With Christmas just behind us, we have all faced the influx of Christmas decorations, Christmas music, and Christmas movies. Just the other day, the classic Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town was on the television. I have a soft spot for those Christmas claymation movies, so I’m not opposed to watching them every year. I’ve seen this one countless times, so I was surprised that I never noticed the theme that is so strong in it.
If you’re not familiar with the movie, here is a brief synopsis:
Kris Kringle, who of course eventually becomes Santa Claus, delivers toys to the children of the nearby Sombertown. The town’s ruler, Burgermeister Meisterburger, hates toys and declares them illegal after having an accident with one. Since it was the perfect opportunity for a song, the Burgermeister explains the new anti-toy law to Grimsby:
As they have been declared “illegal, immoral, and unlawful,” Grimsby and his police brethren dutifully confiscate toys from the children and work to arrest their source, Kris Kringle. They eventually set up a sting and capture Kris although he does escape from the prison not long after.
The song describes the how the police are to do their job. It is simple and straightforward: the Burgermeister is the “lawmaker” and Grimsby is the “lawkeeper.” Grimsby and the rest of the police never question the laws that the Burgermeister comes up with; their only job is to enforce them.
If you were to ask Grimsby or any other member of the Sombertown police why they work that way, their response would probably be: “Well, that’s just the way it works here.” How else could they defend it?
Yet no one in their right mind would agree that you should be thrown into the dungeon for possessing toys. And no one in the movie’s audience is supposed to sympathize with the Burgermeister. All of the support should go to Kris Kringle and the children. It is obvious that just because the Burgermeister declares toys to be immoral, playing with toys isn’t actually immoral. As such, the moral burden is placed on the Burgermeister’s police to not enforce his laws. It makes no sense to find fault with Kris Kringle and his helpers for being arrested—they shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place!
So what’s the difference between Grimsby and any police officer you might encounter today? Not unlike the movie, the police in the real world are tasked by their governments with arresting people for all sorts of crimes that have no victim. They have shut down lemonade stands, harassed people for selling raw milk, and have even arrested people for feeding the poor! We’ve all heard the excuses: “I don’t make the laws, I enforce them” and “I’m just doing my job.” Those are the exact defenses that the police in Sombertown would use for arresting people playing with toys. As we’ve already stated, that is certainly no justification.
Like machines, they will leave people alone one day and then arrest them for the same behavior if the law changes the next day. When cannabis becomes legal somewhere, the police suddenly treat the users as good, law-abiding citizens. But when it was illegal, they were deemed criminals deserving of whatever fate they received. Is there no self-reflection?
Police officers would do well to compare themselves to Grimsby. Is that the kind of officer—or person—they want to be?