Category Archives: Police/Cops

Undivided Attention

Let me open by citing the obvious – the random, revengeful killings of police officers are despicable acts of cowardice and bigotry. Bigotry? Yes – bigotry. Presuming that a member of a collective is equally culpable for the acts of any other is a bigoted worldview. Individuals are responsible for their own actions – not the actions of others who happen to be a member of their collective. All white people are not responsible for slavery, all Muslims are not responsible for 9-11, and all police are not responsible for every unnecessary shooting death.

In 2015 one-hundred twenty-four police lost their lives.  Nearly half of those were related to some kind of traffic incident. Meanwhile police killed 1,208 people in 2015. Some were unavoidable. But the majority of these deaths were unnecessary. Many involved innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others involved minor incidents that quickly escalated because of poor choices. The dictum that “officer safety” is paramount should concern any of us who might absentmindedly reach for our wallet when pulled over without loudly announcing our intentions. The question before us is how do we reduce civilian deaths while not putting officers in a position where they fear for their lives with every interaction. The answer is to stop asking them to do three things at once.

Traffic enforcement duties should be spun off as a completely new line of work wholly unrelated to traditional “policing.” Imagine for a second that roads were privately owned by Road Corp. Road Corp. wants a safe environment for its customers (as does any business). Road Corp. would hire traffic enforcers to maintain safety. No one would expect these enforcers to also search them for drugs or check their immigration status or telegraph their identity to government authorities. Mall cops don’t do that, so why should traffic cops? So returning from out thought experiment it should be obvious that traffic cops could be unarmed since even actual criminals would have nothing to fear from being pulled over. This alone would eliminate every instance of “thought he was reaching for a gun” death. If someone ignored the blue lights then simply photograph the car’s tag and send the owner a ticket in the mail; there is actually little reason to have a human in a car do the job of a camera on the side of the road.

The second task we ask of the police, and the one resulting in most unnecessary deaths on both sides, is enforcement of the drug war. The drug war casts everyone as a potential criminal since mere possession of an object is a crime. The police are then pushed into the role of assuming everyone is a “bad guy” until proven innocent. They are given unlimited means in this war to cast a wide net. This is a recipe for disaster. Wide nets tend to catch a lot of the wrong thing. Some are set free, but many die while caught in the net. Ending the drug war, for all drugs, would do far more toward reducing police and civilian deaths than any other reforms on the table.

The third job is the one police should actually be doing, namely, serving and protecting (or so the logo goes): recovering stolen property, tracking down the bad guy, bringing murderers to justice, and so on. Police would be more effective at this job if they were not required to dilute their resources with traffic and drug war duties. We don’t ask firemen to randomly search homes for fire hazards, stop and frisk people for lighters, sparklers, or copies of “Fahrenheit 451” and then to also put out fires, so we shouldn’t ask police to do a myriad of other tasks unrelated to actual policing against actual crimes.

Gone Fishin’

The cold-blooded murder of Walter Scott by a South Carolina deputy a few weeks ago highlights numerous issues with a monopolistic, state based approach to “law enforcement.” First and foremost is the all too common hair-trigger response some officers have when interacting with anyone who does not instantly respond to their verbal demands. The expectation seems to be: they say “jump”, you say “how high, sir!” Even the meekest of responses, like “what did I do?” are perceived as a full frontal assault on their “authority” and thus ample justification for unleashing a barrage of “shock and awe” responses. According to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw in Palm Beach (in his attempt to justify a shooting there in 2013 of an unarmed bicyclist) “There’s nothing in the rules of engagement that says we have to put our lives in jeopardy to wait to find out what this is to get killed.” Well, if you don’t want to put your lives in jeopardy might I suggest another line of work? I’m not really sure I wanted to be “protected” by someone who values their own personal safety to the exclusion of all other considerations, up to, and including shooting me dead because I “might” present a risk that they just can’t be bothered to evaluate.

