Police, I-35W Bridge Collapse and All That

I’ll be talking about police, law enforcement and authority.

But this is not a ‘political’ piece.

I won’t be demonizing or deifying anyone, or demanding that Congress abolish the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Back in 2007, when part of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge fell into the Mississippi River, defunding the NTSB would have made sense. Sort of.

As much sense as I’ve occasionally seen in 2020 politics, at any rate. And this year’s, too.

Thief Takers, Gaslamps and Bow Street Runners

'Blessed Effects of Gas Lights.' (1814)I read mysteries. The sort Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr wrote. That’s not all I read, and that’s another topic.

Anyway, most of Carr’s “Fire, Burn!” happens in 1829 London. But never mind Carr’s time travel mystery historical romance.

In the story, Bow Street Runners were London’s existing and corrupt police force. As usual, Carr had done his research, giving readers an accurate picture of Georgian London.

Also as usual, Carr didn’t let historical detail stymie the story. The Bow Street Runners, London, England and all were far more complex than the mystery’s setting.

Which probably explains why Carr mentioned gaslamps and their explosive potential: but didn’t devote a chapter to the things. And I’m wandering off-topic again.

Depending on who you listen to, London’s Bow Street Runners were the city’s first professional police force. Or semi-private enforcers with extortion as a side hustle. Following Carr’s example, I’m over-simplifying the situation something fierce.

And I suspect that Bow Street Runners get confused with England’s thief-takers: a private-sector service.

A thief-taker would, for a fee, catch a thief. Catch someone, at any rate. Recovering stolen property was another service they provided.

Problem was, folks began suspecting that thief-takers were catching hapless mooks who couldn’t prove that they weren’t guilty. And occasionally arranging burglaries in order to drum up business. All of which wasn’t, in the long run, good for business.

Another version of who did what first says that the Thames River Police were the city’s first police force.1

Perceptions

'A London Fog. — Drawn by Duncan.' (1847)My take on the situation is that London eventually got the Metropolitan Police.

And that getting by for so long without organized law enforcement is — impressive.

I see that as a tribute to English pluck. Or incredibly good luck. Or something else.

I’m particularly impressed that London eventually accepted a government-sponsored police force. I gather that English perceptions of government enforcers were affected by France’s Maréchaussée.2

Can’t say that I blame the English for being diffident about a national military force tasked with enforcing government rules. The national government’s notion of local rules, that is.

And I am not going to get political.

Well, not very political.

I do not see laws or authority as threats to my life or freedom. But I think “legal” doesn’t always mean “right.”

And I think making some decisions at a local and regional level is a good idea. Usually.

Subsidiarity

On one level, having America’s national government establish a uniform building code for all 50 states sounds good.

Architects and contractors would have only one set of rules to learn.

Folks wanting a new building could choose the best team from any state, with no interstate code or permit concerns.

But I live in Minnesota. Outside, less than two feet from where I’m sitting, water is a mineral. And will be, probably, for a month or more.

If America’s uniform building code was designed around my area’s climate, I’d be okay. But I’m pretty sure that folks living in, say, Hawaii or Arizona might be unsatisfied.

Letting folks who are as close to grass roots as possible make decisions that affect them seems reasonable to me. Which is just as well. The Catholic version of subsidiarity is the reverse of micromanagement. Sort of.3

Subsidiarity is part of the Church’s social doctrine. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1883)

I’ve talked about this before. (March 11, 2020)

Memento More, Carpe Diem, and De Gustibus Non est Disputandum

I’ve also talked about authority, law and making sense before. Quite often.

If you know what I’ll say about it, feel free to skip over this next part.

Or, better yet, get yourself a cup of coffee. Take a walk. Sort your sock drawer.

Carpe diem! That’s Latin, so you know it’s smart. And I am not going to get started on that again.

Okay. Odds are that you’ve heard me say this before, but —

Respecting Authority, Within Reason

I’m an American, born during the Truman administration. On the whole, I like being an American. I even like our system of government. On the whole.

But I don’t think everyone should be an American, or have a government like ours. And I sure don’t think my country’s political style is perfect.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all system of government. What matters is that whatever system we use follows the principles of natural law. (Catechism, 18971917)

Natural law? That’s the ethical principles woven into reality. Natural law doesn’t change. Our rules do. (January 30, 2021; September 13, 2018; February 5, 2017)

Responsibility matters. For leaders and citizens.

I’m a citizen, so I should respect authority.

Legitimate authority. (Catechism, 1903)

Here’s where it gets tricky.

Respect for authority is a good idea. So is obedience. Reasoned obedience. Blind obedience is a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it. No king, president, or other boss, is above the natural law. (Catechism, 19001903)

Respecting authority is, or should be, easy when leaders respect natural law.

But sometimes the folks in charge make laws and give orders that violate natural law.

When that happens, the right thing to do may be to not follow orders, or to break a law. (Catechism, 22422243)

Like I said earlier, this isn’t political.

Saying that a leader isn’t above natural law doesn’t mean that I see [politico A] as evil incarnate and [politico B] as a Moses-Wolverine-Batman mashup.

And I emphatically do not think we’re at the point where whatever happened on January 6 makes sense. Assuming that American news media’s version is vaguely accurate.

Still reading this? Thanks!

Looking for more of the same? De gustibus non est disputandum, whatever floats your boat and here you go:


1 Law enforcement and a mystery writer:

2 Enforcing lawn ordinances, a military option:

3 Subsidiarity, a Catholic perspective:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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