“In the course of his career as marshal he has never drawn a gun on an offender, his firmness and moral courage being sufficient to subdue the most obstreperous individual and to uphold the majesty of the law.”
Johnson, Barker and Winkler, A History of Texas and Texans (1914)
What should a policeman do when a citizen ignores his orders? This is what we might call the burning question of out time. If he says stop and I keep walking, or running, or struggling, what exactly should he do? Should he shrug his shoulders and say, whatever? Should he call for backup and try again in an hour? Should he pull out his gun and shoot me?
If a policeman adopts the first policy, he is just pretending to be a policeman and anyone can call his bluff. If a policeman cannot arrest a citizen—arrest means stop—he is just a dude in a blue suit.
The second policy is sometimes possible, sometimes advisable, and sometimes followed. If the offending citizen can do no further harm, it may make sense let him cool down before taking him in.
But there are a great many cases where the offending citizen can and very likely will do further harm, and so must be stopped at once. If such a citizen does not stop on command, it seems that the policeman must arrest the citizen in a way that he, the citizen, cannot possibly ignore. The policeman must, in other words, execute what I would call an inexorable arrest.
If we wish to reduce the frequency of inexorable arrests, I suggest we do what we can to increase citizens’ respect for what my epigram calls “the majesty of the law.” Majesty means supremacy, and respect for the majesty of the law thus means acquiescence to the law.
The law prevails, even when my inclinations run counter to it.
As for those who do not acquiesce, but rather scoff and continue to do as they please, the Good Book has this to say,
“A wise king . . . bringeth the wheel over them.”*
For those more impressed by the majesty of a secular source, here is John Locke:
“The magistrate’s sword being for a terror to evil doers . . .”**
It naturally follows that a citizen who has internalized terror of the magistrate’s sword is unlikely to find himself crushed beneath the king’s chariot wheel. The likelihood of his being arrested is exceedingly small, and in the unlikely event of an arrest, his cultivated instinct is to acquiesce.
* * * * *
The subject of my epigram was Thomas Pickney Boyette, City Marshall of Bryan, Texas in the early part of the twentieth century. There was, it seems, something about T. P. Boyett that encouraged acquiescence in even “the most obstreperous individuals.” There were plenty of toughs in the town in those days, but none were disposed to test Boyette’s willingness to make an inexorable arrest. Presumably there was something about T. P. Boyette that suggested he was not just a dude in a blue suit.
Boyette had fought for the Confederacy and refused to take the oath of allegiance after the war. He was for some time a fugitive from the Provost Guard of the Union Army, and through the 1870s led may cattle drives up the Chisholm Trail from the vicinity of Brazos County to Dodge City, Kansas. He was not a violent man, just a man who it seemed best not to provoke.
So no one provoked him and no one ever learned just exactly how peaceful he was.
*) Proverbs 20:22
**) John Locke, Two Treatises on Government (1689)