In the immortal words of “motorist” Rodney King, “can we all get along?”

As a sort of crazed anger spreads throughout America, two things seem obvious to me:

  1. The police do often over-react, too often with gross injustice.
  2. Suspects and innocent bystanders aren’t exactly proving themselves to be calm, level-headed, and virtuous in the face of police over-reaction.

It’s hard to keep one’s head — one’s “cool” — when others lose theirs. And, sure, we hire police to keep cool, sticking to procedure when violence or some other conflict breaks out to upset the normal peace of society.

But I speak to the kids out there, the youngsters, especially those who think they are being treated unjustly: even when the police are wrong, very rarely does it make sense to defy them. Prudence (as distinguished from justice) most of the time requires us to

  • be polite (show respect);
  • calm down (demonstrate restraint yourself);
  • articulate information helpful to sorting out the situation, whatever that is;
  • comply with explicit demands unless those demands are sure to kill you; and (most of all)
  • remember that police have been authorized to use force — the “police power” — and have a great deal of license and leeway.

Yes, power corrupts. Police are not excepted from this. But we (the less empowered, the until-proven-otherwise innocent) citizens must remember that they do have a tough job, resolving conflict day in and out, and we must always signal to the police our willingness to be peaceful. Even if we are in the right, losing our tempers (our “cools”) demonstrates belligerence, as far as the police are concerned, which elicits negative reactions.

Police abuse of power is no excuse for citizen unruliness. When the police are unjust, the best recourse is court — not the chalk outline of your body.

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