Category Archives: The Police State


If you were to visit a friend’s house and they asked you to take your shoes off before entering, or requested you leave your wet umbrella outside, would you comply? If you entered a business and they asked you to not play loud music or to wear shoes, would you comply? I think the answer virtually anyone would give in these scenarios is “yes”. Now consider this: if any of the people from the prior examples entered our home and requested the exact same things would we not, after staring at them quizzically, tell them to go fly a kite? Why the difference? Why in the former examples are the requests completely reasonable but in the latter they strike each of us as, if not entirely nuts, at least fairly rude? The difference is authority. Authority over a resource is an inherent right flowing from its legitimate ownership. We honor the request of our friend or proprietor because we recognize their ownership as legitimate. We desire the same respect of our authority and so we conform our behavior to a system where in order to receive such respect, we must give it as well. We are free to refuse the request but it is understood that necessitates exiting from that sphere of authority (ownership).

When someone connected to the state (i.e. government) is said to be an “authority” over us there is a rather sinister implication here: everything, even our very selves, is owned by the state. If the state did not truly own all, then one could at least safely retreat to their home and not fear an invasion by state agents. But alas that is not the case. Call us what you will; serfs, slaves, inmates – they are all treated the same by their owner. In every case of “authority agent” violence toward a citizen, the “respect authority” crowd offers the perennial excuse that if the victim had simply followed the orders of the agent, then their fate (often death) could have been avoided. It is the victim’s fault for not recognizing that they are not free men and that they have an obligation at all times to assume a supplicating prostrate pose if so requested. The slightest deviation from this principal is worthy of a death sentence.

The land of the free indeed: on some streets you can be stopped and searched for no reason whatsoever, you can be pulled over and have your car searched and all electronic devices seized if you happen to be within 100 miles of the US border (that includes the coasts) – no warrant necessary,  the contents of your home are subject to search and seizure on the mere suspicion of a whole litany of victimless “crimes” – or none at all if they get the address wrong, any “substantial” amount of cash is subject to confiscation for no reason whatsoever if it happens to be in your car if you get pulled over. These are experiences of livestock, not free people. Indeed, no one would regard it as unusual at all if a farmer treated his animals this way.

But even the farmer will treat his livestock better than the state treats us. If his animals misbehave he doesn’t just pull out a gun and shoot them. He doesn’t shove them to the ground and beat them into submission. Even if you believe we must give up some (or all) of our rights in order to have safety and “order” there should still be respect for the concept of proportionality. That is, if someone punches a cop, he can punch back, if someone shoots at a cop, he can shoot back. It does not mean a cop gets to shoot pets or people because they “might” pose a threat. If they can’t adequately evaluate risk, then they should find another profession; no one is drafting people into policing. Proportionality does not mean if someone is pulled over for not having their physical driver’s license on them they should end up dead from 7 bullets.  Instead send a ticket to the car’s owner (easily looked up by the license plate). It does not mean if a student refuses their teacher’s instruction they should be slammed to the floor and thrown across the room.  Instead drag the recalcitrant student’s chair into the hallway and close the door.

Even if one accepts the notion that we are but mere guests on the state’s plantation, it is doubtful such a person would accept having a bat swung against their skull as an appropriate response for refusing to wear shoes at a McDonalds. So if you are inclined to feel guilty about not supporting every single police action against the citizenry, remember, it is ok respect their authority if you choose to do so while still not respecting the disproportionate means they sometimes use. The “authorities” should never escalate non-violent encounters into violent ones merely because they are too shortsighted to find any other means to their ends.

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.


Minority Report

It would appear that the Georgia General Assembly is under the impression that police officers in this state are endowed with wizardry skills, namely the ability to divine the future and see beyond this physical realm into the invisible and incorporeal dimensions. The Georgia House voted last week (the Senate similarly approving it a month earlier) to approve Senate Bill 94.  In broad terms this bill’s stated purpose was to modernize many of Georgia’s statutes under Title 17 relating to criminal procedures. There do appear to be some genuine improvements to the law in this piece of legislation. For example Section 17-20-2 covers procedures for witness identification lineups. It is now forbidden that the person conducting the line up have any knowledge of the identity of the actual suspect. This ensures a true “double-blind” outcome free of unconscious cues directing the witness to the “correct” choice.

