The Tarnished Badge
“This scandal has devastated our relationship with the public we serve and threatened the integrity of our entire criminal justice system.”
The Los Angeles Police Department (lapd) is working overtime to repair its battered reputation in a tough community where reputation is everything.
The above words speak of the frustration felt in a department of 10,000 sworn officers all laid open to suspicion because of the bad behavior of a few of their cohorts. They were written in the executive summary of an lapd Board of Inquiry (boi) investigating corruption within the department’s Rampart Division.
The “scandal” referred to in the report started with an elite, and arguably quite successful, anti-gang unit of the lapd. Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (crash), established over 20 years ago by the Rampart Division, worked one of Los Angeles’ most severe neighborhoods: an ethnically diverse, 8-square-mile area teeming with thousands of gangsters composing 30 different youth gangs. The crash team was famed for its aggressive, confrontational policing tactics. It got results: In the 1960s the area had 170 murders each year. Last year, that figure was 33.
Then last September, former officer Rafael Perez, accused of stealing cocaine from the department’s property division, plea bargained for a lighter sentence by implicating fellow officers in a variety of other abuses. Allegations of corruption multiplied over the months that followed. Years of criminal evidence accumulated by the department have cast a dark shadow over the lapd.
Police Chief Bernard Parks convened the Board of Inquiry to assess the problem. Its final report made 108 recommendations to help eliminate corruption from the department. In addition, 20 officers were relieved of their duties and two others fired.
This wasn’t good enough. Under intense social pressure, particularly from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Los Angeles Police Department brought crash to an end in March. Reputation is everything.
The department says it will practice gang-suppression in other forms, but many area residents say they feel helpless and abandoned. “I’m hoping that some police officer or someone would be on patrol,” said one fearful resident. “This is the only hope I have, ’cause there’s no hope if there’s no crash unit or no one to protect us.”
The Popular Cause
On the other side of the nation, New York is also reeling from recent high-profile cases of police brutality. For most of 1999 the news was splattered with lurid details of the nypd officers’ torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in Brooklyn. With that case in full swing, the misguided killing by four nypd officers of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, hit like a bombshell. The New York Times in particular seized upon the incident as an example of pervasive police misconduct, printing an average of 3.5 stories about it every day for two months.
In both cases, race was an obvious issue, exploited by minority groups seeking to expose alleged racism within the nypd. An angry New York public ranted and demonstrated. In the famed race for New York senator, Hillary Clinton called the Diallo killing a murder before the policemen even went to trial (she later apologized for doing so). Her opponent, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, called the anti-cop demonstrations silly, and his approval rating nose-dived.
The issue has since moved far from being a local problem: It is a national debate. The acquittal in March of the officers in the Diallo case made national news as being a symbol of widespread racial injustice and police brutality. Of the Louima case, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said, “The horrific nature of this crime provides just a glimpse of the thousands of brutality cases across this nation where law-abiding, hard-working people are harassed and abused by rogue cops who hide behind their badge and uniform.” Sanctimonious articles condemning aggressive and race-based police practices appeared in many major newspapers and magazines. And American public opinion fell right in step: A Harris Poll taken in February found that 76 percent of blacks and 45 percent of whites believe police brutality against minorities happens occasionally or often in their communities.
Minorities’ complaints that they are victims of racial profiling—being treated differently because of their skin color—have led to an increasing number of lawsuits against police nationwide. In response, law enforcement agencies are taking steps to check racial profiling by their officers. In over 100 communities, officers now track their traffic stops by race. (Some say the practice can increase the tension of a traffic stop, particularly when they can’t guess the person’s race and have to ask for it.)
L.A. judges are noticing another new trend: Jurors seem less likely to accept police testimony as valid. “It is also very terrible when people who are overwhelmingly guilty walk away,” said a supervising judge in L.A. Superior Court, “when the only reason is because there is general feeling now in the public—if that’s what it’s coming to—that police officers’ testimony can’t be trusted.”
Erosion of Law and Order
Such issues aren’t all new. Similar agitation came to a head in the ’60s, in Watts and other police-centered race riots. It surfaced again in the early ’90s over O.J. Simpson and Rodney King. The difference now seems to be that the public outrage and mistrust of what is perceived as rampant corruption is no longer confined to minority segments of the population; it is mainstream. Even prominent presidential candidates are making promises to outlaw racial profiling.
And in the process, the authority of America’s law enforcement is taking a beating. Whatever the extent of the problem within police ranks, hostility toward and suspicion of the entire system is more common than ever. People don’t trust the police, and the police know it. Caution bordering on fear is rising among many of them, as are policies limiting their jurisdiction and authority.
