Quotulatiousness

August 22, 2014

The consent of the governed (or policed)

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

Kevin Williamson on the declining trust in government, not just in Ferguson, but across the United States:

The mathematics of civil disobedience has always been pretty straightforward: As Mohandas Gandhi pointed out to the raj, 100,000 government officials cannot control 350 million citizens if the citizens do not cooperate. There are not enough police in St. Louis County to control the people who do not wish to be controlled by the police in St. Louis County, as least as currently constituted. There are two ways to govern: By consent or by terror. In the United States, we govern by consent.

(Mostly.)

We spend altogether too much time talking about sentiment, e.g., polling Americans about whether they feel that the laws of economics apply in any given situation, as though their feelings were relevant to it. But there are occasions upon which sentiment must be considered, and considered seriously. One is the matter of public confidence in institutions, and the other is in the very serious business of consent.

On the matter of confidence, it is difficult to fault the critics of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police authorities. They do not give a very strong impression of competence, and the relationship between police and community appears to be adversarial on both sides. The police have been less than forthcoming, and their release of information has been self-serving. Ferguson already was a relatively high-crime area and economically depressed, meaning, almost by definition, that local institutions were failing to do their jobs. There are looters, adventurers, and opportunists, of course, but the fact is that people in the town of Ferguson, Mo., could be at home watching television or updating their Facebook pages but instead are protesting the performance of their local government. That is not an insignificant fact.

[...]

We have seen withdrawals of consent before, and we will see more in the future. From cracked Texas secessionists and Cliven Bundy to the people throwing rocks at police in Ferguson, such gestures are rarely altogether admirable, but that does not make them necessarily illegitimate. (I must confess that I’d have more sympathy with the protesters in Ferguson if they were setting fire to tax offices rather than convenience stores.) (Not that I’m endorsing setting fire to tax offices.) (At this time.) And there are real reasons to consider the question of consent: From local politicians legally looting their communities to federal government that uses the IRS as a weapon of politics, there are real objections to be made. In practical terms, we have a government that interferes with our lives and livelihoods far more than did the one our Founders threw off.

Which is not a call for revolution — it’s a call for rebalancing, for reestablishing exactly who works for whom.

August 21, 2014

Ferguson authorities issue an average of “about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household”

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:45

The relationship between the Ferguson police and the residents of the municipality seem to have been on a weird footing long before the current face-off, as Walter Olson points out:

Reading through this Newsweek article on the troubled relations between police and residents in Ferguson, Mo. before this month’s blowup, this passage jumped out at me:

    “Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of 2,635,400,” according to the ArchCity Defenders report. And in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”

My first reaction – maybe yours too – was “is that a misprint?” Three arrest warrants per household in Ferguson last year?

Now let’s stipulate that some of those warrants were written against out-of-towners, especially in matters arising from traffic offenses, tickets being a key revenue source for many municipalities in St. Louis’s North County. Yet here’s a second statistic some will find surprising: while reported property-crime rates in Ferguson have run well above the national average for years, violent-crime rates have not. After a high period that lasted through 2008, they have declined steadily to a point where last year Ferguson had about the same rate of violent crime as the nation generally.

What seems clear at this point is that Ferguson – while in some ways a nicer and safer town than some have imagined – does suffer from a unusual degree of antagonism between police and residents, an antagonism that crucially involves race (the town is an extreme outlier in its now-famous extent of black underrepresentation in elected office) and yet has other vital dimensions as well.

Update: Alex Tabarrok says this is an example of the return of debtor’s prisons in modern America.

How does a stop for jaywalking turn into a homicide and how does that turn into an American town essentially coming under military control with snipers, tear gas, and a no-fly zone? We don’t yet know exactly what happened between the two individuals on the day in question but events like this don’t happen without a deeper context. Part of the context is the return of debtor’s prisons that I wrote about in 2012:

    Debtor’s prisons are supposed to be illegal in the United States but today poor people who fail to pay even small criminal justice fees are routinely being imprisoned. The problem has gotten worse recently because strapped states have dramatically increased the number of criminal justice fees….Failure to pay criminal justice fees can result in revocation of an individual’s drivers license, arrest and imprisonment. Individuals with revoked licenses who drive (say to work to earn money to pay their fees) and are apprehended can be further fined and imprisoned. Unpaid criminal justice debt also results in damaged credit reports and reduced housing and employment prospects. Furthermore, failure to pay fees can mean a violation of probation and parole terms which makes an individual ineligible for Federal programs such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Family funds and Social Security Income for the elderly and disabled.