However there are other aspects to this legislation which take a decidedly two-steps forward one-step back approach to improving the state of criminal law in this state. Perhaps the most egregious is Section 17-5-22, which now includes language that warrants may be issued if probable cause can be shown that a crime is about to be committed. Yes you read that correctly – about to be committed. Taking a page out of the movie “Minority Report,” Georgia now has a “pre-Crime” clause in its criminal code. We are fortunate that police officers in this state can now exercise a power none of us mere mortals posses: the ability to see into the future. Nostradamus would be proud. So, that leaves an open question – can the state get a conviction for a crime that was about to be committed but then because of the warrant was not? What are the standards of evidence? Is merely possessing a weapon “proof” you were about to commit a crime? If I have a gun or knife on me does that mean I am about to commit the crime of murder? Armed robbery? Assault? Which one? All three perhaps? If I own an analytical balance does that mean I’m about to commit the crime of drug distribution? I wonder how much easier it will be for the police to harass someone they have it in for if any of a number of innocuous items could be used to commit a crime. Let me just interject here now to say I don’t mean the Oconee County Police – they are the best and would never do anything like this! Ok, that was mean to be a bit of levity, but I’m also serious, I am fortunate to live in a county with a police force that does not engage in the sort of shenanigans you sometimes hear about on the news – they truly are top-notch.  So, what am I complaining about you might say, none of these legislative games affect or are likely to affect me? Because I can see beyond my own little world, and I can see how although some officers would not abuse the power granted in this new law, I can also see how it could easily be abused by those with personal vendettas or discriminatory inclinations. We’ve all heard the phrase “driving while black” – can you imagine how much easier it will now be for officers with racist inclinations to concoct suspicion of some “pre-crime” when they fail to find any evidence of an actual crime? I believe the question answers itself.

On the lighter side of inanity contained in this bill, there is a change in the definition of “property”. Section 17-5-1 now defines property to encompass “intangible, … incorporeal… or invisible” things. Hmmmm… so are they going to confiscate my invisible friend? That doesn’t seem very respectful of the rights of invisible, incorporeal beings. Ok, I know what they mean; they are referring to digital media (well I hope that is what they mean, otherwise someone let Casper know about this). The intent here is unclear but one could imagine that it allows them to now collect a physical device (phone, hard drive), copy all the data off, and then erase it and return it to you empty. That way they can say they returned your physical goods and kept as evidence the “incorporeal” digital evidence. Of course if making a copy of someone’s property” is supposedly a crime then haven’t the police just committed the same crime by copying your copy? Perhaps if the General Assembly used the correct definition of property, e.g. scarce, rivalrous resources, it would free up police manpower to go after actual property crimes (theft, rape, murder) rather than acting as referee in disputes that amount to nothing more than schoolyard disputes over who said something first.

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.

“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.

I’ve got a tip that will change your life…

Last week I touched on a handful of stories concerning police and civilian interaction that ended in tragedy. This week I’d like to focus on a story that should serve as a wake up call to anyone who has ever thought “not my problem” because “that stuff only happens to shady characters or people who hang around shady characters.”

David Hooks, 59, of East Dublin, Georgia was the poster-boy for least likely to be associated with a criminal element. He owned a construction company that routinely worked on military bases. Such work required numerous background checks at both the state and federal level (Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). Short of being vetted by the CIA you couldn’t ask for anyone with a cleaner background. This is not to suggest that those with “clean records” are incapable of committing crimes but rather that such people are statistically as likely to commit a crime as any of us are (I presume my readers also have clean records!).