Further problems inherent to the modern police state can be uncovered by evaluating the reason Scott was pulled over and why he (apparently) ran. The stated reason for the stop was a bad taillight. Ok, fine, a taillight being out is a potential safety issue. But the state response to this and similar problems is incongruous with actually ameliorating them and is rather more in alignment with using them as an excuse to impose random, burdensome tolls on unsuspecting motorists (honestly, who among us checks our taillights before we leave the driveway?). For example, in Georgia a bad taillight will garner you a $140 fine. Such fines aren’t fun for anyone but are inherently more burdensome to those in the lower income brackets. These fines hinder the victim’s ability to remedy the situation by taking money out of his or her pocket which could otherwise go toward fixing the actual safety issue. If the state were truly concerned with safety instead of issuing a ticket they would call in a “repair unit” to come to the scene, fix the problem on site and then charge the motorist whatever they would have otherwise been charged at a shop. Now that is customer service! But don’t expect that from the state or its minions. Traffic stops rarely have anything to do with safety and everything to do with revenue collection (speed traps are a well documented phenomena). Once underway they set the stage for a fishing expedition. Which brings us to the third issue.

Once a motorist is pulled over for some matter related to operation of their vehicle, the officer is then free to shift the focus from road safety to any and all matters related to other state laws (typically drug laws). In no other arena of life would people accept that the police can just randomly approach someone and ask for ID and start running background checks (“papers please”), but stick them in a moving vehicle or observe them cross an imaginary line in the dirt (“the border”) and suddenly intrusive questioning is a fait accompli. Such questioning revealed that Scott owed child support. Yes, he should have paid his child support. Yes, he should not have run (I’m reminded of the scene in JurassicPark where the lawyer runs from the T-rex into an outhouse – “Where does he think he’s going?” wryly observes Dr. Alan Grant). But just like in that movie, he ran out of fear without actually thinking it through. But I doubt any of us would have believed that running FROM the police would be perceived as a threat necessitating eight rounds in ones back.

Unfortunately the state-backed child support system sets the stage for violent confrontations. It is the state that threatens violence (to the father or his employer) for non-compliance (employers that refuse to withhold child support payments become liable for those payments). This seems like a massive amount of overkill for what is strictly a private matter. Jail should only be for murderers, rapists, and thieves. They should not become modern day debtor prisons for those unable (or unwilling) to pay child support or other types of garnishment. These issues are private matters and should be left to the parties involved to resolve them. They should not become a matter that the state hijacks. It is due to a breathtaking lack of imagination of those in power that we are left with a system that fails to recognize that people are fairly clever at solving their own problems without resorting to state backed violence.

 

Knock, knock – Who’s there?

A pair of nearly identical bills (SB 45, SB 159) has been introduced this session into the Georgia legislature concerning “no-knock” warrants. Apparently all those no-knock raids we’ve heard about recently in Georgia (a toddler nearly killed in Habersham County, the murder of David Hooks in Laurens County) were illegal. Under Georgia law (O.C.G.A 17-5-27) officers must give “verbal notice” before force can be used to execute a warrant. Huh. Imagine that, words on a piece of a paper didn’t stop those in power from doing whatever they wanted – and since there was no accountability in either case, apparently the current law prohibiting no-knocks is of little practical value. So, let’s see, how could we possibly remedy this situation? I’ve got it – make no-knock raids LEGAL! Now when officers engage in this practice they won’t be breaking the law anymore, problem solved.

Why stop there? Why not make rape, murder, and theft legal? That would lower the crime rate in Georgia to the point where there would be no need for no-knock raids. Oh, right that wouldn’t help because no-knock raids aren’t about catching actual criminals (rapists, murders, and thieves). No, they are about nabbing the low hanging fruit of drug “crimes” where mere possession of “stuff” is all that is needed to close a case. Smash, grab, arrest. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Detective work is so tedious – this is much easier. I have a suggestion for these politicians. If you are so keen on legalizing that which was formerly illegal in order to control it better, then try this: repeal all drug laws. Now there is no need for no-knock warrants.