[...]

You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”

If you have money, for example, you can easily get a speeding ticket converted to a non-moving violation. But if you don’t have money it’s often the start of a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of

August 20, 2014

The radical nineteenth century notion of “policing by consent”

Filed under: Britain, History, Law, USA — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 07:55

Techdirt‘s Tim Cushing links to an interesting post by Jason Kottke discussing the radical-for-the-time (and apparently radical for right now) idea of policing by consent:

The UK Parliament passed the first Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. The act was introduced by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, who undertook a study of crime and policing, which resulted in his belief that the keys to building an effective police force were to 1) make it professional (most prior policing had been volunteer in nature); 2) organize as a civilian force, not as a paramilitary force; and 3) make the police accountable to the public. The Metropolitan Police, whose officers were referred to as “bobbies” after Peel, was extremely successful and became the model for the modern urban police force, both in the UK and around the world, including in the United States.

At the heart of the Metropolitan Police’s charter were a set of rules either written by Peel or drawn up at some later date by the two founding Commissioners: The Nine Principles of Policing.

On 3 December, 2012, the Home Office released the following statement in response to a Freedom of Information request:

When saying ‘policing by consent’, the Home Secretary was referring to a long standing philosophy of British policing, known as the Robert Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing. However, there is no evidence of any link to Robert Peel and it was likely devised by the first Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis (Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne). The principles which were set out in the ‘General Instructions’ that were issued to every new police officer from 1829 were:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Essentially, as explained by the notable police historian Charles Reith in his ‘New Study of Police History ‘in 1956, it was a philosophy of policing ‘unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public’.

It should be noted that it refers to the power of the police coming from the common consent of the public, as opposed to the power of the state. It does not mean the consent of an individual. No individual can chose to withdraw his or her consent from the police, or from a law.

Tim Cushing comments on the US interpretation in current use:

You can choose anything on this list and find its correlating inversion on display in the US. Not once is “officer safety” cited as a reason to use physical force. Not once does the list make a demand for unearned respect. And above all, it makes it clear that this power is granted by the consent of the public, not provided by the State. What the public gives, it can rescind. The government’s only involvement is administrative.

US police forces talk a good game in mission statements about “honor” and “integrity,” but not once do they acknowledge the fact that they are servants of the public or that they are, in fact, just the public in different clothing. They are part of the government, an institution which derives from the consent of the governed. But there is no way to revoke that consent. Police unions and government officials continue to shelter misbehaving officers and any punishments handed down are delayed and largely ineffective in deterring future misconduct. With rare exceptions, police officials circle the wagons when one of theirs is accused of excessive force or criminal activity. The public is treated as irritating, ungrateful outsiders who don’t realize how difficult it is to be a cop and who are better surveilled than heard.

August 19, 2014

QotD: Power corrupts, police and conservative edition

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

When this principle of “power corrupts” is the driving force behind a conservative’s approach to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, why are so many conservatives unwilling to apply it to those who enforce many of the government’s laws? In the days since Michael Brown’s death, we’ve seen video footage of police firing teargas onto people’s private property (language warning). We’ve heard reports of police arresting journalists who were not engaging in any illegal activity. If power seems to be corrupting those charged with keeping the peace during the recent unrest in Ferguson, why do some conservatives refuse to consider the mere possibility that a police officer may have been corrupted by power in the event that sparked the unrest?

The answer is, I think, quite simple. For many conservatives, especially those of us living in nice, comfy suburbs, it’s hard to apply the “power corrupts” doctrine to law enforcement because we’ve never seen corrupted enforcers of the law. We’ve never been wrongly arrested. We’ve never witnessed our children put in jail based on the false reports of police officers. We’ve never seen our neighbors beaten or tazed without cause. And in the extremely unlikely scenario that a police officer drove into our neighborhood and murdered our unarmed friend in cold blood, we cannot possibly fathom a scenario where the justice system wouldn’t be on our side and where that police officer wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in jail. Therefore Brown must have been a violent, gang-sign flashing thug, foolish enough to think he could swipe a cop’s weapon because, in our minds, there’s no conceivable way that a police officer would gun down an innocent man.