So what irresponsible action on his part resulted in him becoming yet another casualty of Prohibition (the war on drugs)? Why he allowed his truck, sitting in his driveway, to be broken into and his SUV to be stolen. It turns out the guy who stole the truck, Rodney Garrett, (a self-described thief and meth addict) turned himself in to the cops claiming he found a bag of methamphetamine in the truck and thus “became scared for his safety.” So, based solely on this hearsay of a tip, a warrant was issued to search Hook’s home. Now, if the cops had executed this warrant the way the 4th Amendment intended (and the way it used to be done) there would have been no problem. They would have sent one or two squad cars over to the house, politely knocked on the door, served and then executed the warrant. They would have found nothing, hopefully apologized for the trouble, cleaned up after themselves and left.

But that is not what happened. Those accused of drug crimes, even mere possession, are presumed to be clones of Al Pacino’s “Scarface”, AK-47 at the ready 24/7. So, under a presumption of Hook’s guilt, the Laurens County Drug Task Force silently rolled up his driveway around 11 pm with no flashing lights, jumped out of their vehicles and rapidly approached the back door of the house. David’s wife, seeing dark shadowy figures moving about their house late at night logically concluded that the burglars had returned to possibly steal more vehicles or enter the house. It had only been two days since the first theft and being unaware the thief was in custody they had no reason not to suspect a repeat event.

So David grabbed a shotgun and prepared for a confrontation. What happened next is unclear because there are conflicting stories. The official version is that the police did approach with sirens and lights, they did loudly knock on the door and that when no one answered they broke the door down, saw David holding a shotgun and thus had no choice but to unload their weapons. David’s widow (and the physical evidence) beg to differ with that narrative. There were no lights, sirens or knocking. David was not shot near the back door but rather through an interior wall. In other words, they blindly shot at a wall not knowing what was behind it. Brilliant. Good thing his grandchildren weren’t visiting that night. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. His grieving widow and family had to endure a 44-hour search of the residence. The result? Not even a trace of narcotics was found. Oops.

So, the next time you think you are safe from brutal police actions, just remember, you are just one blame-shifting-meth-head’s “tip” or wrong address away from having black-helmeted thugs appearing in your doorway unannounced and unloading an entire clip into you or a loved one because they moved their hand the wrong way or came around the corner too quickly. No one is safe if everyone is just an utterance away from a weapons-drawn raid on his or her home. Due process is not the Gestapo breaking down your door in the middle of the night and claiming procedure was followed because they left a warrant on your corpse. This is not America. But if this is what America has become, then there is nothing exceptional about it. Prohibition must end. Again.

Details sourced from: and

Lifting the Veil

“There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.” Commander William Adama, Battlestar Galactica (Season 1, Episode 2)

Although the source of this quote is fictional, its perspicacious message is grounded in reality. The only twist is that it is the police who are becoming more military-like. The end result, however, is the same – civilian casualties.

I shouldn’t have to provide examples, but I will as a courtesy for those reading this a few years hence when I suspect recent events will have been lost down the rabbit hole of collective amnesia: the shooting death of Michael Brown in Missouri, the shooting death of John Crawford in an Ohio Wal-Mart, a toddler in Georgia critically injured by a flash grenade, David Hooks shot dead in his home by police in Georgia and so on. If you’d like to read more there is a website dedicated to memorializing these horrific stories. The take home message here is that if cops are going to put their safety above all other considerations, then perhaps they should find a different line of work. “Officer safety” is the oft-cited excuse for the use of deadly force, however the myth that police work is the most dangerous profession just doesn’t line up with reality. In fact in 2013 it didn’t even make the top 10 of most dangerous professions (garbage collector and roofer actually rank higher).

Now I’d like to engage you in a thought experiment. Suppose that instead of the headlines being “local police shoot man dead” they instead read “employee of private security firm at local mall shoots man dead.” What kind of response would we expect in that situation? Would we expect that the employee be given a few days off from work, found to have done nothing wrong and be back on the job within a month or two? If an employee of ANY company did such a thing there would be lawsuits galore. The security company, the employee and the mall would all be sued. The message of a lawsuit is this: someone is accountable.

