This past Sunday, Jacob Blake, a black male, was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer. He was shot walking back into his car where his three children sat in the back seat. Mr. Blake is in stable condition in the hospital but may never walk again.
Meanwhile, days later, there was another shooting, this one in response to the protests that broke out after Blake was shot. Kyle Rittenhouse shot three protesters, killing two and injuring one. Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old right-wing militia enthusiast from Illinois.
The two shootings, one by police and one by a police devotee got me wondering; what is the difference between militias and the police? It may surprise you that the disparities between the two are virtually nonexistent.
Back in America’s humble beginnings, before there were police, there were slave patrols. These patrols were basically organized groups of armed white men who observed and enforced punishment upon black slaves in southern states.
The slave patrols’ function was to police enslaved persons. These slave patrols could easily be considered militias themselves.,In fact, some Southern States wanted professionals and selected their patrols from the more military ready state militias.
Eventually, slave patrols evolved into the police we know today. “From slave patrols to traffic stops” as some put it. The history of militias and the police are very intertwined in the United States. Over the years they were both used to quash local disturbances such as union protests, anti-war protests, etc. It’s no wonder that even today, in 2020, there is little difference to be seen.
Let’s start by looking at what most people would consider to be the most obvious difference; the duty to protect. Militias are obviously under no constitutional obligation to protect people. They do it out of the kindness of their heart and their love of guns. Police however, as the saying goes, are there “to serve and protect.” Technically, that’s not true.
In actuality, the police have no duty to protect American citizens. Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, ruled over and over again that government agencies have no constitutional duty to protect people who were not already in custody.
One of the more famous examples followed the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed. Scot Peterson was the officer on duty at the time who cowered away from confronting the shooter.
Peterson was fired, he was even brought up on 11 charges including the neglect of a child, and culpable negligence. In May of this year, Peterson was found not guilty and given his badge back. Cowardice is not a crime, unless you’re in the army.
Darren L. Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at the University of Florida School of Law put it this way, “Neither the Constitution, nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm — even when they know the harm will occur. Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution.”
So, what good are the police if they have no fundamental duty to protect you? They don’t have an obligation to serve you either. They aren’t about to fetch me a cup of coffee. They serve the city, county, or state to which they are employed. Same as organized militias. That’s it.
The police are still nothing more than a militia with benefits. And therein lies the only real difference, at least with unorganized militias. Being a police officer is a profession, belonging to a militia is a hobby. The police have powerful unions they can hide behind, unorganized militiamen and women do not.
If Rittenhouse were a little older and a member of the Kenosha police force, it is likely he would not have been charged for murdering two people. Even if he was indicted, the odds of being found guilty would be slim. Being a professional lawman in America essentially allows officers to get away with murder a little easier.
Not all cops are bad obviously, many don’t abuse their badges, just like there are some harmless militia groups who just like to get to together for a few beers and talk about guns and the state of the union. All of whom may have good intentions.
One of the main facets of meaningful police reform needs to be a filtering out of people with bad intentions. For decades now, white supremacists and right-wing militia members have infiltrated local law enforcement. As time has moved on, the situation has gotten worse. If these undesirables are not weeded out, then the militias and the police will continue to be one and the same for years to come.