One of the central questions of human civilization is: once a man has a weapon, how do you keep him to the norms of society? How do you divert him from the train of thought: “Hey, I have a weapon! You don’t have a weapon. Why should I do what you say? Why shouldn’t you do what I say?”
Over the centuries, various methods have been tried. Military hierarchy, codes of chivalry, geographic separation, the rule of law. They don’t always work. Often, the men the weapons end up with political control. To give an example: Heian-era Japan was one of the least militarized societies in history. Poetry, Buddhism, and incense guessing were the keys to power. But in the end the ruling class, centered in the city of Kyoto, began to utilize certain of their country cousins, cousins with swords, for security. Eventually those country cousins brought their swords to the capital and ended the Heian peace, pushing the emperors to the background and establishing a millennium of military rule.
Here in the United States, we have established, laboriously, the principle of civilian control of both the military and the police. Those who hold the weapons are supposed to take orders from those who do not hold weapons. This is thought to be one of the pillars of modernity. As with many such pillars, many Americans tend to take it for granted. We don’t realize how unusual our freedom is.
The civilian population of the United States is having a discussion about the nature of police power in our society. About what role the police should play and how they should do so. If we are free, the police cannot determine the outcome of that discussion. And if they do determine the outcome, then we are not free.
Are they doing what we say? Or are we doing what they say?