But what happens when a public police force is involved? The police department can’t be sued. The individual cop can’t be sued. This is qualified and sovereign immunity at work. The municipality involved is sometimes sued in rare situations. Even if they lose the suit there is zero incentive to change. Those “in charge” are not personally held financially accountable. Instead the cost of the suit or settlement is diffused among the taxpayers in pieces so small it is hardly noticed. The normal feedback mechanism that a lawsuit provides (personal financial loss) is thus short-circuited and nothing changes.

Now imagine a world where policing is entirely in the domain of private companies. This is not at all far fetched. Many municipalities (like Sandy Springs, Georgia) now outsource a range of traditional municipal services. In this hypothetical scenario private police companies would carry liability insurance just like all companies do today. Private police companies likewise would require their employee (the cops) to carry their own liability insurance. The cost of this insurance would be directly related to the cop’s training and work history (just as auto insurance rates are related to a driver’s history). Insurers would have an incentive to regulate such police forces in order to minimize the likelihood of paying claims. Reckless cops and poorly managed policing companies would either lose coverage or find their insurance rates so high they couldn’t afford to operate anymore. No municipality would contract a company lacking insurance. The self-correcting feedback mechanism of blatant self-interested profit seeking keeps everyone in line. Insurers regulate out the bad firms so they don’t lose money paying out claims. Police firms regulate out the bad cops so they don’t suffer increased insurance rates. The public sues those firms or cops that manage to slip through. There’s nothing magical here, it works like this everyday throughout the market (when not otherwise distorted through government interventions).

This would be trivial to implement nationwide. Municipalities already utilize a bid process for many other projects; there is no reason why it could not be done for policing as well. True accountability can only happen once the veil of qualified and sovereign immunity is lifted and the self-correction of self-interest found in the market is permitted to function.

Ferguson is the New Black

I was shocked and saddened, as most were, to read about the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last week. What I was not, unfortunately, was surprised. Stories of police overreaction to the most innocuous of infractions (or none at all) are seemingly no longer the exception in a society where mere behavior, words, or possessions are sufficient evidence of criminality that is too frequently repelled with lethal force. The trivial nature of Brown’s misdeed (walking in the street) coupled with the rapidity and disproportionate response of the officer involved (6 bullets, including 2 to the head!) was illustrative of the small amount of daylight between life inside and outside the prison system.

I (fortunately) lack any direct experience with the prison system; however, what I have read is a realistic portrayal of that system can be found in the television series “Orange is the New Black” (warning: definitely not family friendly). In this series the main character is incarcerated (as are many others) for being involved in one of the many victimless crimes related to the “war on drugs.” The prison depicted is a federal, minimum-security women’s prison. But even under this lightest of all prison environments, life is clearly a stressful and miserable experience, in no small part due to the capricious and vindicate nature of the guards coupled with the lack of autonomy over ones life.

Naturally this is what one would expect; we all know prison is not supposed to be a vacation. It is supposed to be miserable so that it may act as a deterrent. And even when it is not a deterrent then we the public can still rest satisfied in knowing the “bad” people are being appropriately punished. But as it becomes clear that the vast majority of these prisoners are party to “crimes” with no victim, it makes the US prison system less like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and more like Stalin’s Gulags. But I digress.

The most frightening aspect of the TV series is not its portrayal of life within prison but rather the realization that we ourselves live in a much larger prison known as the State. This prison has no escape, no furlough and no time off for good behavior. Consider: in prison perceived disrespect toward a guard or failing to immediately and mindlessly follow their directives is met with an immediate and violent response. The same fate is not uncommon for any of us who might fail to immediately comply with the “lawful order of a police officer.” In prison the guards can search the prisoners or their living space at any time for any reason. This is likewise true in many parts of the country under “stop-and-frisk” laws or with the now infamous no-knock-raids. In prison the mail correspondence and voice conversations are closely monitored. Outside prison we have the NSA to take care of that task. In prison the inmates must plead to their intermediaries (the administrative staff) for permission to engage in heretofore-unapproved activities. Outside prison we must plead with our intermediaries (elected officials) for permission (licensing) to engage in an activity so that we can avoid violent reprisals from the state. In prison the belongings of any inmate can be confiscated at any time for any reason. Outside prison our property may be confiscated (civil asset forfeiture) for nothing more than baseless whims of suspicion.The dream of the statist is to push society toward being more, not less, prison like. The statist wants nothing more than to have the power to force all to conform to their vision of the ideal society: behave this way that, not that, eat this, not that, run your business this way, not that, express yourself artistically this way, not that, smoke and drink this, but not that. Where else but in a prison are such visions of the ideal society possible through strict enforcement?

