The headline to this post is a quote from Salt Lake County (Utah) Sheriff Jim Winder. He was interviewed for the documentary “Peace Officer,” which recently won the jury award at the South by Southwest film festival. (See trailer above.) The statement is a variation on the old adage Si vis pacem, para bellum, or, “If you wish peace, prepare for war,” a sentiment that dates to Plato (or probably earlier).
Historically, the sentiment has been applied to the security of nations — that you fend off foreign invaders by projecting strength. The application here is jarring because Winder isn’t invoking it in response to a foreign threat; he’s invoking it against the citizens of the county he is supposed to be serving. That’s troubling enough. But he then takes the sentiment further than it is traditionally applied even in a foreign policy context. The adage is that you project strength to avoid war. The police official in the video is saying that sometimes, state administration of violence is a prerequisite for peace. In other words, to obtain peace, violence is inevitable.
Of course, sometimes, we do need police officers to protect us from dangerous people. But to begin from the position that peace can come only through violence risks converting a police fear of violence into a guarantor. To give one example that we’ve discussed previously here at The Watch, there’s plenty of evidence that one way to ensure violence at a protest is to send in cops decked out in full riot gear from the outset. It’s an immediate escalation that dehumanizes each side of the protest line in the eyes of those on the other side. (It’s interesting to contrast Winder’s approach with that of Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, who says officers should use the least amount of force needed to resolve a conflict.)
“Peace Officer” seizes on an ongoing debate about police violence that has been taking place in Utah for the last few years now, then pans back to look at the broader issues of police force and police militarization. It tracks with a a six-part series on police reform in Utah that I wrote for the Huffington Post in 2013. (I’m also interviewed in the film.) The debate has led to a number of positive policing reforms.
Read the rest via ‘Sometimes, peace is purchased with violence’ – The Washington Post.