Police Power for Peace

Pacifists like me, many of whom are Friends, have made accommodation to the police function and criminal justice system. We rely on that system for daily protection, but we are unclear in our relationship to it because it involves force. We extend that same ambiguity to the use of force in foreign policy. This means we are unsure about world law.

Peace as a way of life and not an interval between wars requires a world community of law rather than one of competing military forces. Disarmament is possible only as a product of a degree of governance. That requisite minimum of world law is the goal of our effort to emerge from the chaos of wars.

Let us apply our Peace Testimony to the world’s most urgent problem: war. As Friends, we need a clear direction favoring world police and a world judicial system as an alternative to the fumbling horror of perpetual war.

The Encarta World English Dictionary defines "police" as follows: "[verb:] control, guard, patrol, watch; [noun:] a civil organization whose members are given special legal powers by the government and whose task is to maintain public order and to solve and prevent crimes; the enforcement of law and the prevention of crime in a community."

Friends and other pacifists have not paid attention to police. There is a discontinuity here. Our literature, from the basic journals and letters of early Quaker leaders to current programs and materials, almost entirely omits law enforcement. In our public efforts, we engage with police and criminal law at several main points: demonstrations, confronting police abuse, the death penalty, and various other issues surrounding prisons. We have voluminous writings and programs to promote nonviolence. However, few of these consider the need for and appropriateness of police. It is almost as though the police and criminal justice systems existed in an alien, parallel universe. Our constant concern about violence coexists awkwardly with our constant acceptance of protection by police.

If we were truly engaged with police issues, we would work for minimum-force police weapons and tactics. We would work on the thorny task of creating world police forces that would not wage wars. But we don’t do those things. Instead, we seem to regard police work as an unpleasant necessity best done by someone else. Yet even absolute pacifists rarely assert that we can get along without police and the criminal justice system.

A central doctrine for pacifists is the value of every person: that there is a core of goodness in everyone, expressed by Quakers as "that of God." To most absolute pacifists this means that each person can somehow be reached by loving nonviolence. Nonviolence is constructive in social change and dispute resolution, but it does not work in all situations. It is not reliably effective when an offender is attacking, or in response to physical crime. Persons who are hard to reach quickly through loving nonviolence may include any of the following: the enraged, the sociopath, the brain-damaged, those whose cortexes are anesthetized by drugs, the career criminal, the fanatic, and the committed terrorist. Some pacifists seem to take for granted the belief that conscience is inborn and universal, but, in fact, the emergence of conscience is, in many ways, a learned trait.

Many criminal attacks do not involve a dispute, so, for these, the dispute resolution power of nonviolent techniques is irrelevant. We live in a time when brutality still exists and when occasional personal resistance to attack, the defense of others, and the aid of police are required. We employ police to do the gritty work of law enforcement, including stopping offenders and delivering them to the courts.

The disconnect between pacifists and the justice system extends to terminology. Many pacifists object to the term "criminal" as defining a category of prejudged persons. But in the traditional world of the criminal justice system comprising police, prosecutors, courts, judges, jails, and parole systems, there is some progress in terminology, with movement toward more use of the terms "suspect," "offender," and "perpetrator."

We Friends are properly respectful of our founders, but we need to keep in mind that they were seekers as we are. George Fox’s declaration to King Charles II, that, "All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence . . . ," was a basic statement of the Peace Testimony, but it was also a declaration that Friends were not subversives and spoke of the violence of war rather than police work.

A search through Friends writings from the founding years of the mid-1600s reveals a dearth of comment on force when used by the protectors of society. There is much material on imprisonment and punishment suffered by Friends, but only a few statements about "the magistrate’s sword," referring to civil police power, and these statements seem ambiguous. Howard Brinton, in The Peace Testimony of the Society of Friends, wrote: "From the first . . . Friends have acknowledged what they once called ‘the power of the magistrate’s sword’ if wielded lawfully and justly as a restraint against evil doers." Brinton characterizes policing as "different from war in which there is neither law nor justice."

Ideally, police power, including physical force, is directed toward offenders and is intended to protect persons and property. Offenders may need to be removed from society and face imprisonment and/or parole. Further, ideally, judicial action acts as "restorative justice" to compensate victims and rehabilitate offenders. In contrast, war usually involves indiscriminate destruction, killing, and maiming, and the objective is often to take territory and resources rather than to protect people.

Logically, one would think members of a peace church like Friends would have a great interest in minimum-force police work. Buddhists at the Shao Lin Monastery in North China did have such an interest and developed defensive martial arts such as Judo (in Chinese, Ruh Tao: soft way). Here in this country, we have let a TV show teach more than many pacifists do about minimum force: Star Trek’s Captain Kirk says, "Set your phasers on stun!"

Many Friends worry about the degree to which the Religious Society of Friends is limited to the privileged, and therefore not in touch with criminal justice issues. Whether or not this is true, Friends should consider becoming experts at police-type force by developing minimum-force weapons and techniques, establishing courses at police academies, and instituting research at universities. We could work to recruit conscientious objectors to jobs in law enforcement, assuming COs would be inclined to seek the paths of effective minimum force.

Many conscientious objectors have been unaware of a basic right secured by the good work of Friends Committee on National Legislation during World War II. Executive Director E. Raymond Wilson and his colleagues persuaded Congress to include in the Selective Service Act a validation as COs of those who believe in police and personal defense.