Now, just to clarify, both bills’ proponents claim the bills prohibit no-knock raids. One (SB45) even goes so far as to call itself “Bou Bou’s Law” (after the toddler that nearly had his face blown off). Because both bills would greatly increase the probability of another “Bou Bou” type incident, this particular appellation is about as disconcertingly insulting as naming a rape legalization bill a “Women’s Rights Law”.

What the declaration giveth (“No search warrant shall be issued which contains a no-knock”), the exception clause taketh away (“unless the affidavit or testimony supporting such warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.”)

“Significant and imminent” are the weasel words that will build the foundation of every manufactured excuse to engage in this practice. Honestly, if the degree of danger is that serious do you really think an extra 5-10 seconds will provide an absolute measure of safety? If the danger level is truly “imminent” no one should be entering, announced or unannounced, if officer safety is the primary concern. Surround and siege is a much less dangerous alternative for all involved. Likewise, the phrase “evidence being destroyed” is code for “drugs flushed down the commode”. Thus upon this rock one may build the excuse for every drug case being a no-knock case.

Opposition to these bills is not “anti-cop”. Quite the contrary. Officers tend to get shot when they break into people’s homes unannounced. That’s just a fact. The goal should be to eliminate such raids, not increase their use through legalization and specious pleading of “oversight.” The only situation where a no-knock raid would ever be warranted is if someone’s life inside the residence is in danger (think serial killer situation). But to risk the lives of officers and innocent bystanders inside in order to potentially get a few grams of dope off the streets – that is simply reckless and the Georgia senate should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to codify under the color of law this outrageous practice. Please contact your Georgia Senator to voice opposition to these bills.

Tribes

The recent assassination of two New York City police officers by a sick, mentally deranged animal was truly a tragedy. A tragedy not because they were police officers, but because they were human beings. A tragedy not because of the manner of death, but the reasoning behind it. All evidence left behind by the gunmen (who shot himself) suggests he set out on this murderous rampage to get even with “the police” for the Michael Brown shooting death in Missouri. Revenge is an understandable, albeit dangerous and ultimately self-destructive, emotional response when directed at the particular individual that has done harm. But when it is directed at a group merely because that group shares a characteristic with a tortfeasor, that is the kind of wickedness that has inspired genocidal rampages. Actions taken against members of a group ignore the individual’s humanity by abstracting them into an amorphous blob of adjectival phrases. One is not killing a human being with hopes, dreams, loved ones and friends; no, one is killing “the police”, or “a Jew” or a “n-word” or “a fag”. Murder is so much simpler when the target’s humanity is stripped away.

Why is this pattern of “tribe on tribe” killing so common throughout history? Humans have an evolutionary tendency to lump things with a common trait together and then assume that all those things sharing that trait are identical in nature. If a tiger killed my neighbor, then all tigers are deadly. If a snake bit my neighbor and he died, then all snakes are dangerous. Those that recognized distinctive traits and properly categorized the natural world as dangerous or not dangerous and killed the dangerous ones tended to live longer and pass on their genes. Those that thought we should just give all tigers a chance, well, it didn’t work out so well for them. So in a very real sense the human instinct to engage in “-isms” is why we are here today to discuss how wrong it is now. That doesn’t excuse it, it simply helps us understand “why” this trait exists. But this vestige of our evolutionary past, like the appendix, serves no purpose today except in extreme situations (e.g. it’s still safe to assume all tigers in the wild are dangerous). Unfortunately this instinct, like the appendix, is not something we can shed easily, and therefore we must remain ever vigilant against it, lest it become inflamed to the point where the whole species is put at risk (nuclear annihilation).