But just because we don’t see the corruption of law enforcement in our own lives doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Police brutality is not the Bogeyman. It’s not an urban legend witnessed by none but told by many. It’s not a myth created by a primitive tribe that is too simple to understand the true source of the brokenness in its communities. Black people believe in police brutality for the same reason they believe in rain — because they’ve felt it.

Hans Fiene, “Michael Brown And The Conservative Inconsistency”, The Federalist, 2014-08-15.

August 18, 2014

QotD: Police militarization was a response to a problem that never happened

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:14

Two decades ago violent crime really was out of control, and it seemed reasonable to a lot of people that police needed to respond in a much more forceful way. We can argue forever about whether militarizing our police forces was an appropriate response to higher crime rates, but at least it was an understandable motivation. Later, police militarization got a further boost from 9/11, and again, that was at least an understandable response.

But at the same time the trend toward militarization started in the early 90s, the crime wave of the 70s and 80s finally crested and then began to ebb. Likewise, Al Qaeda terrorism never evolved into a serious local problem. We’ve spent the past two decades militarizing our police forces to respond to problems that never materialized, and now we’re stuck with them. We don’t need commando teams and SWAT units in every town in America to deal with either terrorism or an epidemic of crime, so they get used for other things instead. And that’s how we end up with debacles like Ferguson.

Police militarization was a mistake. You can argue that perhaps we didn’t know that at the time. No one knew in 1990 that crime was about to begin a dramatic long-term decline, and no one knew in 2001 that domestic terrorism would never become a serious threat. But we know now. There’s no longer even a thin excuse for arming our police forces this way.

Kevin Drum, “We Created a Policing Monster By Mistake”, Mother Jones, 2014-08-16.

August 17, 2014

The police militarization problem

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Mark Steyn looks at the situation in Ferguson, Missouri and the larger problem of police militarization generally:

It’s important, when something goes wrong, to be clear about what it is that’s at issue. Talking up Michael Brown as this season’s Trayvonesque angel of peace and scholarship was foolish, and looting stores in his saintly memory even worse. But this week’s pictures from Ferguson [...] ought to be profoundly disquieting to those Americans of a non-looting bent.

The most basic problem is that we will never know for certain what happened. Why? Because the Ferguson cruiser did not have a camera recording the incident. That’s simply not credible. “Law” “enforcement” in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns … but not a dashcam. That’s ridiculous. I remember a few years ago when my one-man police department in New Hampshire purchased a camera for its cruiser. It’s about as cheap and basic a police expense as there is.

Last year, my meek mild-mannered mumsy office manager was pulled over by an angry small-town cop in breach of her Fourth Amendment rights. The state lost in court because the officer’s artful narrative and the usual faked-up-after-the-fact incident report did not match the dashcam footage. Three years ago, I was pulled over by an unmarked vehicle in Vermont and (to put it mildly) erroneously ticketed. In court, I was withering about the department’s policy of no dashcams for unmarked cars, and traffic cops driving around pretending to be James Bond but without the super-secret spy camera. The judge loathed me (as judges tend to), but I won that case. In 2014, when a police cruiser doesn’t have a camera, it’s a conscious choice. And it should be regarded as such.

And, if we have to have federal subsidy programs for municipal police departments, we should scrap the one that gives them the second-hand military hardware from Tikrit and Kandahar and replace it with one that ensures every patrol car has a camera.

[...] when the police are dressed like combat troops, it’s not a fashion faux pas, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of who they are. Forget the armored vehicles with the gun turrets, forget the faceless, helmeted, anonymous Robocops, and just listen to how these “policemen” talk. Look at the video as they’re arresting the New York Times and Huffington Post reporters. Watch the St Louis County deputy ordering everyone to leave, and then adding: “This is not up for discussion.”

