Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #29 – Defriend the Police?

July 20th, 2020

I am no stranger to the tragedy of police brutality. I have mentioned this before. My very beloved youngest cousin, Jeffrey, was murdered at the hands of the police 45 years ago in a Midwest jail. His crime: He was Jewish. I am also no stranger to the hell of weak government in relation to effective law enforcement. I am from New York City. When I would return from India for the summer in the early 1990s, I couldn’t help but notice how dangerous it had become to walk the streets at night. Violent crimes especially plagued the poorer neighborhoods. I then watched how a stronger government quickly turned the situation around to make New York City one of the safest cities in the world.

 

Any system of hierarchy or authority, however, is by human nature challenged by the abuse of power. We shouldn’t be surprised to see such stark examples of that today. That doesn’t deny or justify, however, that law enforcement is still plagued by, to one degree or another, the problems of excess force and racism, and that this problem needs to be addressed. As the scope of the issue is much too broad for a Monday Morning Greetings, my discussion will be limited just to the necessity of having a strong police force in society and the qualification of people fit for that service. I will do that from the standpoint of the ancient texts of India, which I consider authoritative.

 

The Sanskrit for a person in society responsible for law enforcement is kṣatriya, which literally means to protect one from hurt.[1] What is implied here is that there must be a specific class of people in society to keep society safe and secure. In other words, society will not be peaceful unless there is a specific group of qualified people that have the strength and character to appropriately use force to subdue unsocial elements. There should be cooperation with the community, but any conception to protect citizens from crime that minimizes a strong and qualified police force is just sentiment according to the Vedic version.

 

What the texts therefore see as a solution to proper law enforcement in society is a strong enforcement presence of qualified people with a system of vigilance against its natural abuse. One story from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam comes to mind that illustrates this.

 

When the powerful King Aṅga  abdicated his throne and left for the forest, the kingdom became overrun with crime. The respected brāhmaṇa priests became concerned that if they didn’t act quickly it would become worse, and therefore immediately installed Aṅga ’s very powerful son, Vena, as the next leader. Although the elements of lawlessness were quickly quelled, Vena also abused innocent people. The priestly caste found themselves in a dilemma that is described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam by a powerful analogy.

 

“When the great sages consulted one another, they saw that the people were in a dangerous position from both directions. When a fire blazes on both ends of a log, the ants in the middle are in a very dangerous situation. Similarly, at that time the people in general were in a dangerous position due to an irresponsible king on one side and thieves and rogues on the other.” (Bhag. 4.14.8, Purport)

 

The brāhmaṇas then forcibly removed Vena and managed to replace him with a powerful leader of impeccable character. The brāhmaṇa solution to police overreach is instructive. They realized the necessity of both reform and change, but not at the expense of strong law enforcement. But what are the qualifications of a kṣatriya?

 

“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kṣatriya.” (Bg. 18. 43)

 

Of note is the qualities of enforcement are always tempered with the character of generosity or kindness.

 

There are a myriad of problems in today’s world. People are passionate about solutions. How to know that what one proposes will actually be effective? I put my trust in Vedic knowledge. Otherwise, solutions will be based on how they sound or feel according to one’s ideology, and not whether they are practical and effective. A safe and secure society therefore requires a strong police force screened for both powerful and noble qualifications. There is no other option.

 

 


[1] The basic derivation I heard from Prabhupāda is: “kṣa” – destruction, injury, loss, etc (coming from ‘ksati’) + “triya” – one who protects (from the verb ‘tra’).

 

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