political candidates– has “a profound mistrust of law enforcement.”

(For years, the NRA has demonized government agents, like those in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency that enforces gun laws, as “jack-booted government thugs.” Wayne LaPierre, the current executive vice president, warned members in 1995 that anyone who wears a badge has “the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.”) [For the NRA], law-enforcement officers were too often representatives of an uncaring government bent on disarming ordinary citizens.

The mishandled sieges by federal law enforcement at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993 fed into this hostility.

I was surprised to learn of a new law in Indiana– supported by the NRA, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by the Republican governor– which is making police in the state justifiably nervous. reports:

Every time police Sergeant Joseph Hubbard stops a speeder or serves a search warrant, he says he worries suspects assume they can open fire — without breaking the law.

Hubbard, a 17-year veteran of the police department in Jeffersonville, Indiana, says his apprehension stems from a state law approved this year that allows residents to use deadly force in response to the “unlawful intrusion” by a “public servant” to protect themselves and others, or their property.

“If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he’s going to say, ‘Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property,’” said Hubbard, 40, who is president of Jeffersonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 100. “Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.”

Indiana is the first U.S. state to specifically allow force against officers, according to the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in Washington, which represents and supports prosecutors. The National Rifle Association pushed for the law, saying an unfavorable court decision made the need clear and that it would allow homeowners to defend themselves during a violent, unjustified attack. Police lobbied against it.
Those who are intoxicated or emotional can’t decide whether police are acting legally, and suspects may assume they have the right to attack officers, said Tim Downs, president of the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police. The law didn’t need to be changed because there isn’t an epidemic of rogue police in Indiana, he said.

“It’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Downs, chief of the Lake County police in northwest Indiana. “It just puts a bounty on our heads.”

Downs said he canceled his NRA membership after the organization pressed for the Indiana legislation.

Perhaps, then, I shouldn’t have been startled to learn that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a darling of the Right, is a fan of N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton”– which is neither safe for work nor cop-friendly.