Is there such a thing as a “good” police force or prison? I asked this question recently at an evening meal where a group of Amish elders were present, and as soon as the question was asked, I felt I had done something amiss. There was an uncomfortable silence before one of the elders responded in a gentle way:
We don’t even have a right to answer your question, William, because we have chosen a way of life which makes those types of institutions completely unnecessary and we have lived this way for 400 years. Our primary difficulties are drunkenness and an occasional infidelity in marriage. In some ways, we don’t belong to that world of yours and neither do we wish to. If there is something called a good police force or prison system, it belongs to a world which does not honor God nor follow the ways of Jesus. I am not certain about this but I feel that the first Quakers had a similar view and were closely related to us in living out this experience. I mean no hurtful criticism but it seems to me that you all have gone far afield of your first love for Christ and one another. Am I wrong in saying this?
I was tongue-tied. I felt like I had to agree. I had asked a question which has no place at all in peaceful community life. It was like asking a turtle what he thought of NASCAR racing. After finishing our awkward meal in silence, I left. Driving down the road a bit, I stopped at a picnic table to consider the question further as it was an issue which did apply to my situation and context. As I meditated on the subject under the shadow and stillness of an old oak tree, one word presented itself to my mind: perspective. I allowed this word to unfold and it led me to think that this question was situational. Had I asked this question in an affluent neighborhood, the response might have been different than responses I may have gotten in a barrio or ghetto.
Answers from rural Iowa would surely be different from those in downtown Detroit and certainly more diverse in Windsor, Canada, right across the river. I stayed in Slab City, California, for a long, hot summer and they have no police force. They police themselves; I dare say the police would seldom visit Slab City for any reason. And what of Switzerland and Somalia and Saudi Arabia? How might spokespersons in those cultures respond? This is my primary reason for seeking refuge in Hutterite colonies. These people live lives in participatory harmony (imperfectly but substantively), and the peace they enjoy seems to be almost genetic.
I don’t know how to address the question of police anymore. I am not certain it can be addressed at any satisfactory level on a large scale. It is one reason, I feel, that many are becoming expatriates and not a few are choosing to be hermits, until even that becomes illegal. No one has an all-encompassing answer. It may sound weak but I believe it will only become more and more confusing and chaotic. The mindset of many police officers is informed and nourished by the work of cruising around looking for some infraction; that has a permanent effect on their psyche. Of course, I’m over-stating the case, but there is enough truth in my statement to warrant some attention. I am in the process of moving to Costa Rica, a country which has lived without a national military since 1948.
I have no further words on this topic of policing. I wish you all well. Like a goat going up against a locomotive, I admire the spunk of anyone who wishes to address this issue in the United States, but I doubt the ability to succeed at any substantive level.