One of the best measures of true democracy in a state is the extent to which that state’s police forces exist to protect its citizens versus the state. Prioritizing individuals ensures that the rule of law is applied equally across as many interests as possible and demonstrates the government’s adherence to the principle that governments exist for, by, and with the people. Using law enforcement to protect the state telegraphs to targeted communities that democracy does not apply to them, that the state is not theirs. Worse, it tells these people that the state exists to specifically disenfranchise them of their rights, a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.
Understanding this fundamental aspect of democracy makes this statement by presidential candidate Ted Cruz particularly vile. Cruz calls for the “need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Placing aside the question of how exactly the federal government, of which Cruz seeks to become the chief executive, grants local law enforcement new powers, the statement is striking from a contender for the presidential nomination of one of America’s major parties. Indeed, police forces are already empowered to patrol any community within their jurisdiction. And they already do so in areas with heavy Muslim and immigrant populations, often quite effectively, as the Minneapolis Police Department has shown. The MPD has been held up as an example for using outreach and less confrontational policing tactics to reduce both radicalism and crime in its community. One gets the impression this is not the kind of policing Cruz had in mind.
The only possible interpretation of his call for police empowerment to “patrol and secure” is to explicitly use federal, state, and local law enforcement in the interest of the state to target Muslim communities and their members. And unlike problem-oriented policing that responds to crime problems, Cruz’s plan intends to prevent crimes where none currently occur to warrant such focus, based purely on the religion of the community. This from a man whose platform includes wanting to restore: the Constitution, religious freedom, and America as a shining beacon. Cruz’s statement today blatantly contradicts each of these principles he purports to support. Naturally, a close reading of each of these issue platforms reveals his support for a certain kind of constitutionality, a specific religion, and a limited beacon. But a proposal to use the state’s power to control a specific community is not merely hypocrisy, it is bad policy and a definitive step toward authoritarianism.
Most practically, while Cruz’s statement supports his call to “empower law enforcement” by pointing to the dangers associated with “isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods” in Europe, specifically targeting Muslim communities will not avoid any such problem. On the contrary, it will only further isolate them from the rest of American society. Cruz is correct that such isolation has indeed had terrible consequences in Belgium and France. Surely his reference to isolated Muslim communities in Europe indicates he knows this to be bad, even if the language of his statement implies that they are self-isolated. But what he fails to realize — or ignores in favor of the prospect of political gain — is that the policy he proposes would physically isolate them and label them as “other” at a time when outreach would be most effective from a security or criminological perspective, such as has been demonstrated in Minneapolis. The repercussions would pervade relations between America’s Muslims and non-Muslims for generations to come and provide extremist leaders with evidence for their narratives.
Cruz’s proposal should be condemned not only because it is ineffectual policy. It cuts to the very idea of what this country is and what it stands for. The United States cannot be a shining beacon, or even remotely democratic, if it uses its policing power to target a specific community and its individuals because of some ill-defined defense of the state.
Jason Fritz is a senior editor at War on the Rocks. He is also a doctoral student in the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology at American University’s School of Public Affairs and a senior consultant at the Noetic Group.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore