Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations: BPD Edition
On last week’s Conservative Refuge Radio, I mentioned this story from the Baltimore Sun about Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis pushing to change the state police regulations excluding potential officers who have repeatedly used marijuana. As the Sun summarized it:
Davis will lead a committee to review the current standard of the Maryland Police Training Commission, which sets hiring policy for law enforcement in the state. Police applicants are disqualified from becoming officers if they have used marijuana more than 20 times in their lives or five times since turning 21 years old.
You read that right. Keeping people from serving as police officers who have used pot over 20 times is too onerous according to the BPD Commissioner.
Two things struck me about this story which I will discuss in turn.
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First, was the perpetuation of an idea I first wrote about in 2014 in the Baltimore Sun:
Many legalization advocates point to the prosecution of young offenders, their lives ruined not by their conscious choice to engage in illegality but by the oppressive state seeking to stamp out a harmless vice. They lament their children’s bright futures threatened by what they insist is the inevitability of illicit drug use.
It seems Commissioner Davis subscribes to the idea that the repeated use of marijuana, envisioned in current police regulations, is simply a rite of passage for young people and that it shouldn’t necessarily ruin their chances of enforcing the law themselves. As Davis puts it:
“We can hold all the job fairs we want in West Baltimore and in East Baltimore, and we can get people to the table to take the test. But when they go to the prescreening interview, and they say they’ve smoked marijuana above the threshold that was established back in the ’70s, they’re permanently disqualified. And that’s a source of frustration for me.”
Now keep in mind, the use disclosed in these interviews is self-reported by the applicant. It isn’t some documented usage that anyone can really verify. Rather, to be disqualified the applicant is admitting to committing over 20 misdemeanors. And don’t mention the recent decriminalization in Maryland. Davis still wants to disqualify any applicant who has used marijuana in the last three years, which covers the decriminalized period. Again, Davis wants to change the regulations for admitted marijuana use when it was still a criminal offense.
It is hard to imagine a more outrageous statement. Think if some elected Republican made the statement that most young people in Baltimore City habitually use marijuana. They would be, properly in my opinion, decried as a racist and perpetuating the worst stereotypes about Baltimore’s residents.
Even if you don’t see this as overtly racist, it fall squarely within the famous Michael Gerson inspired, Bush concept of the “Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations” which simply states that minorities cannot, and thus should not, be held to the same standards of others.
This “slow bigotry” of Davis is even more apparent when he implicitly refers to the citizens of Baltimore as, essentially, a culture of drug use. After all, Davis reasons, hiring officers with a history of repeated drug use makes sense since:
“I want people of good character, of good moral character, but I want people who have lived a life just like everybody else — a life not unlike the lives of the people who they are going to be interacting with every day.”
Wow. So smoking pot illegally less than twenty times makes one “unlike” the people living in Baltimore City. I am not a resident of Baltimore but if I were it would be hard to imagine a more offensive indictment of my community.
Which brings me to my second point. These lower standards, again, would permit the hiring of more people as police officers who have no problem admitting they habitually broke the law in taking illicit drugs. In a city with a police culture that struggles with public confidence and a persistent belief in the community that police don’t follow the rules or respect the rights of those they serve, is this change in policy really a good solution?
Wouldn’t hiring more officers who have demonstrated a respect for the rule of law, even if they personally disagreed with it, a better way to improve police culture?
And even if you believe that everyone in the city uses pot regularly, wouldn’t hiring officers who follow the law despite the peer pressure or cultural persuasion be more likely to result in honest cops who challenge the omerta that keeps police misconduct secretive and insulated?
Whatever your views on marijuana or its legalization, I would hope that we could agree that hiring law enforcement officers who obey and respect the rule of law is a better first step to building trust and confidence in our police rather than lowering standards based upon a soft bigotry of low expectations.