Is the behavior described in this story immoral? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Punishment-worthy? Maybe. But the appropriate subject of a police investigation? No.
We’re all justifiably outraged when someone calls the cops on black people engaged in some innocuous activity–be it barbecuing, babysitting, or whatever. But calling the cops to “assist” in a school investigation into fascist speech is no better than that, and fundamentally, no different. It’s a misuse of the powers of the police, and yet another illegitimate broadening of the scope of their activities.
Police departments exist to investigate genuine violations of substantive criminal law. They’re not there to function as adjuncts to the investigatory powers of hapless high school officials, or to investigate malfeasances of a non-criminal nature. Nor are they there to function as generalized arbiters of moral or political speech or conduct–fascist, communist, nationalist, or otherwise. Would you entrust the latter function to people who voted in droves for Trump? I wouldn’t. Evidently “Fight Trump” does.
If the school has a photo of the wrongdoers, as it obviously does, it doesn’t need a police investigation to figure out what happened. A person of ordinary intelligence should be able to start and finish whatever “investigation” needs to be done. Feel free to call the students in for “questioning” to figure out what they thought they were doing when they did this. But leave the cops out of it until one of these students is reasonably suspected of genuinely criminal behavior–like raping someone, robbing a bank, showing up at school with a gun, or initiating a putsch.
As a general proposition, criminal justice reform in this country requires ratcheting back substantive criminal law, and ratcheting up the protections of criminal procedure–not the other way around. There are too many crimes on the books, not too few, and too few protections against police malfeasance, not too many. Real criminal justice reform is incompatible with a conception of law enforcement that unapologetically embraces police mission creep while slighting the need for procedural protections for vile or unpopular suspects–especially in the educational context.
It doesn’t surprise me to see right-wing Trump supporters indifferent to criminal justice reform, or just all-out wanting to live in a police state. It should surprise me, but really doesn’t, when I see so-called “progressives” or conventional liberals doing the same. But the love of force is strong in these ones: evidently, if you give almost any American half a chance, he’s happy to sic the police on the least popular targets on “the other side.” Meanwhile, the same websites applauding police intervention in the Baraboo case have no problem unapologetically trying to stoke viewers’ outrage with videos like this. Because when the cops illegitimately investigate Immature White High School Boy Behavior, it’s OK, but when they illegitimately go after Rude Black College Student Behavior, well, that’s a different story.
Just my two cents: hauling the cops into every 2×4 dispute or half-assed case of wrongdoing is not the defining characteristic of liberalism, but the prelude to a fascist police state–the exact pattern and practice that prevailed during the Weimar Republic in the years before the rise of the Nazis. You’d think that with all of the sloganeering we do–that we’re legally mandated to do–about never, ever forgetting the Nazis, we’d remember how they politicized their police force, and expanded its jurisdiction to all aspects of ordinary life.
But no. I suspect that the people most alive to police mission creep are the ones on the receiving end of unwanted police attention. As someone who’s been there since age 7, I have a piece of advice for all you well-meaning people so eager to call the cops on someone: how about putting the fucking phone down, and solving your First World problems on your own for a change? Once you do, you may discover that the best helping hand you’ll ever find is the one at the end of your arm–not the gun-, baton-, and Taser-toting one at the end of the long arm of the law. Guns, badges, and subpoenas are useful things, but they have a limited place in human life. Let’s try to keep them there– before we find them everywhere.