The sources of pacifism in the Western world include biblical materials. The ancient Hebrew commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," meant at the time of the Exodus, "Thou shalt not murder." Yet at that time there were capital offenses. The seemingly absolute statement has exerted moral force against killing, but absolute pacifism would be ineffective and unethical when applied to a central purpose of government: maintaining the peace. Minimum force and maximum nonviolence are more appropriate.

Volunteer opportunities are increasing in minimum-force police work. New programs have been started in several U.S. cities using citizen volunteers in patrols and other community policing work. Parallel with these efforts are proposals for volunteer groups to act in places where peace is threatened internationally or in domestic insurrection.

On the international front, serious problems abound. Many see the U.S. as degenerating into an imperial posture, hostile and contemptuous of the UN. We have refused submission to the compulsory jurisdiction of the World Criminal Court. But it will be necessary for the international judicial system of a world police force never to be under the control of one country or a group of aggressive nations. The world is united by trade and communication, but it remains divided with regard to political values and sense
of community.

An end to war can come only through world law and world police. It will be a challenge, but we can help in the birth of such a new world community. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by itself compels us to create limited world governance. Everyone felt relief when the Cold War ended, but many believe that our present situation of proliferation and weakened controls is more dangerous than the Cold War ever was. Existing treaties and bundles of UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction are not working. Clearly, we need a new approach.

The current U.S. attempt to police the world and curb terrorism is not working either. Our country appears uninterested in seeking out the underlying causes of terrorism. World disarmament is a difficult goal, but we could begin by working toward disarmed zones. It may be a challenge to imagine the Middle East disarmed and protected by the UN, but to those who insist that a peaceful Middle East is impossible, simply hand over a Euro coin and remind them that no one believed there could ever be peace in Europe.

In the chaos of our national government, FCNL brings the fresh air of ethics and sanity. Following 9/11, many peace organizations issued statements calling for the prosecution of terrorists, but there was little followup on these declarations except by FCNL. This organization has a dual role that requires skilled and dedicated leadership: that of representing the widest possible spectrum of Friends concerns, while at the same time exerting leadership for progress in policy.

I feel it is urgent for Friends to encourage FCNL to give priority to work on both world police and local police. At the exact place where the Peace Testimony is most needed—ending war by extending international law—Friends have not expressed their opinion.

FCNL’s new pamphlet, Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict, reflects this ambiguity. It speaks of preventing war, but not stopping it. It states (p. 86): "The International Criminal Court is a major advance . . . to handle cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes when national governments are incapable or unwilling to do so." The pamphlet proposes "international civilian [meaning nonmilitary] police corps." If FCNL were not inhibited by the uncertainty among Friends concerning police, these proposals could be elaborated and the policy could deal at length with stopping and preventing wars.

For another indication of ambiguity, see a statement in Faith and Practice of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, 1993: "Proper police activities . . . seem necessary and helpful." The word "seem" suggests hesitation. These policy statements might be revised to clarify and strengthen language in favor of minimum-force policing at all levels.

Mary Lord, in a speech delivered at the 2002 annual meeting of Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas (reprinted in Friends Journal in July 2002) made a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree: "On September 12, [2001,] the U.S. immediately began to prepare for war. There was another road that might have been taken—the road of international law, working . . . with other nations to find and arrest the members of the criminal conspiracy."

In 1996, Pendle Hill published A Continuing Journey: Papers from the Quaker Peace Roundtable, containing various views and historical materials. In it Daniel Seeger, a CO in the Korean War and the person who successfully challenged the "superior being" requirement for CO claims, wrote in favor of conscious support of international law with a police/judicial component. He states, "Such progress will require development of a body of international law . . . and a capacity for the international community to enforce these laws on behalf of the common good. . . . This will involve some sort of international police force."

We witness worldwide strife, but great dangers are great opportunities: this can be the birth pangs for a new world of peace. Let us end 350 years of hesitation and become sophisticated, loving, committed, and effective in our call for peace. My case here is incomplete, merely an outline of a concern; the next step could be assembling and publishing a booklet on "police power for peace" by FCNL and/or AFSC, as a sequel to AFSC’s 1955 booklet Speak Truth to Power. This could provide a basis for discussion, programs, and public advocacy.

Several actions that could implement a new policy are: programs in meetings and Friends organizations on minimum-force policing; coalition work with the United Nations Association and World Federalists; encouraging Quaker UN Office staff to work on this subject; contributions to research on nonlethal weapons; cooperation on curricula for police academies on minimum-force community policing and restorative justice; advocacy for courses in police history and practice at law schools and universities; and recommendations for all bar associations to create World Peace Through Law sections for lawyers (these exist now only in Washington State, Arizona, Connecticut, and New York City).

The strength of Quakerism has been its unified vision of a Divine Ground, a universal community, matching practices for spiritual strength and growth with steady work for social change and building community. A central Friends doctrine is that revelation is not closed. Persons can experience new visions, ideas, and possibilities for action. Both our intellectual and spiritual integrity now require our attention to the need for law, police, and the judicial process at the world level.

William L. Hanson

William L. Hanson, a member of University Meeting in Seattle, Wash., is a semiretired lawyer. As a youth, he witnessed the Japanese attacks on Shanghai. After attending Harvard Law School, his activities here have included serving for five years on AFSC staff, co-founding listener-supported radio KRAB, writing on Indian fishing rights, and co-founding World Peace through World Law's section for lawyers.