Discover more from Glenn Loury
Beware of Dog
with Sabrina Salvati and LaJuan Loury
“Beware of Dog.” Everyone knows the sign, and everyone knows what it means: Intruders stay out, or prepare to be mauled by a ferocious animal. It’s a deterrent, one that stops a potential burglary before it starts. Some clever homeowners have figured out that you don’t even need to own a dog for the sign to be effective. All you need to do is suggest that a 120-pound Rottweiler might be curled up on the other side of that front door, and any would-be criminals will move on.
The police serve all sorts of functions in our society, but one is that of an omnipresent “Beware of Dog” sign. The knowledge that the police could show up deters violations of the law both minor (say, parking near fire hydrants) and major (say, armed robbery). Most people obey the law as a matter of principle rather than fear. But we’ve all had our moments, perhaps while driving down an empty street late at night, when we were tempted to floor the accelerator but opted not to, knowing there might be a bored traffic cop parked around the next corner. That knowledge is usually enough to keep us within the speed limit, both literally and figuratively.
I often think of this deterrent effect when I hear people arguing for the abolition or defunding of the police, as my guest Sabrina Salvati does in this clip. I’m perfectly prepared to accept that some, maybe even many, police departments need reform. I’m even prepared to accept that the police are sometimes not as responsive as they should be to the communities in their charge. But if we took down the “Beware of Dog” sign and showed every passerby that there is no Rottweiler waiting in our foyer, if everyone knew that, no matter what happened, the police were not going to show up, then all of those potential crimes would become a reality. We’ve already got a glimpse of what that reality looks like in cities that have stopped responding to low-level crimes, because the DA’s office refuses to prosecute the offenders. There is more crime and more disorder and, for the average, law-abiding citizen, more fear.
No more bad policing, but unrestrained crime. I don’t accept that trade-off, and neither should any responsible public official. Until we have a world in which there is no crime (don’t hold your breath), we’re going to need at least some policing. Without it, everyone will know there’s no dog behind that front door, and they’ll act accordingly.
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GLENN LOURY: Okay, we have a few minutes left. I want to talk about the cops. I want to talk about Cop City. I want to talk about “defund the police.” And I want to say the following thing. I don't know a whole lot about Cop City, Atlanta. I know they're trying to build a training facility and people are against it and there's a movement and, you know, more power to 'em. I don't have a dog in that fight, but I'm prepared to acknowledge that there's some legitimate concern about the militarizing of police.
But defund the police? With the level of personal violence and threat to property being as great as it is, especially for people with marginal resources? Of course, they don't want to be brutalized by racist cops. Of course. On the other hand, they want somebody to answer when they call 911, when they hear gunshots outside their place, when somebody jacks their car or robs them at gunpoint. Those are disproportionately black people who are victimized. We want good policing, but we don't want no policing.
Please tell me, what is wrong with that? Because if you go with a microphone and you ask people on the street what they want, that's pretty much what they tell you. They don't want racist cops, but they want someone to answer when they call 911, because it can get pretty bad out here.
SABRINA SALVATI: But why is it getting pretty bad out here to begin with? This goes back to the poverty issue. The homelessness rate has increased by 25 percent. Tent communities have popped up all across the country. It's not just the California problem anymore. So there's a lot of poverty. A lot of crime is attached to poverty. Not all of it, but there is a lot of it that is. In reference to the police solving crime, police only solve 0.02 percent of crime. So I don't even know what police are doing most of the time, but it doesn't seem like they're actually solving these crimes that are happening.
Do police actually prevent crime? Did police prevent the shooting that happened at the Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida? So what exactly are the police doing? People that deal with sexual assault cases, there are rape kits that are sitting in police departments that haven't even been tested. This is a common issue. What exactly do they do? And if you talk to people that live in those marginalized communities, particularly in the inner city, if you talk to people that live in Baltimore, for example, they'll tell you if they call the police, first of all, how long does it take the police to show up? And then, two, are the police actually there to solve any type of crime? Or did the police show up and actually harass the people who called the police in the first place? So it all depends.
I've always said that police protect capital, police protect wealth. So if you're wealthy, the cops will probably have your back. They'll be there in a minute if somebody breaks into your house. But for poor people, or particularly poor black people, the police aren't trying to help them. The police are trying to arrest them.
Okay. I'm going to have to answer that. The issue is not, “Do the police prevent crimes that are happening?” The issue is, “How many more crimes would be happening if there weren't any police?” I think policing does prevent crime, but it doesn't prevent the crime that has actually happened. They are coming after the fact to investigate or whatever.
But the fact that someone will be coming to investigate deters others from taking actions that are harmful but that they know will get them into trouble. A world without policing is the world that I want to imagine. No police. Everybody knows there's no police. There's more weapons on the street. There's more interpersonal violence. There's less security of property. It's a wild kingdom. It is going to invite vigilantism. It's going to be every person for himself. I don't know where you are on the Second Amendment, but a world without police is a world where the Second Amendment is going to get exploited heavily by people, because it'll be on them to protect themselves, and so forth and so on. I don't know why that's a world that we should welcome. Better policing, not no policing.