We must defend against paternalism

To the Editor:

In his Nov. 5 letter about the University of Chicago Police Department, Michael Scott puts the emphasis where it needs to be: changing the laws. Nothing much will happen without that. Of course police engaged in community policing should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. And we as citizens should think more critically about any law that enhances police power or restricts the rights of the people in the name of public safety.

For too long we have subscribed to what I call the Chicago doctrine of salvation: You can’t save yourself; only the authorities can save you; have faith in the authorities. Instead of insisting on the right to protect ourselves, we grant the police extraordinary powers, and then we act surprised when they exercise those powers.
We have allowed the police to become an armed elite standing over a disarmed and helpless citizenry. This is the “standing army” that the Founders warned us about.

Our elected officials, through misleading appeals to public safety, have maneuvered us into a position of inferiority relative to the police. Two recent Supreme Court decisions — Heller v. Washington D.C. and McDonald v. City of Chicago — have improved the legal status of the ordinary citizen, but if they are ever reversed (and they are one vote away from that), the legal dominos will begin to fall and we will soon be back where we started, unless we are willing to defend our rights at the state and local level.

The laws should recognize us as free, adult citizens, but that will only happen if we recognize it ourselves. Every citizen should make a personal declaration of independence, because citizens who are too dependent on the police are more willing to grant them sweeping, pre-emptive powers. It is depressing to see how many citizens — including prominent city officials from the Black community, such as City Treasurer Stephanie Neely in her March 1, 2013 op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune — support Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s call for random stop and frisk without probable cause.

The police are indispensable, but they should be our equal partners and fellow citizens. They should be our brothers, not our fathers. We should reject paternalism and “Daddy knows best.”

John L. Sutton Jr.