Really? You’re a constable. You may be carrying on like the military commander of an occupying army faced with a rabble of revolting natives, but in the end you’re a constable. And the fact that you and your colleagues in that McDonald’s are comfortable speaking to your fellow citizens like this is part of the problem. The most important of the “nine principles of good policing” (formulated by the first two commissioners of the Metropolitan Police in 1829 and thereafter issued to every officer joining the force) is a very simple one: The police are the public and the public are the police. Not in Ferguson. Long before the teargassing begins and the bullets start flying, the way these guys talk is the first indication of how the remorseless militarization has corroded the soul of American policing.

August 16, 2014

ESR on demilitarizing the police

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:32

Eric S. Raymond is with most other libertarians about the problems with having your police become more like an occupying army:

I join my voice to those of Rand Paul and other prominent libertarians who are reacting to the violence in Ferguson, Mo. by calling for the demilitarization of the U.S.’s police. Beyond question, the local civil police in the U.S. are too heavily armed and in many places have developed an adversarial attitude towards the civilians they serve, one that makes police overreactions and civil violence almost inevitable.

But I publish this blog in part because I think it is my duty to speak taboo and unspeakable truths. And there’s another injustice being done here: the specific assumption, common among civil libertarians, that police overreactions are being driven by institutional racism. I believe this is dangerously untrue and actually impedes effective thinking about how to prevent future outrages.

There are some unwelcome statistics which at least partly explain why young black men are more likely to be stopped by the police:

… the percentage of black males 15-24 in the general population is about 1%. If you add “mixed”, which is reasonable in order to correspond to a policeman’s category of “nonwhite”, it goes to about 2%.

That 2% is responsible for almost all of 52% of U.S. homicides. Or, to put it differently, by these figures a young black or “mixed” male is roughly 26 times more likely to be a homicidal threat than a random person outside that category – older or younger blacks, whites, hispanics, females, whatever. If the young male is unambiguously black that figure goes up, about doubling.

26 times more likely. That’s a lot. It means that even given very forgiving assumptions about differential rates of conviction and other factors we probably still have a difference in propensity to homicide (and other violent crimes for which its rates are an index, including rape, armed robbery, and hot burglary) of around 20:1. That’s being very generous, assuming that cumulative errors have thrown my calculations are off by up to a factor of 6 in the direction unfavorable to my argument.

[...]

Yeah, by all means let’s demilitarize the police. But let’s also stop screaming “racism” when, by the numbers, the bad shit that goes down with black male youths reflects a cop’s rational fear of that particular demographic – and not racism against blacks in general. Often the cops in these incidents are themselves black, a fact that media accounts tend to suppress.

What we can actually do about the implied problem is a larger question. (Decriminalizing drugs would be a good start.) But it’s one we can’t even begin to address rationally without seeing past the accusation of racism.

August 15, 2014

The protests in Ferguson

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:38

David Harsanyi responds to some thoughts by David Frum:

Can you imagine what Ferguson would look like if all these demonstrators were armed?

It’s a question that’s popped up in my Twitter feed in various forms over the past few days. And as my colleague Mollie Hemingway has already done a fine job of pointing out, many in the media revealed they have only a muddled understanding of gun rights.

But let’s go with David Frum’s hypothetical proposition, because it brings to mind a few broader points.

[...]

In this situation, it was the state that behaved as if it had been deployed for war, not the majority of protestors. Most civilians don’t use guns recklessly in these situations (or any, for that matter) for reasons of self-preservation and more vitally – and this may surprise some people – because most people have absolutely no desire to shoot at the police. Even protesting civilians. Even angry protesting civilians.

So a more appropriate observation might be: Isn’t it amazing that in a country with over 250 million guns in circulation, violent political protests are almost nonexistent?

I nearly pulled the end of this article as a QotD entry on its own:

In my understanding, owning guns for self-defense or sport are only secondary reasons to support the Second Amendment. Though gun advocates often shy away from making the case, the best and most vital purpose of an armed citizenry is to be a buttress against tyrannical government. Now, I’ve never owned a gun, and I have no reason to believe that the time for aiming muskets at government troops is close or inevitable. And if it needs to be pointed out, those who do are nuts. As tragic as events of Ferguson have been, the situation certainly doesn’t call for any armed rebellion.

