In a July 2016 blog post that he refused to take down, Buffalo Police Benevolent Association (PBA) vice president John Evans said of civilian demonstrators: “Comply with our orders and you won't get yourself killed. Enough!!!”
It’s not enough that demonstrators’ First Amendment rights have already been eroded and circumscribed with the creation of ‘Free Speech Zones.’ Now, exercise of First Amendment rights may be met with police deadly force. Is this a terroristic threat?
Law enforcement officials issue non-compliance charges like "resisting arrest" or "obstruction" fairly frequently and often baselessly. Given how easily these charges are made, we can see the slide into police violence if Evans' views are followed.
For some time (at least since roughly a year and a half ago), and with no justification at all, Evans has also wanted the cops to have AR-15's. In July, following the shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Evans renewed this call for more firepower. In March of this year, the City of Buffalo complied, using a New York State grant to purchase 115 semiautomatic assault-type rifles for selected cop vehicles.
It is doubtful that John Evans and those who share his views can engender community confidence in the BPD. Buffalo residents are also told that we must respect law enforcement. But true respect is based either on equality of social position and power, or on respect for the authority of knowledge, but not on threats of police violence against those exercising their First Amendment rights.
When it comes to the relations between law enforcement and civilians, most particularly people of color, the respect requested seems more like a command that civilians fear law enforcement or forgo their constitutional rights. This is respect as coercion and intimidation: respect as fear.
Gene Grabiner is a SUNY distinguished service professor emeritus in Buffalo, NY. He will also be featured in an upcoming post that is part of our Interweaving series of in-depth conversations.
(Banner image: Tom James)