Guest Post: Law Enforcement is Not Your Friend
Submitted by James E. Miller of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada,
Across the West, instances of abuse of authority by domestic police forces are becoming more prevalent. Two weeks ago, two police officers in my hometown accosted my brother as he walked back to his car after purchasing a six pack of beer. The officers, who thought my brother was up to no good because he parked a few blocks from a bar, questioned him for a full half hour. All the while, they found it necessary to remind him repeatedly that “he was in trouble” and that the situation was “serious.” After my brother asked numerous times what he had done and if he was under arrest, the two officers finally let him go. Though he was never charged with a crime, it was implied that he wasn’t free to leave. During the back-and-forth, one officer claimed that he and his fellow officers kept the town safe through such tactics like assuming everyone is a criminal. The sad part is, the officer likely believed his own story.
Situations of police arrogance and abuse like this are now commonplace in many Western countries and especially the United States. After a decade of civil liberties systematically being slaughtered and the rights of foreigners being stripped away in the name of “fighting terrorism,” even the most egregious acts of crushing natural rights hardly draw any outcry from the greater public. Just last week on August 16, 2012, former Marine Brandon Raub was forcibly taken from his home in Chesterfield Country, Virginia and is currently being held against his will in a psychiatric hospital. His alleged crime he has yet to be charged for? Questioning the federal government’s true motive in all its dealings on his private Facebook page. Despite having no criminal record and no history of mental health illness, Raub was effectively kidnapped from his home in a coordinated effort by FBI officials, Secret Service agents, and local police. The pickup hardly differs from the Gestapo tactics used in communist Russia to suppress political dissent. The arresting officials claim that Raub was not under arrest despite the fact that he was in shackled handcuffs and was not free to return home. FBI spokeswoman Dee Rybiski assured the Associated Press that many of Raub’s writing were “threatening” and that they had received “complaints” over the violent rhetoric. But according to The New American, nowhere in Raub’s writing was violent revolution ever suggested. Thankfully, a judge recently ordered the release of Raub as there was no legal basis to hold him involuntarily.
While the Brandon Raub affair is horrendous, arrest and detainment of political dissent is nothing new to the United States. From John Adams’ signing of the Alien and Sedition Act to Abraham Lincoln suspending Habeas Corpus and imprisoning political opponents and those who spoke out against the Civil War, freedom of speech and peaceful protest have never been regarded as sacrosanct. Should law enforcement feel the need to keep someone against their will, there is little to stand in their way. And this behavior is not unique to the United States.
In Canada, the home of “peace, order, and good government,” the people’s faith in the goodness of monopolized authority is being challenged. Last spring after many provincial governments threatened tuition hikes, university students took to the streets in protest. Police brutality ended up showing its ugly head as riot police arrested as many as 85 protestors. These students, who naively saw themselves as entitled to a college education paid for by pilfered funds, were served a taste of what government really looks like. To quote H.L. Mencken, the students believed in the sanctity of democracy and got it “good and hard” as they witnessed the truth that government amounts to no more than a riot shield, a billy club, and the trigger of a gun. In Europe, austerity measures have evoked similar objection as many nonviolent protests have been upended by police crackdowns. Though the anti-austerity crowd generally wants their perspective governments to shower them with entitlement benefits, their childlike desire of something for nothing is not deserving of a tax-funded bludgeoning.
As the state grows in size and scope of authority so must its enforcement apparatus. The forced taking and distributing of wealth is not a trait found in a peaceful society. With every ratcheting up of government intervention into civil life comes growth in the police state. The perpetual War on Terror has only exacerbated this trend as many Americans have shamefully allowed for their inner-most private moments to be violated in the name of feeling safe. Likewise, prominent governments the world over have bowed down to America hegemony and the sheer arrogance through which a policy of extra-judicial murder and the silencing of criticism is conducted. As LRC columnist and author Fred Reed explains:
People speak of the onrush of the police state. I think that many do not understand how fast it comes, or how thorough it will be.
The political framework falls rapidly into place. Few or no safeguards exist, and probably few are possible. A growing authoritarianism rapidly erodes what protections we had. The courts allow random searches of passengers of trains and subways without probable cause. Warrantless tapping of personal communications is rampant, or done with secret warrants from a secret federal judge. TSA has Viper squads that stop cars at random for searches. In many places it is against the law to video the police, who everywhere become more militarized and less accountable. For practical purposes, citizens have no recourse.
It’s quite easy to understand why law enforcement, as a vital enforcement arm of government, uses its authority so recklessly and with little impunity. The state, as anarcho-capitalist philosopher Hans-Herman Hoppe defines it, acts as “the final arbiter and judge in every case of interpersonal conflict.” Whatever issue a citizen has with an enforcer of government law, it must be heard and dealt with by another state official; thereby making bias inevitable. Should a judge declare whatever claim you make against the police as void, the process comes to an end. There is no appeal to a competing authority. Law, instead of being concrete and based on moral principles, is bent and formed to fit whatever the enforcers in the state deem necessary. Instead of protecting person and property, law enforcement seeks to protect itself and the power it has accumulated. In other words, “protect and serve” does not apply to society but rather to their employer known as the state.
Questioning of monopolized, violent, and easily corruptible authority is not a radical stance by any means. Believing that society is incapable of functioning without living under a gun is not only a radical view but also one that hides a hatred of humanity. It is a view based on the ideal that only might makes right and that peace and liberty are impossible conditions for man to prosper in.
The state’s monopoly on violence ultimately acts as a hindrance to social cooperation and rising living standards. It is regressive in the sense that monopolies have no incentive to meet the needs of consumers. Government law enforcement is legalized force shielded by the threat of even more force. There is little accountability or repercussion for police brutality except in some extreme cases. If a victim is unable to illicit support from a media establishment intoxicated with its position as the government’s court reporter, misdeeds go unpunished. Perpetrators are then more emboldened to commit the same, and even worse, acts in the future.
In the end, law enforcement in its current form should not be looked to as a friend of peace but merely as another branch of the state’s institutionalized thuggery. There is little justice to be had if one group of individuals operates outside the rule of proper and moral law. Freedom comes not from a badge and gun but of a recognition that man has an absolute right to not be coerced against his wishes. Anything else amounts to repression of body and spirit with social degeneration as the final outcome.
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