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Reforming the police

Can progressives and conservatives find common ground?

Now that the May 28–June 1 looting orgy in many cities is in our rearview mirror, but calls to abolish police forces are in front of us, we can take time to ponder some historical experience. I’m fascinated that Vox progressive Jane Coastan and The Dispatch conservative David French agree that we need to “curtail the power of police unions”—and it’s even more interesting that The New York Times and Calvin Coolidge agree with them.

After all, this is not the first time in U.S. history that protests, theft, and violence followed a pandemic. (We hope that’s accurate, and that demonstrators have not given COVID-19 a new foothold.) After the “Spanish flu” from spring 1918 to early summer 1919 killed 500,000 to 850,000 Americans, the Boston police went on strike—and from Sept. 9 to 11, 1919, mobs smashed windows and looted stores. 

The strike came because the police had formed a union despite the opposition of Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis, a former Boston mayor. Police unions then were innovations: The American Federation of Labor only in June 1919 had begun accepting police organizations as members. By September it had granted charters to 37, but Curtis, backed by Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge, said no to the Boston police on conflict of interest grounds: Police were to be under the city’s authority, not a union’s.

The New York Times agreed: “A policeman has no more right to belong to a union than a soldier or a sailor. He must be ready to obey orders, the orders of his superiors, not those of any outside body. One of his duties is the maintenance of order in the case of strike violence. In such a case, if he is faithful to his union, he may have to be unfaithful to the public, which pays him to protect it. The situation is false and impossible. … It is the privilege of Boston policemen to resign if they are not satisfied with the conditions of their employment. … [B]ut it is intolerable that a city … should be deserted by men who misunderstand their position and function as policemen, and who take their orders from outside.”

Coolidge sent into Boston several thousand members of the Massachusetts State Guard, saying, “There is no right to strike against the public safety, anywhere, anytime.”  That statement, transmitted across the nation, received widespread applause and led to Coolidge, little-known until then, becoming vice president under Warren G. Harding. When Harding died in 1923, Coolidge entered the White House. 

Demonstrators who are calling to abolish police departments and substitute nothing are foolish, unless they hope to see more broken glass and looting. But maybe progressives and conservatives can agree on reconstituting police forces to de-unionize them and make sure they concentrate on stopping crime, so nonviolent demonstrators can proceed in peace.


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  • Bob Hinkley
    Posted: Mon, 06/08/2020 11:21 am

    This morning's Sift (Monday, June 8) included the following link to a very interesting story which was written two years ago.

    "Dig deeper: Read Emily Belz’s report on how dissolving and reforming the police department in Camden, N.J., led to a crime turnaround. —Onize Ohikere"

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Tue, 06/09/2020 11:44 am

    "For lack of vision a nation perishes!"

    NO! Progressives and Conservatives cannot find common ground on this issue! It frustrates me greatly to see Marvin leading Christians astray once again. This is not a time to acquiesce to the thuggery of BLM who have political aspirations and seek to dominate the conservative cause and especially Christians! Listen to Tucker Carlson who I think reads the present political dynamics most astutely:

  • JC
    Posted: Tue, 06/09/2020 01:51 pm

    Agreed!  Would be nice to have WORLD grapple with the data about the absence of police brutality instead of jumping on another bandwagon of deception (after jumping on the COVID-19 bandwagon).  We do not plan to renew our WORLD membership.

  • not silent
    Posted: Tue, 06/09/2020 05:55 pm

    Respectfully, I am not sure brothers and sisters who hold different political views are the enemy.  I think our real enemy is the devil.  I also think it's important to distinguish between "the conservative cause" and "Christians."  There are a lot of people like me who are Christians but do not consider ourselves "conservative."  (Before anyone jumps on me, I'm not liberal either.  I am very conservative on issues like abortion but very liberal on other issues.)  

    Jesus' disciples covered a very wide political spectrum.  On one side, you had Matthew, who collaborated with the Romans.  For that reason, he would have been considered a traitor by many Jewish poeple. On the other, you had Simon, the Zealot.  (Zealots promoted military revolt against Rome.)  Jesus' disciples and his enemies kept trying to get him to "choose sides"; but he was focused on his mission, which was to die for the sins of the world.  

    I'm not saying we shouldn't take a stand or speak up for what we believe-just that it's possible for believers to disagree on certain political issues but remain united in the gospel. The fact that Jesus had disciples with widely varying political views (but they were united in the gospel) should serve as an example to all of us.

    Posted: Wed, 06/10/2020 02:43 pm

    My black neighbors who fear for their sons' and grandsons' lives are not thugs. There is a genuine issue here. Marvin Olasky has a track record. He has studied this for years. Tucker Carlson has a track record, too. 

  • Narissara
    Posted: Thu, 06/11/2020 03:16 pm

    not silent, it's possible to be liberal and also a Christian; it's also possible to be "fiscally conservative but socially moderate" (which is nothing but a slick tactic to get more votes from both sides of the aisle).  But when progressives and MSM refer to "conservatives", they are almost universally referring to people that hold to the Judeo-Christian values that form the basis of our Constitution. 