And yet. When the police block Main Street with tanks and aim their high-powered rifles at unarmed protestors, I don’t think to myself: “Hey, thank goodness those citizens have no way to defend themselves.” Apparently some people do.

August 14, 2014

So, what happened recently in Ferguson, Missouri?

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:57

Most of the mainstream media is failing to do their job — investigating and reporting the news — so the most useful tidbits of information seem to be coming from sources like Twitter. Note that this isn’t verified, cross-referenced, and fact-checked … but neither is much of the mainstream news these days.


(more…)

August 12, 2014

“Ayn Rand-obsessed pot smokers who want to hide their money from the tax man”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:06

J.D. Tuccille on five libertarian issues that should matter just as much to non-libertarians:

Are libertarians just Ayn Rand-obsessed pot smokers who want to hide their money from the tax man? That’s what many critics of the libertarian movement, and its seemingly looming moment in American history (as reported by the New York Times) would have you believe. But maybe we’re smoking that grass because we’re all too aware of what government officials do with that money (and to us all) when they get their hands on it (Ayn Rand did provide some cautionary tales, if you care to read her books).

Below are just five of the many issues on which libertarian journalists, independent think-tankers, state-challenging politicians, and freedom-loving litigators, among others, have worked to preserve and extend our liberty over the years. These are issues that matter to us. We think they should matter to you too — and they already may.

America’s Insane Incarceration Rate

“Every ten or eleven people that you meet, someone is going to either know someone in prison, has been in prison with a record, or you met them and they are going off to prison,” Michael Stoll, co-author of Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?, told Reason last year.

Those who now fill the nation’s jails, prisons, and detention centers, says the Prison Policy Initiative, number about 2.4 million people.

[...]

The Insane War on Drugs

The easiest way to get thrown behind bars in recent years has been by using, buying, selling, or merely possessing an intoxicant that doesn’t meet politicians’ approval. Prohibition of alcohol may have failed, but the impulse to prohibit — and to penalize those who don’t or won’t get with the program, continues in laws against marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and myriad other substances.

[...]

Whatever the Hell Happened to Police in This Country

You can’t have prisons groaning full of people busted for drug violations without somebody to put them there. That somebody is inevitably law enforcement in all its various permutations—though you might be forgiven for thinking it’s an occupying army, given the military tactics, equipment, and mindset that so many police departments have adopted.

[...]

Small Business-Killing Meddling

Government officials don’t have to unleash uniformed minions on you to make your life miserable — they can do the same thing with a web of red tape and a plague of inspectors. The challenge of making an honest living can become almost impossible when burdened with bureaucracy.

[...]

Peace

You can’t enjoy life, liberty, and prosperity if your ass has been shot off in some politician’s bloody military adventure. And libertarian-oriented lawmakers feature prominently among the “wacko-birds” denounced by uber-hawk, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.). Specifically, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) ranked proudly among those called out for opposing drone assassinations and unprovoked interventions in other countries’ affairs.

August 11, 2014

Questions from Ferguson, Missouri after police kill unarmed teenager

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:00

Scott Greenfield has some questions about the official account of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri:

There may be a good explanation for why Ferguson, Missouri, a mostly black working-class suburb of St. Louis, had a white mayor and police force. There might be a good explanation for why an unarmed, 18-year-old high school graduate, Michael Brown, was shot down in the street. But if so, nobody has said so yet. The only thing for which there is a good explanation is why Brown won’t be starting technical school today. That’s because he’s dead.

From the New York Times:

    The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager Saturday by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb came after a struggle for the officer’s gun, police officials said Sunday, in an explanation that met with outrage and skepticism in the largely African-American community.

The cop isn’t named. The story makes little sense.

    At a news conference on Sunday morning, the St. Louis County police chief, Jon Belmar, said that a man had been shot and killed after he had assaulted a police officer and the two had struggled over the officer’s gun inside his patrol car. At least one shot was fired from inside the car, Chief Belmar said.

    “The genesis of this was a physical confrontation,” Chief Belmar told reporters.

Good use of the word “genesis,” but it’s a lie.

    Just after noon on Saturday, the police said, an officer in a patrol car approached Mr. Brown and another man. As the officer began to leave his vehicle, one of the men pushed the officer back into the car and “physically assaulted” him, according to the police department’s account.