Here’s one example: In New York, homicides have decreased remarkably in recent years (from 2,200 in 1990 to 633 in 1998). However, after the Diallo case blew up in their faces, the nypd’s Street Crime Unit, which the four officers were part of, pulled back and began making fewer arrests. Consequently, in the months that followed Diallo’s death, murders in the city rose 10 percent. Truly, the implications of even one highly publicized anti-police case are far-reaching.
“This scandal has devastated our relationship with the public we serve and threatened the integrity of our entire criminal justice system,” said the Los Angeles boi summary. It continued, “Distrust, cynicism, fear of the police, and an erosion of community law and order are the inevitable result of a law enforcement agency whose ethics and integrity have become suspect.”
That is the sobering backlash of these events: an erosion of community law and order. That will prove to be the real danger in the long term.
Be Subject to Higher Powers
It is deplorable for a police officer or any other authority to corrupt or misuse that power. This principle is addressed throughout Scripture. Two examples: “The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God…. It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness” (II Sam. 23:3; Prov. 16:12; see also Deut. 27:19). Anyone in a position of power should fear to abuse it.
But God’s clear injunction to all those under that authority, which in the case of America’s law enforcement includes virtually all of us, is to respect it. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that beare ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Rom. 13:1-2).
Ultimately it is God who gives men civil authority. As Christ said to Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). Thus any act against that authority is an act against God! That is why He condemns those who resist them. Other scriptures command obeying “magistrates” and submitting to “every ordinance of man” (Titus 3:1; I Pet. 2:13), that is, as long as doing so also complies with the higher, spiritual law of God (Acts 5:29).
God provides governing authorities to control and regulate society—especially to punish those who would create civil strife and anarchy (I Pet. 2:14; Rom. 13:4-6). The authorities offer at least partial protection from such criminals. We are to submit to governing authorities, not condemn or react violently against them for the faults inherent in human leadership. Any who strike against them through character assassination or other attacks are eroding community law and order, and actually doing society more harm than good.That even applies in cases where there is admitted corruption. People may feel very righteous in their noisy pursuit of justice over bad police, but the Bible says we shouldn’t even curse the authorities in our thoughts (Eccl. 10:20). God will deal with those who abuse their office of authority in His time.
What happens when the enforcement of law—even human law—is disrespected? The November 1965 Plain Truth put it this way: “In order for laws to be honored and adhered to, the true respected source of law must be defined. There must be a standard—a source—an authority….
“But can respect for a law exist when every man is a law unto himself?… By rejecting the fact that there is a source for law and that there are absolutes, our society has rejected the very basis of law and order.” Sounds very similar to the conclusions reached by the L.A. Board of Inquiry. Scorn the the law and those who enforce it, and then brace for lawlessness and disorder. Those are the potential consequences of this risk to “the integrity of our entire criminal justice system.”
This is a much bigger threat than we realize.
What Happens When We Fail
Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in the October 1963 Plain Truth, “Make no mistake! This is no light matter to pass over casually! Race war is coming! Racial tensions, passions and hatreds are being deliberately stirred by organized planning. It will explode into mass violence that will stagger the imagination! It will be whipped into an accelerating crescendo until human blood runs like rivers!
“It is no local matter. It is worldwide.”
The February 1965 Plain Truth forewarned, “The prophecies reveal that this worldwide racial strife is going to intensify in the years just ahead….
“According to the prophecies of God’s word, racial conflicts and virtual annihilation of certain peoples is destined yet to occur…. Such race hatred will pale into insignificance Hitler’s mass slaughter of Jews and Poles.”
Let’s look at one of those prophecies.
“Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint” (Isa. 1:4-5).
God says the government that leads Israel (primarily the United States and Britain) is sick! There is corruption; there are disorders. As a result, problems multiply among the people they are supposed to protect. But the government’s heart is too faint or weak to solve those problems! So they continue to get worse and worse.
“Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers [or Gentiles] devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers” (vv. 6-7). These are prophecies for the time we live in today. Our booklet The Ezekiel Watchman explains these and other related prophecies in some detail.
A Real Solution
Sadly, police working to restore their reputation have a much higher mountain to climb than they may understand. Embracing such “solutions” as monitoring traffic stops by race will only exacerbate their troubles. (Imagine what civil liberties groups will do when they get hold of those statistics, and how police may try to appease.)
Watch for anti-police sentiment to continue its increase, both in volume and extent. Stories highlighting police corruption and brutality, stories covering anti-police demonstrations and race-related riots—stories that seem like mere sidelights to major international developments of prophetic importance—will begin to overwhelm the news in the nations of Israel!
Ultimately, it will take the strong hand of God to restore law and order to the land. He will rebuke those who took up the sword for their petty causes (Isa. 2:4). Once that peace is firmly established, people will begin to realize the tremendous benefits of a civilization founded upon the perfect law of God. “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (v. 3).