After last week’s protests over police practices, the mass killing of cops in Dallas, and usual efforts to take political advantage, it should be evident to every American that we face a crisis in public trust and accountability. The only solution is good, old-fashioned leadership by men and women of integrity and principle.
American law enforcement faces a multitude of serious criticisms. For instance, the federal government has turned homeland security into pork by distributing military equipment to local governments. Some police departments use drug busts as a profit-making opportunity by seizing private property. SWAT teams look more like military special operations forces than cops.
Politics distorts policing, supplanting both safety and justice. Departments practice social engineering, and politicians protect constituents and interests. Police adapt, doing what is necessary to survive politically rather than focus on what best safeguards the public.
Prejudice, bias and political correctness color the public perceptions of police conduct, good and bad. Most cops do a tough job extremely well, but often are attacked because the outcomes violate progressive preferences. Some law enforcement agents do a bad job and are excused by those who forget that men and women in blue are imperfect people no less than the rest of us.
Common to solving all of these problems is leadership. It doesn’t much matter if a police department has military-grade weapons, faces political pressures, and confronts usual human imperfections if its leadership is honest and strong.
Police commanders and public officials committed to protect the public and ensure justice for all can overcome such challenges. Such leaders set the tone for the entire justice system.
Just as a fish rots from the head, so does the American political system. It’s not the way the Founders intended. National authorities were to have only limited power compared to the states, and Congress was expected to set the tone for the federal government.
But in the age of celebrity worship and imperial presidents, Washington’s chief executive has become the symbol not only of American government, but of America itself. In the best of cases — such as Ronald Reagan, with his optimistic and patriotic outlook and clarity about right and wrong — the country benefits.
Then there are presidents who represent the worst of America. The Clinton years put personal and political scandal on the national stage and advanced the concept of moral relativism by equivocating over the meaning of the word “is.” The concept of “right” and “wrong” depends on who you are. Hillary Clinton has already demonstrated her contempt for the law, at least as it applies to herself.
President Obama’s progressivism ushered in a new era: playing the race card. Undermining the police. Imposing social engineering on a military at war. Sacrificing justice for politics. Protecting partisan allies, like Hillary Clinton, from the law.
Indeed, Mr. Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder, set the tone of justice in America by shutting down the federal investigation of the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation in Philadelphia. It was a twofer: insulate an important Democratic Party ally from oversight and open voters to pressure from progressive activists. It should come as no surprise that the New Black Panthers are now involved in anti-police violence.
The Obama administration will soon end, and Americans will have a chance to remove the malignancy at the top of our justice system. But the only way to heal the relationship between police and citizens in communities across the country is by restoring principled leadership.
The country needs leaders of character and moral integrity who not only understand who the bad guys are but what needs to be done to stop crime. That doesn’t mean giving cops a blank check and sacrificing citizens’ lives and freedom. Accountability is fundamental to our democratic republic and we need leaders willing to stand on principle and make tough decisions.
There is no liberty if people’s lives aren’t protected. Equivocation risks lives. Seven-and-a-half years of progressive ideology and practices have blurred the distinction between right and wrong, law and order.
Americans have had a glimpse into the future and we should be horrified by what we see. But our course is not predetermined. Criminals unleashed, racial division, violent protest and police abuse do not have to be America’s destiny.
The liberal-progressive approach to law and order has failed and we need to make a serious course correction. In November, Americans can start that process at the very top.
• J. Kenneth Blackwell, a former mayor of Cincinnati, is a policy board member and senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.