    As far as Jesus' disciples, Matthew himself tells us plainly that he forsook his involvement with the Romans to follow Christ.  His own admissions are a powerful testimony to his recognition of his need for Christ.  For all we know, Simon the Zealot may very well have been the most vocal in questioning Christ just before His ascension into heaven about when His kingdom would be established.  Simon may not have completely "gotten it" right away, but we have no evidence, that I'm aware of, that he continued his political activism.  The gospel transcends political movements, the best of which are flawed in some way, being conceived by sinful human beings.  

    Black lives matter.  I doubt any of the regular readers on this site believes otherwise.  But there's a difference between believing they matter because there is only one race — the human race — and watching the Black Lives Matter movement turn into a violent revolution.  Spend some time reading blogs by some of the more militant supporters of BLM.  Take note of how they go after blacks who don't fit their narrative.  You might then understand the radical agenda to completely dismantle the Constitution and establish a new social order, as if the Constitution is the problem.  Progressives are jumping on the bandwagon because they see it as a vehicle to marginalize and silence Christians.

  • not silent
    Posted: Fri, 06/12/2020 08:55 pm

    For Narissara, I don't think we necessarily disagree.  I'm glad you made the point about Jesus' disciples.  I didn't take it as far in my comment as you did, but one reason I chose Jesus' disciples as an example was that they DID agree on the gospel!  They CAME from very different political viewpoints, but God's Kingdom became the most important thing in their lives-i.e., it was MORE IMPORTANT than their political ideology.   THAT is the example I want us to follow. We may come from different political viewpoints, but the gospel is more important.

    It may be that some certain media groups and/or people who follow certain political ideologies call all people who "hold to Judeo-Christian values" conservatives, but the term "Judeo-Christian values" seems rather non-specific to me. To some people, it means "biblical values." To others, it means "politically conservative."  I am a Christian, and I follow the Bible as best I can; but I'm not conservative.  There are brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me politically, and THAT'S OKAY.  We DO agree on the gospel.

    It's fair to give warning about things that could be harmful (particularly in these times when it is hard to find accurate infomation about ANYTHING); but, just because I say I'm "not conservative" does NOT mean I support violent revolution or abolishing the Constitution.  I am aware that there ARE people who feel that way, but I am not one of them. I say I'm "not conservative" because, although I am strongly pro-life, I am "liberal" on OTHER issues.  It's not a slick tactic; it's what I actually believe.

    I also don't view politics as the "be all to end all." It's important, of course, but it won't save us or our country. I maintain a healthy skepticism of all political parties and groups, partly because I've seen terrible divisions among Christians over politics and partly because I've seen people in both major parties betray the very things they claim to believe.  Our savior is Christ; and, to me, the gospel always comes first. 

    Blessings to all.  

    Posted: Wed, 06/10/2020 03:28 pm

    Thank you for an insightful article from someone who's been studying this for years. Excellent points.

    I know conservatives are uncomfortable with saying, "Black lives matter." I think it's important for us to express this viewpoint, which is Biblical. It doesn't mean accepting the everything everybody in the movement says any more than protesting against redefining marriage means accepting Mormonism or Westboro Baptist Church (not equating the two, just those are two groups in agreement on one thing).

  • John Eric's picture
    John Eric
    Posted: Thu, 06/11/2020 10:46 am

    Talk without the weight of action behind it is but vapor in the wind. The president said he could do nothing if the states don't ask for help. What about the Insurrection Act of 1807. If he had invoked it earlier, we wouldn't have all this destruction, physical injury and death. He is acting like a permissive parent by doing nothing.

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Fri, 06/12/2020 08:26 am

    What should a discussion of racism look like? What shouldn't it look like? In any genuine conversation all parties are taking a risk. They are being exposed and ought to be ready for and accept the risk of that risk and vulnerability. There will be accusations, finger pointing, anger, resentment, and hostility. This is part of the conversation, but only the very beginning of one. Lest they give way to listening, understanding, and even agreement with the other, no conversation ensues, nothing can change. We must not so much look forward to the conversation,as be afraid of it, because it will begin to tear us down and strip us of what butresses our anger, indignation, and righteousness. A genuine conversation convicts and weakens before, from what is left, a new beginning is inaugurated. If there is no sense of guilt, but only accusation and self-righteousness, no confession, and no forgiveness, both asking for it (what is hardest) and giving it, then the conversation only served to stoke fires and cement the sense that none is possible. 

  • BL
    Posted: Tue, 06/23/2020 08:16 pm

    Part of discussion regarding police unions also needs to take into account decisions that political leaders make. Police chiefs and prosecuting attorneys as Elected officials (or appointed by elected officials) make decisions on use of force policy violations according to political expediency at times. It Is often political expediency rather than truth as the basis for some decisions. It would be tempting to blame an individual officer rather than deal with hostility of the voters. (Or in these current circumstances the very real probability of riots)

    Police unions have stood between the elected officials and officers in these circumstances.  A different group/process than unions may be needed but something in that role is needed.