Self-Righteous Lynch Mobs & Constitutional Rights In Community Policing Jurisdictions

In the wake of the George Floyd case, Minneapolis has veto proof majority of its city council to abolish its police department and replace it with a community policing model. Like most self-righteous, do-gooding plans spawned by inflamed passions, the intention is to dismantle the Minneapolis police department with no clear plan on how to replace it. City leaders are supposedly exploring a community policing model, and multiple organizations including Black Lives Matter are pandering to the narrative that police departments are inherently evil and biased toward people of color by adopting official advocacy positions for the dismantling of police departments across the country.

The inconsistency of these virulent attacks on police department is laughable at best. Human memory is short, and the George Floyd case has seemingly wiped from the country’s mind the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin and the Ahmaud Arbery cases. Neither Trayvon Martin nor Ahmaud Arbery were confronted and killed by police officers. They were killed by members of the community acting in a citizen’s arrest or community law enforcement capacity.

Today’s mob only cares for today’s manufactured grievance. Yesterday or a few years ago does not matter. I seem to recall that, in the Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery cases, the Black Lives Matter movement and other organizations spoke out about the need to prevent members of the community from acting in a law enforcement capacity and, if such measures were in place, Mr. Martin and Mr. Arbery would still be alive. Apparently now, community policing is the answer.

I am not buying the answer.

I have an inherent mistrust of government. Government has a grasping hand, and, if it is given an inch, it will try to take the whole football field. My mistrust of the government extends to its agents, including the police, and I firmly believe that a free people needs to vigorously watch its government and its agents because they will attempt to aggregate more and more power to themselves in derogation of the people’s liberty.

At the same time, I have an inherent mistrust of people and an even greater mistrust of groups of people. People are completely unreliable, selfish, hasty, rarely clear and steadfast on their principles, and easily swayed by whatever trends appeal to their sensibilities at any given moment. People are also self-righteous busybodies and overbearing bullies when they are entrusted with authority. Finally, people have an undeniable urge for retribution.

To me, that is a recipe for disaster for when it comes to policing. The Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery cases were supposed to illustrate what happens when untrained people enforce the laws. They enforce them differently than trained police officers, and their biases are magnified in terms of their effect on the outcome of the encounter. I am not really worried about concocted allegations of systemic racism or bias. I am worried about self-righteous do-gooderism.

For my Connecticut readers, try to tell me that you would have arrested the Cheshire home invaders and the Sandy Hook shooter and delivered them safely to the courts to receive justice instead of publicly hanging them from the nearest tree. Try to tell me that Bucky Weirdo won’t get lynched from his own chimney if Barbara Busybody runs around the neighborhood spreading tales that he molested her daughter. Try to tell me that young Billy Bob won’t receive the same treatment if he is accused of killing Bonnie Grandma in her home.

I have been involved in the defense and the legal representation of very unpopular people. I have looked out of the office and peered in all directions before leaving at night to make sure no one was waiting for me in the parking lot. In other words, I worry for the presumption of innocence in a community based policing model where anyone and everyone is encouraged to act as the police and is empowered to follow their retributive instincts.

Consider further what becomes of your civil rights when some self-righteous snob thinks that the law needs to be enforced. Does Betty Boop just walk on to your property to check on the smoke on the back forty that she thinks is coming from an illegal still or meth operation? Returning to the Trayvon Martin case for a minute, does some overzealous citizen have the ability to stop me and demand to see identification and where I am going?

I see versions of these self-righteous and officious intermeddlers every day. Some of them are state employed social workers who just can’t keep their noses out of other people’s business while guising their actions in the name of preserving some third-party’s safety. Others are just plain-ordinary citizens with an over-enlarged holier-than-thou complex who just can’t leave other people alone. When I see community policing, I immediately think of these people and what will become of my constitutional rights.

Police officers enjoy qualified immunity that serves as a nigh-impenetrable bar to holding them liable for violating your constitutional rights. Libertarian Congressman Justin Amash introduced legislation to the U.S. House of Representatives to abolish it this week, and the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a half dozen petitions asking for it to be abolished. They also undergo specific training to prepare them to react differently than you or I would under pressure or in situations that stir passionate emotions. To an extent, their training does keep them within reasonable bounds – something that I would be skeptical about for most, if not all, civilians.

Do ordinary citizens enjoy qualified immunity when acting under the authority of government? Based on the plain language of the federal rights statute, likely no. However, even if you are not be able to nail members of a self-righteous lynch mob hell-bent on a form of retributive “justice” for constitutional rights violations, you will still be able to nail them for their common law counterparts (i.e., trespass in the case of a Fourth Amendment violation).

My fear is that police departments will be replaced with official intermeddlers called social workers backed by the force of angry mobs of self-righteous lynch mobs that have been agitated by manufactured arguments about the social unacceptability of crimes. The result will be more “street justice” and less respect for constitutional rights.

Minneapolis has been race-baited and has caved to the pressure. The real consequences will not be the ones from the “bad” people. They’ll be from the “good” people.


Cameron L. Atkinson

Cameron Atkinson is a Christian, a published constitutional scholar, a trial and appellate lawyer, and a general hell-raiser. He has received national recognition for his victories in civil rights cases, especially in First Amendment cases. Attorney Atkinson stands out for his written advocacy, and he has taken the lead role in briefing cases to the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Connecticut Appellate Court, and multiple New York appellate courts. Attorney Atkinson has successfully represented clients facing criminal charges, including successfully arguing for the reversal of a sexual assault conviction before the Connecticut Supreme Court. He will accept requests for public speaking engagements on a case-by-case basis.

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