A recent AP story begins: “Virginia is going statewide with another weapon in its battle against deadbeat parents — pink and powder-blue car boots ? The state is hoping the boots and conspicuous sticker will embarrass parents into making payments.”
Fairfax has been doing this since 1998, says the story. The idea is to shame fathers–or, as the story carefully say, “parents,” but since the woman in a divorce almost invariably gets the children, 95% of them are fathers–into paying. A sticker will be put on the cars, saying, ‘This vehicle has been seized by the sheriff for unpaid child support.’”
Several worrisome trends exist with respect to the police. One is militarization: the adoption of jackboots, military-like formations, and the weaponry of military units. Another is the use of the military as police, a very bad idea. And now we have the appropriation of the police to the purposes of political pressure groups. The crusade, which is what it is, against delinquent and allegedly delinquent fathers is a radical-feminist hobbyhorse.
Such crusades are an excellent way to force a division between the police and the public, to cause police not to be regarded as enforcers of the law but as representatives of special interests. That’s what the boot program transparently is: cops being made subservient to militant feminism.
Perhaps it sounds desirable to embarrass deadbeats. But notice that only the enemies of feminists are to be so embarrassed. No one suggests, for example, going into the ghettoes, finding mothers (excuse me: “parents”) of illegitimate children who are cheating the welfare system, and making them wear placards. (You would have to start a whole new placard industry: Uncle Sucker takes a beating on welfare.) We do not make women who sell food stamps to buy drugs wear a big WC, for “Welfare Cheat.” We do not put embarrassing stickers on the cars of divorced women who prevent court-ordered visitation by fathers.
Why not? Because the culprits are women and, often, black. Apparently law enforcement is now, like commerce, education, and politics, going to be based on preferential treatment due to race, creed, color, sex, and national origin.
Until now, the police have been recognized as politically neutral. A Republican has gotten the same fine for speeding as a Democrat. Classes of punishment have been similar for similar crimes. If you owed IRS money for taxes and didn’t pay it, you would be arrested in the normal manner. If you failed to pay a large number of traffic tickets, you would also be arrested in the normal way. Now, suddenly, debtors disliked by a special interest are to be singled out for humiliation.
It is a bad idea because, among other reasons, the police are going to take the heat for it. The police are always in an uneasy relationship with the public. People don’t like cops, or at any rate don’t like being caught by cops for speeding or drunk driving or whatever. Most people recognize that there should be enforcement of laws. They just believe that it should be applied to other people, not themselves.
What makes the system work reasonably well is the realization that the cops represent society, not special interests. Punishments do not differ for political enemies of the left or the right. A woman who failed to make her car payments would not be publicly humiliated while a man who failed to pay on a building lot would not. Neither would like being arrested. But there would be no special treatment.
Now there is.
My objection is not to humiliation as punishment. If corrupt politicians were put naked in stocks on Wilson Boulevard, it would be fine with me–provided that the same treatment were meted out for corruption in general, and not just to forms disapproved by particular groups. But when some groups are humiliated at the political instigation of their enemies, and others are not, real resentment (“hatred” is not too strong a word) will result. And it will be hatred of the cops, who didn’t make the law.
The Unites States is given to hysterias. In the Twenties we had Prohibition. Later there was McCarthyism in which communists were imagined to be under ever blade of grass. We had the Sixties. Now we have radical feminism. All of these witless enthusiasms did enormous harm. We don’t need the police to become a toy of the current crop of zealots. Does no one in Congress have the guts to say so? (No.)