To remain vigilant we must recognize its many forms. It is not always so neatly packaged into the frothing rants of hate-speech. Sometimes it wends its way into our psyche like the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Any sort of tribe mentality, such as the “us vs. them” fervor at a team-sporting event, has the potential to lead down this dark path. That’s not to say we shouldn’t cheer for “our” team, but please do recognize the emotions and language of this mindset speak to a tribal instinct: “we” won, “our” team is the best, “their” team is terrible, “their” fans are uncouth mouth-breathers, etc. Most people just pay lip service to these sorts of platitudes, they don’t mean it any more than they literally mean “god be with you” when saying “good-bye”. But there are some that do take such feelings quite literally (soccer hooliganism, post championship vandalism/rioting, etc.)

And let us not neglect to mention sport tribalism’s big brother – state tribalism, e.g. patriotism. Same idea, just a bigger team. Every country’s citizens (the most zealous ones anyway) think their country is the best in the world and that their people are better, in whatever metric you might care to name, than the people of other countries. And like a fractal pattern this mentality exists at all levels. I have witnessed first hand people tell me the folks in their county are better folk than from neighboring counties. Yes, that imaginary line in the dirt makes all the difference in the world.

Fealty to this patriotic instinct is what helps politicians stoke the flames of fear and envy that create an “us vs them” mindset as they seek to not only start wars, but establish all manner of governmental programs that benefit one group at the expense of another. The deaths of these police officers was indeed a tragedy carried out by an individual inspired in part by the fervor of tribalism. But let us not forget that any actions inspired by tribalism are evil, whether done by the many against the one, or the one against the many.

“It stops today” Eric Garner, hero

“Please just leave me alone” – these final words of Eric Garner contain much more than a plaintive request. They embody the spirit of his final actions: independence, resistance, and finally resignation. Eric Garner exited this world exhibiting the universally lauded virtue of willing self-sacrifice in pursuit of defending one’s liberty. We have a word for that: hero. Indeed, throughout human history the traits of independence, resistance to tyranny and self-sacrifice are the very qualities universally held in highest regard. But, because Eric chose to tilt his lance at the windmill of the state, that monstrosity we have been fooled into believing serves our interests, his deeds are portrayed as simply foolish. But make no mistake; Eric is every bit as courageous as any of history’s venerated heroes.

He declared his independence from the state, not with fanfare or proclamations but by living and acting as though it did not exist. Some libertarians pay lip service to living this way, but Eric actually did it, courageously, out in the open, and with no shame. Eric was no “libertarian” per se, but one does not need to identify as one to desire to live their life free of nettlesome busybodies. That instinct is natural; it is the state that beats it out of many of us. The state’s petty rules concerning what products may be sold, for how much, and who is “authorized” to make such sales were as relevant to him as the rules of hopscotch are to anyone walking on a sidewalk. It’s not that he was unaware of the “law” concerning the sale of untaxed cigarettes, it’s that he rightly recognized it as being inimical to the rights of Everyman to earn a living. No one should be required to ask for permission to earn a living. But, anyone who stands up for their rights will necessarily distinguishes themselves from a crowd all too eager to surrender theirs. The man who does so makes himself a target.

Now, being a target, Eric was set upon by the forces of the state, wending their way through the city as phagocytes travel the bloodstream, seeking to engulf and remove that which does not belong. The state will not long suffer the independent man. In the video we learn this was not Eric’s first encounter with the police. We see a man who is simply weary of the constant harassment. So on this fateful day he took a stand and resisted in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi or the Freedom Riders; non-violently. He did not fight back; he simply stood and refused to submit. It seems that civil disobedience against racist laws of the state is celebrated whereas civil disobedience against the authority of the state itself is frowned upon. Strange indeed, given that it is this state authority that gave those old laws their teeth.