The genesis was when the shooter approached Michael Brown. Why? Then he “began to leave his vehicle.” Why? Then, according to the police account, “one of the men” pushed the cop back into the car and “physically assaulted” him. Why? Who? But mostly why would a kid who just graduated high school do this?

August 8, 2014

QotD: The nature of liberty

Filed under: Humour, Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

So with the Bill of Rights. As adopted by the Fathers of the Republic, it was gross, crude, inelastic, a bit fanciful and transcendental. It specified the rights of a citizen, but it said nothing whatever about his duties. Since then, by the orderly processes of legislative science and by the even more subtle and beautiful devices of juridic art, it has been kneaded and mellowed into a far greater pliability and reasonableness. On the one hand, the citizen still retains the great privilege of membership in the most superb free nation ever witnessed on this earth. On the other hand, as a result of countless shrewd enactments and sagacious decisions, his natural lusts and appetites are held in laudable check, and he is thus kept in order and decorum. No artificial impediment stands in the way of his highest aspiration. He may become anything, including even a policeman. But once a policeman, he is protected by the legislative and judicial arms in the peculiar rights and prerogatives that go with his high office, including especially the right to jug the laity at his will, to sweat and mug them, to subject them to the third degree, and to subdue their resistance by beating out their brains. Those who are unaware of this are simply ignorant of the basic principles of American jurisprudence, as they have been exposed times without number by the courts of first instance and ratified in lofty terms by the Supreme Court of the United States. The one aim of the controlling decisions, magnificently attained, is to safeguard public order and the public security, and to substitute a judicial process for the inchoate and dangerous interaction of discordant egos.

[...]

Thus the law, statute, common and case, protects the free American against injustice. It is ignorance of that subtle and perfect process and not any special love of liberty per se that causes radicals of anti-American kidney to rage every time an officer of the gendarmerie, in the simple execution of his duty, knocks a citizen in the head. The gendarme plainly has an inherent and inalienable right to knock him in the head: it is an essential part of his general prerogative as a sworn officer of the public peace and a representative of the sovereign power of the state. He may, true enough, exercise that prerogative in a manner liable to challenge on the ground that it is imprudent and lacking in sound judgment. On such questions reasonable men may differ. But it must be obvious that the sane and decorous way to settle differences of opinion of that sort is not by public outcry and florid appeals to sentimentality, not by ill-disguised playing to class consciousness and anti-social prejudice, but by an orderly resort to the checks and remedies superimposed upon the Bill of Rights by the calm deliberation and austere logic of the courts of equity.

The law protects the citizen. But to get its protection he must show due respect for its wise and delicate processes.

H.L. Mencken, “The Nature of Liberty”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

July 22, 2014

Cooling the conservative love affair with the police

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

If there’s one thing that separates conservatives from libertarians, it’s the conservative worship of the police. In most conservatives’ eyes, the police are always right and should never be criticized regardless of the situation. Perhaps this is beginning to change, as A.J. Delgado calls for an end to the love affair:

Imagine if I were to tell you there is a large group of government employees, with generous salaries and ridiculously cushy retirement pensions covered by the taxpayer, who enjoy incredible job security and are rarely held accountable even for activities that would almost certainly earn the rest of us prison time. When there is proven misconduct, these government employees are merely reassigned and are rarely dismissed. The bill for any legal settlements concerning their errors? It, too, is covered by the taxpayers. Their unions are among the strongest in the country.

No, I’m not talking about public-school teachers.

I’m talking about the police.

We conservatives recoil at the former; yet routinely defend the latter — even though, unlike teachers, police officers enjoy an utter monopoly on force and can ruin — or end — one’s life in a millisecond.

For decades, conservatives have served as stalwart defenders of police forces. There have been many good reasons for this, including long memories of the post-countercultural crime wave that devastated, and in some cases destroyed, many American cities; conservatives’ penchant for law and order; and Americans’ widely shared disdain for the cops’ usual opponents. (A hippie being arrested is something people from all walks of life are usually happy to see.) Although tough-on-crime appeals have never been limited to conservative politicians or voters, conservatives instinctively (and, it turned out, correctly) understood that the way to reduce crime is to have more cops making more arrests, not more sociologists identifying more root causes. Conservatives are rightly proud to have supported police officers doing their jobs at times when progressives were on the other side.

