There is a big difference between respect and deference. While dictionaries may give them similar definitions there are two concepts behind these terms that are very different. I will use the term respect to refer to the phenomenon where one human has a feeling of admiration for another due to their personal abilities, qualities, or achievements. I will use the term deference to refer to the phenomenon where one human has a feeling of fear, obedience, or humble submission to another for any variety of reasons. That distinction is critical when talking about a free society and the views of the population towards the government’s armed enforcers.

If you’ve ever criticized the police, especially in a public forum, then you’ve undoubtedly been told that you should “respect” the police. Perhaps you’ve seen comment sections where Americans are practically tripping over one another to the be the first and the loudest to proclaim their “respect” for these “heroes” for “puttin’ their lives on the line to keep us safe.” People who get offended by public criticism of the police will typically attempt to guilt you into adopting the same submissive attitude by proclaiming that you owe your safety to the cops. This is an attempt to make you feel grateful for their “sacrifice,” and to get you to tone down your criticism or stop it altogether. What kind of jerk criticizes the people that keep him safe, right? Of course this argument is silly. Numerous courts, including the US Supreme court, have ruled that police have no legal obligation to protect you. Moreover, police are tax funded which means they can’t go out of business for failing to protect you. Also there are about 900,000 sworn officers in the US out of a population of approximately 316 million. Police make up ~0.28% of the population. The chances that they will be present or close enough to respond to a crime being committed against you in time to protect you is very small. And despite the “puttin’ their lives on the line” rhetoric homicide rates for police are actually slightly less than they are for a private individual in an average US city. While the recent acts of a homicidal maniac in New York have made everyone think being a cop is dangerous that is simply not the case. Police themselves actually happen to be one of the most violent subgroups in America even though violent crime rates in general have been on the decline for decades. Considering that police have killed at least 1,093 people in America in 2014 alone it’s clear that regular Americans have a lot more to worry about from police than police do Americans. They are hardly our protectors.

The fact is that you are responsible for your own security. Americans invest hundreds of billions of dollars per year in private security measures such as locks on doors, bars on windows, surveillance systems, alarm systems, firearms, etc. More importantly, an individual who believes their safety is owed to the efforts of other people is not a free individual, but a dupe and a slave to those people. Such an individual will be much more willing to tolerate abuse and to obey barking commands than an individual who understands that they are first and foremost responsible for their own safety. Indeed, the slaves of the South were told that their security and well being was ensured because their master cared for them. Here’s an example from Charles Colcock Jones, a planter and missionary to slaves in the South in the 19th century, who wrote in his “A catechism of Scripture doctrine and practice, for families and Sabbath schools : designed also for the oral instruction of colored persons” —

It is the duty of Masters to provide for their Servants, both old and young, good houses, comfortable clothing, wholesome and abundant food; to take care of them when old, and infirm and crippled and useless; nurse them carefully in their sickness, and in nothing let them suffer, so far as their means will bear them out; and keep their families together. It is their duty to protect their Servants, from abuse or ill-treatment, and have justice done them when they are wronged.”

Obviously I’m not saying that the relationship between police and US citizens is equivalent to chattel slavery, but it is telling that the mentality is similar. When you are made to feel grateful to others who have “sacrificed” for you then you are more likely to display deference towards them. Many people appear to have become fairly domesticated and tend show a great deal of deference towards police. I find it ironic that much of the groveling before police doesn’t seem to come from where you might expect it: liberals who argue for gun control and who might need the government protection “services” the most. Instead, judging by internet comment sections and popular publications, it’s oftentimes the conservatives talking about how much they “respect” police. On many occasions I’ve been called a “coward” for criticizing police abuse in conservative circles. I can’t say I understand the strange inversion of roles there. How is the person who blindly worships authority and believes they owe their safety to that authority not the coward? Where do all these conservative internet tough guys get off claiming to be hard on crime while never hesitating to trot out endless blubbering apologies and sob stories for the criminal if they happen to be wearing a government issued uniform and badge? The bravado just doesn’t match the content. And traditional conservative positions do not line up with their attitudes toward police. They claim government is inefficient and say they oppose socialism, yet suddenly the socialist police are paragons of virtue and protection? They claim to oppose unions, yet police unions are some of the most powerful institutions in the country. They claim to support gun rights, and yet are the most emphatic supporters of those government employees who are the only ones capable of assaulting those liberties. They claim to want lower taxes, and are always hating on those hippies on welfare, yet police are tax funded, and with their lifetime pensions are some of the biggest welfare recipients in the country. Police are the only ones capable of enforcing those taxes conservatives say they revile so much too! And conservatives claim to be against those liberals with their political correctness, but are some of the most overzealous PC advocates when it comes to the police. “How dare you, I hope you never have to call 9-1-1!” “Police are heroes, they deserve our respect!” “I have respect for the law” Liberals don’t make much sense on the issue either. Police are the ones who enforce tax and gun laws. Shouldn’t liberals love the police? While there may be a little more opposition to police among liberals I can’t say that it seems to be by all that much though, and it’s typically framed in a way that emphasizes race issues rather than the practical problems associated with police.

But I digress, back to the main question at hand. Can you respect the police? The individuals who say yes would do well to define their key terms and use them with a little more consistency. Respect, as I have defined it above, is something that is given on an individual basis and after judging someone based upon their personal merits. Respecting the police would require you to personally evaluate 900,000 officers in America alone. Having blanket respect for an entire group of people is impossible by definition. Of course you can respect a specific police officer, but you cannot respect “the police.” When people get upset and demand that you “respect” the police what they are really requesting is that you share their attitude of humble submission towards 900,000 people because those people have a badge. Only deference can be given in a blanket manner because it does not require any kind of individual judgment of character.

The widespread pattern of humble submission and deference towards the government’s armed enforcers in America is not at all befitting of a free society. In a free society individuals do not put their tails between their legs and bow before the police, and they certainly don’t make the mistake of conflating the law with police. Customs and laws are not people, they are precedents arising from the resolution of disputes. Police are people with no legal obligation or financial incentive to keep you safe, and with every incentive to enforce “laws” prohibiting victimless “crimes” because such enforcement is the most lucrative for them. Cops aren’t “the law,” and like everyone else in society, any respect given to them must be earned on an individual basis. Those Americans who display humble submission, and who attempt to guilt anyone critical of police, are not giving respect. They have adopted a slave mentality, one that will bend over backwards to make excuses for their betters and their abuses of power. And police by and large will take every inch of power that they are given so long as those people are willing to give it. Cleveland Patrolmen’s Association President Jeffrey Follmer said in an interview —

I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, do it, and if you’re wrong you’re wrong, and if you’re right, then the courts will figure it out.”

His promise that the government courts will hold the government police accountable is hardly reassuring. But even more startling and brazen is the open command to the American people that we must obey every barking command that happens to issue forth from some guy because he happens to be wearing a badge. This is the authoritarian mentality that is taking over police, and it’s appalling that this is the state of affairs in the 21st century. The law is no longer the law, their word is the law, and we must obey it right or wrong. That’s tantamount to a state of martial law. At this point it’s the duty of the American people to thoroughly repudiate these preposterous claims of power and communicate to police that they are not our masters and we are not their slaves. Otherwise they will continue with this delusional mentality unabated, stomping around and killing Americans for not instantly obeying their “orders.” If they will not listen then perhaps it’s time we had a serious conversation about getting rid of the extortionist government middleman and fully privatizing the functions of protection and apprehending offenders.