Many might say “hogwash” to all this. They’ll insist they don’t feel like prisoners, they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. That may be true, for some actions, but even prisoners may do things without asking permission or running afoul of a guard; but that does not make them free. They are simply the pinball that has not yet hit the wall. Inside prison the walls are narrow, outside prison the walls are wide – but both have walls. If you remain unconvinced and still need proof that you are but a mere serf living on the master’s (that is, the state’s) land then consider the truth found within an instinctual and visceral emotional response. What do you feel in that moment when you see flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror?

Health of the State

The War on Drugs is perhaps the most unjust “war” ever waged. It is not, as in conventional warfare, a conflict between states, but rather a conflict of a parasite (the state) against its host (the people). Just as cancer grows by attacking its host, so too does state power expand as it attacks its citizens in the name of saving them. The tumor that is the drug war is but one variant of the cancer that is state power.

It has been said that war is the health of the state (Randolph Bourne). If that is so, then traditional wars (against people) are far too fleeting as a means to bolster state power. The end comes relatively soon as both sides are worn down through attrition. In order to have unending war the state must fight an enemy without form, substance, or soul. This is achieved by waging war against thoughts, emotions, and things; for these things can never be conquered, and thus is ensured the eternal health of the state.

The colorful imagery of a “War on Drugs” suggests perhaps we are battling against anthropomorphized weed and poppies as they brutally attempt to intoxicate us by crashing through our doors and up our noses. Yes, I’m being facetious – now I shall be sarcastic: the real criminals in this war are those who possess these vilified substances.

The police will almost never stop a murder, rape or robbery in progress, but gosh darn it they sure as heck can find a crime in progress if the crime is mere possession. What is the easiest way to capture a criminal? Declare random object X illegal and then find people who happen to possess X. Such prohibitionary lawmaking has led to a perversion of policing incentives. The police now have two choices: Demonstrate effectiveness in catching real criminals through laborious detective work that rarely pays off, or, invent new and interesting pretexts to see if dear citizen is in possession of a verboten substances. Which one is more likely to yield results? Exactly. And so focus shifts to the quick and easy result at the expense of the more difficult task of meting out authentic justice.

This truth has engendered the most sinister aspect of the drug war: the no-knock raid. If the police knock then the suspect might stealthily comply with the law and cause himself to no longer possess the banned material. So on the premise that it is better that a thousand men die than one guilty drug user go free, we have seen the birth of the no-knock raid. Yes, sometimes they’ll get the wrong house, sometimes they’ll accidentally shoot totally innocent people (or almost routinely shoot innocent dogs), but it’s all worth it if it prevents a drug possessor from sometimes getting away. No-knock raids are a breeding ground for all manner of confusion and mistakes. To wit, just last week in Cornelia, Georgia a no-knock raid resulted in a 2 year old suffering massive burns over his face and body when a “distraction device” (aka flash grenade) was tossed into his crib, inches from this face, by the invading SWAT team. Naturally this was a mistake; they never intended that to happen. Procedurally they did nothing wrong – everything was by the book. That fact alone should scare the hell out anyone. Who will be next? Maybe someone that matters to you.

Even if we were granted a wish that all recreational drugs were forever vanquished from this planet and the only price would be the life of one innocent, that price would be far too high. The irony is that those in charge of this wretched war are killing people who would never have used drugs in order to possibly save those who actively seek to use them. But what would you expect from the state? States have always sought to butcher civilians in order to persuade others to change their behavior. Sound familiar? But the ends justify the means, so that makes everything ok.