In the United States, police forces exist as a public service, not as a replacement for civil society. As the Supreme Court has made clear, police are under no obligation to help or to protect you. They can choose to, certainly. But they do not have to. And, even if they did have to, it would still be the case that they could not possibly be everywhere at once.
Nor are they intended to be. For much of American history, there was no serious distinction drawn between the citizenry, the militia, the military, and the police. Instead, there were a few elected or appointed roles — watchmen, constables, sheriffs, etc. — and then there was the people at large. Those people were expected to bandy together and to help one another, to be responsible for their own protection, and to help to keep the peace — both under the control of authorities and of their own volition. When standing police forces came into being, Americans did not give up this system; they added to it.
Which is to say that there is no reason whatsoever for us to abandon either our penchant for self-reliance or our preference for volunteerism simply because we have a series of professional police forces running in parallel to civil society. Nor, for that matter, should our out-of-control licensing systems and incomplete self-defense protections be permitted to become an impediment to our security. I’m no great fan of Oathkeepers as an outfit. But if they wish to help out during a protest, so be it. If a collection of black Ferguson residents wishes to protect a white-owned gas station from looters, so be it. If the Huey P. Newton Gun Club wants to march around Dallas protecting black citizens, so be it. If a spontaneous, unlicensed group of Korean Los Angelenos wishes to take up arms and protect their property from rioters, so be it. The United States represents a collection of free people who elect to have police forces — not the other way around. So some of our actors don’t much like the government. Who cares?
People who think that the country is a government with people, instead of people with a government.
As Glenn notes, this seems ripe for a federal civil-rights law, if protecting yourself and your property is a civil right (as it always has been under English common law). It would be amusing to see if Obama would sign it.
An update on the Oath Keepers in Ferguson, from Jesse Walker.