But it’s time for conservatives’ unconditional love affair with the police to end.

July 21, 2014

The retreat of civil society and the advance of the nanny state

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:27

In The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders why so many parents are being arrested these days for letting their children do things that used to be utterly normal:

Last month, when the first wave of these stories came out, I suggested it was a problem of helicopter parents enforcing their notions of parenthood on others. But the number and variety of such incidents suggest that something more is at work. The communities that are happy to watch the kids in the neighborhood, and help parents with an extra set of eyes and a few caramels, are just gone. We’re arresting parents because civil society is retreating from children altogether.

Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner and a father of five, attributes it to a decline of “neighborliness.” And that’s certainly true. People see a kid, imagine a bad thing could happen to them, and then think they should call the cops. Whereas “neighborly adults look after other adults’ kids when the parents are unavailable.”

Gracy Olmstead, in a very smart article for The American Conservative, says that all of this waning of society and waxing of the state was predicted by communitarian libertarian Robert Nisbet:

    Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.

[...]

But today those communities seem rarer, and so, too, those shared premises about how kids should behave. More than that, there’s a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood. Deliver a short report on a child’s behavior and his parents may snap back, “Don’t tell me how to parent my child.” A neighbor’s interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation (one they usually know little about because they are not very neighborly) to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.

Update: Scott Greenfield on the whole “see something, say something (to the authorities)” situation with parents and children.

[...] the most fundamental cause for some people to feel empowered to rat out a parent [is] because they just aren’t managing their children the way I think they should!!!

Everything that fails to comport with the way the most sensitive soul in the neighborhood feels it should must now be a crime. Do it for the children. Do it for the women. Do it for … just do it.

Parents always question other parents’ parenting skills and choices. We naturally believe with all our heart and soul that whatever choices we made were better than theirs, whoever they may be. This is human nature, given our own belief that we are right and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. Conversely, everyone who agrees is brilliant, confirming that we, too, are both right and brilliant. These thoughts are nothing new.

But the problem in Douthat’s parade of bad parenting isn’t merely some prissy busybody’s decision that some parent has inadequately bubble-wrapped their kid. The problem is that they conflate their parenting choices with righteousness, such that anyone who doesn’t share their sensibilities has committed a crime. It’s a crime to neglect your child, with neglect defined as doing anything less than providing absolute safety and comfort to children as the most delicate flower perceives it.

[...]

Years ago, there was a saying in the parent’s handbook, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Today, that’s Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree. This isn’t to suggest that beating kids is a great method of child rearing, but to remind all the self-righteous that their beloved nanny used to beat their mother to a pulp when she misbehaved. Are you ready to lock granny up? If not, what moral authority do you have to call the cops on someone else, whose crime is not meeting your expectations of safe enough?

The criminal law is not a child-rearing tool. If you spent a few seconds thinking beyond your overly passionate feelings, you might consider whether a child would do better to be reared by a loving parent who isn’t inclined to keep them locked in protective custody throughout the formative years, than as a ward of the state. How does turning a parent into a criminal, losing a job, perhaps even a home, make a child’s life better?

July 15, 2014

Reason.tv – Maggie McNeill on Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution

Filed under: Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:43

Published on 14 Jul 2014

“There is a very common form of rhetoric that’s used against us … that sex work isn’t work. That it’s a dodge. That it’s a scam. That it’s a form of exploitation,” says Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker turned activist who blogs at The Honest Courtesan.

“We still pretend that there’s a magical mumbo jumbo taboo energy about sex that makes it different from all other human activities.”

McNeill sat down with Reason TV‘s Thaddeus Russell for a wide-ranging interview where she responds to the feminist critique of sex work, explains why research on trafficking may not be reliable, and says why prostitution should be decriminalized.

“The problem is that there are already laws for these things,” states McNeill. “We have a name for sex being inflicted on a woman against her will. We call it rape. We have a name for taking someone and holding them prisoner somewhere. We call that abduction. … Why do we need [prostitution] to be laid on top of all these other things that already are crimes?”

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