Eric’s resistance served as a metaphor for state action against any citizen. He starts out strong and willful as cop after cop attempts to subdue him, but each is repelled by his sheer mass, like ants attacking an elephant. Eventually, even the strongest of us, like an elephant, will succumb to the attack of so many Lilliputians. And in the end Eric was resigned to his fate, having the tiger by the tail as it were. He could either be choked to death while laying prone and offering no resistance, or he could fight back and most assuredly be shot dead. Literally damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

In the end the state does the only thing it can do to those that might resist its authority: it wields deadly force until that “threat” to its authority submits or is eliminated (and if submission accidentally results in elimination so much the better for the state). So to those that believe the state is not a violent entity merely because they do not daily witness such violence on their front lawn, then look no further than what happened to Eric Garner to see the falsity of this belief. This, this is what happens to anyone that resists. Prisons also lack overt daily instances of police violence, but that doesn’t mean the very real threat of it is not the thing that keeps the inmates in line. So too is it with the state. Resistance is futile. You have already been assimilated.

Police Privilege

The St. Louis County grand jury decision last week in the Darren Wilson/Michael Brown shooting case was an affirmation, not of racism or corruption, but rather of privilege – police privilege. By “privilege” I mean the actual dictionary definition of the term, not the incoherent meaning it has when paired with adjectives such as “white” or “male”. “Privilege” is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” The police are that very group of people who have been granted (by the state) a special right. It is the right to wield lethal force and never bear responsibility for its indiscriminate use.

When the state grants a monopoly privilege upon anyone, cops, courts, or cronyist corporations, it will be abused. This really should not be surprising to anyone. Honestly, ask yourself, if you were granted the right to engage in any behavior without any risk of repercussions, would you really not maybe test those limits just a tad here and there? And then maybe a bit more. And then a bit more. Until eventually one day you felt so entitled to this “right” you couldn’t imagine functioning without it. That is the nature of the state. It corrupts normal behavior by removing all negative feedback until even saints become sinners. Almost every societal ill can be traced to the actions of some group acting in accordance with the legal privilege granted to them by the state (police shootings of the innocent, subpar public schools, traffic deaths on public roads, inequality fostered by the Federal Reserve, limitation of competition through licensing or outright monopoly grants, etc).

The police and their apologists claim that cops couldn’t possibly do their job if they had to second-guess every decision. Yes, much better to act on instinct and hope for the best. If wrong, oh well, better luck next time. If police and police departments were fully liable for their actions somehow I suspect they would be much more prudent in how they carried out their duties. The implementation and use of non-lethal methods to subdue people would become the new standard in police work. Yes, Michael Brown was not a candidate for upstanding citizen of the year award, but his crimes were certainly not worthy of death.

So the real injustice here is not that an arm of the state found another arm of the state to be innocent of any wrongdoing (wow, I’m shocked), but rather that hundreds (if not thousands, oddly, statistics are poorly kept on such deaths ) of innocent men, women and children of all races are gunned down by police officers every year.  And no, that is not to say all cops behave this way, but for every bad apple there are many more that pretend those rotten apples don’t stink. This lack of internal accountability only serves to aid in the metastasization of consequence free behavior.

Unfortunately the protestors (the peaceful ones, the violent ones are beneath contempt) have the right instinct but have totally misdiagnosed the disease. They are saying these police shootings are racially motivated. They cite as proof the broad racial disparity in the statistics that show blacks are more likely to be arrested, incarcerated or killed by police than whites (adjusting for demographics). So does that mean those who shout “racism” will be satisfied if the proportion of blacks arrested, jailed or killed by police falls to the same level as whites? If 5% of black suspects are killed by cops will it no longer be considered racist as long as 5% of white suspects are also killed by cops? As it stands today if a cop kills a black person the proximate cause is always assumed to be racism. This assumed cause then supposedly justifies greater outrage in contrast to a cop killing a white person. That attitude is abhorrent. It is an equal tragedy in both cases. Saying racism is the most egregious thing about police brutality is like saying the worst thing about a deadly poison is that it tastes bad. The ‘why’ of the death is immaterial. All that matters is that the state says such deaths are always ‘legal.’ As long as they remain legal there can be no feedback to bring such practices to an end.