Moral Protest and the Collapse of Moral Order

What we are living through these days is historic. In several senses, historic as of great importance and an inflection in the course of events and historic in its parallels to past moments of breakdown – Lexington and Concord, the Bastille, the March from Selma 1965, Detroit 1965, Watts 1967.

When disruption subjects the common good to abuse of power, there are no winners and cycles of fear and retribution dissolve well-being, fair politics and cultural reassurance. The community falls apart.

The actions of four Minneapolis police officers on Monday night were such a disconnection between the common good and the use of power. A particularly important insight into the behavior of those officers is the complaint issued by Hennepin County for the arrest of officer Derek Chauvin. A copy of the complaint is here. Please read its statement of facts.

In 1829 when creating the first modern police force, Sir Robert Peel demanded that the force of law be part of the community and never stand against it. He set down ethical principles for policing for the benefit of community.

These principles are:

1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary, of avenging individuals or the State and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.