Today is the funeral for Officer Jared Francom, the Ogden, Utah, police officer killed last week in a shootout with Matthew David Stewart at Stewart’s home. Five other police officers were injured in the gun battle, as was Stewart. The reason police were at the scene? Stewart was suspected of growing marijuana for personal use. His father said he used marijuana to treat his severe depression.
As you might guess, my take on the incident is a contrarian departure from the fervent celebration of the sacrifices made by the thin blue line. To that end, let me quote Herbert Spencer who, when told that British troops were at risk during their latest uninvited venture through the Khyber Pass, replied, “When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves.”
Yes, that’s harsh stuff, but I think that Spencer’s argument that human beings are moral actors who have to shoulder the consequences of their choice to support imperialist adventures can just as easily be applied to the actions of police officers who willingly don badge and gun to enforce immoral laws against consensual activities. British troops in Spencer’s time were volunteers, and so are police officers in modern America. Nobody forced them to take the job, and they have a responsibility to consider the moral consequences of their actions.
Spencer believed that wars of aggression would be less likely if men considered the justification for each war before donning uniforms, and it’s just as likely that intrusive laws would be harder to enforce if people thought through the laws for which they’d act as muscle before pinning badges to their chests. It would be equally helpful if bystanders would refrain from automatic accolades for soldiers and cops, just because they decided to serve the state.
Even when the folks in uniform are courageous, they deserve praise only when their efforts are in a good cause.
So, for now, I’ll reserve my strongest sympathies for Matthew David Stewart, whose life is now essentially over, whether he ends it in prison or strapped to a gurney. After all, he was defending himself and his property in that battle, even if his cause was as doomed as that of the Afghan army in 1878.