The Madness of Law Enforcement's Escalating Brutality

It's a spiraling descent into insane tactics as frustrated law enforcers face-off with a non-compliant population.


U.S. Government

Law enforcement excesses grab an ever-growing share of headlines. Doors kicked in, people killed, dogs shot, phone lines tapped, curfews imposed—they're all examples of official overreaching at that unpleasant intersection of private activity and state disapproval. For some people, the implication of such abuses is that more scrutiny and the right people in charge will make law enforcement an enterprise which people need not fear.

But what if that's not the case? It may be that lawmakers have assigned law-enforcers goals so frustratingly elusive that even angels couldn't resist the temptation to escalate tactics to insane extremes, trampling liberty and decency along the way.

Deranged escalation resulted in the misguided marijuana raid on the home of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Mayor Cheye Calvo, during which his dogs were killed. When even a government official like Calvo can't protect his pets from police overstepping, you know we've gone over a cliff.

A similar venture into law enforcement madness resulted in the death of one police officer, and injuries to five others, when Ogden, Utah, resident, Matthew David Stewart, defended himself against the home invasion. Stewart later hanged himself in jail when it became clear that the legal system wasn't about to admit police errors or recognize his right to self-defense.

But that leap into the void was probably inevitable given the government's obsession with achieving the impossible: eliminating marijuana consumption. Almost eighty years after Reefer Madness, decades into the War on Drugs, a 2008 survey by the World Health Organization still says that 42.4 percent of Americans have smoked grass.

After several consecutive lifetimes of failure, entering the homes of average citizens and even of low-level government officials with guns blazing because somebody tried to grow marijuana or just deliver a package of forbidden weed to an unsuspecting addressee may suddenly take on a false patina of sanity to prohibitionists driven mad.

In fact, there have been a lot of laws that are essentially unenforceable because a large segment of the population is unwilling to obey them. They involve activities in which there's no victim—nobody to file a complaint or cooperate with police.

The hidden secret of law enforcement is that it's largely dependent on public cooperation. When laws have less than near-universal support—when they're a majority preference jammed down the throats of the minority—they beg for defiance. Cops then are "forced" to become arm-twisters, trying to intimidate the minority into submission through increasingly brutal tactics, or else they just give up.

Prohibition is infamous on this count. Thirteen years of illegal liquor brought us mass disobedience, corruption, and organized crime. A paper prepared in 1972 for the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse concluded, "[t]he law could not quell the continuing demand for alcoholic products. Thus, where legal enterprises could no longer supply the demand, an illicit traffic developed, from the point of manufacture to consumption."

You'd think that history lesson would stick—but it hasn't. Lawmakers still send the police to force people to stop doing things they want to do, even when there's nobody to complain and little interest in compliance.

So we see police breaking up friendly card games with headline-grabbing raids, like the Largo, Florida, incident in December 2012 that involved cops in riot gear bursting in on a poker tournament that involved no actual gambling. Of course, the games continue, only now a bit further underground.

People turn to the Internet for their gambling fix. What's the government going to do about that?

Try something else crazy, it turns out—like arresting executives of companies based in countries where online gambling is perfectly legal who merely change planes in the United States. That's like Saudi Arabia busting a Fleshbot employee because naughty pictures published on American Web sites are frowned on in Islamic countries.

That enthusiasm for enforcing the unenforceable at all costs should have all of us—even gun control advocates—thanking the Supreme Court for (apparently) taking outright gun bans off the table with the Heller decision.


Because gun owners have a history of defying gun control laws (compliance with assault weapons bans in Boston and Cleveland has hovered around one percent). Because the authorities would be inclined to escalate enforcement. And because resistance to such escalation would inherently involve, you know, guns.

In Can Gun Control Work? James B. Jacobs, director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University, concluded, "If black market activity in connection with the drug laws is any indication, a decades-long 'war on handguns' might resemble a low-grade civil war more than a law-enforcement initiative."

And that takes us back to drug prohibition—the eternally failed crusade to make much of the population change its ways, "or else."

It won't work. It can't work. It never has worked.

But the authorities try, and try, and try to make people knuckle under to laws that they find offensive and intrusive. And as people refuse to comply, the authorities raise the stakes, adopting tactics that most of us recognize as violations of fundamental rights and of simple human decency.

A version of this column earlier appeared in newspapers including the Verde Independent.

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  1. I think the madness lies less in the fact that these laws are unenforceable than that the brutality that accompanies their enforcement alienates people who would otherwise be allies. There have always been laws that have existed but have been overlooked- how many guys in the 50s and 60s used to have a weekly poker game? The difference now is that the cops no longer have communal ties that would limit their thuggish-ness, and now go after “the wrong people” ie middle and upper class people who just want to blow off some steam and bust some balls for a few hours in the poker game example. The us vs them mentality of cops has made many people turn against the police.

    It is amazing to me how many people I meet, who used to be or should be bedrock, “law and order” liberals or conservatives, have turned on law enforcement as a whole, and now look on cops unfavorably. It’s a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. When the cops were willing to overlook the occasional drunk driving offense, or poker game, or liason with a prostitute, there was a sense that the police were good people who mostly kept the bad elements of society- mostly poor people or racial minorities, to be harsh but honest- at bay. It now seems that they are simple thugs, out to hurt anyone not them, even respectable middle class people.

    1. This is because the position itself attracts exactly the wrong kind of people. Over time, LEO jobs have become staffed almost exclusively by people who want the ability to do the things one can get away with as an LEO. Just like pedophiles saw the job of priest as the perfect way to get access to young boys, bullies and other assorted scum have seen that they can act out their impulses to their heart’s desire if they become cops. Of course it’s going to end badly.

      1. To be fair, the position does attract some who just want to be able to help people. But they get forced out in short order.

        1. same goes for US military…sounds great on paper but horrible in reality. The organization is so full of shit heads that any decent person leaves ASAP because the place is corrupt top to bottom

      2. “Just like pedophiles saw the job of priest as the perfect way to get access to young boys”

        That’s silly. It’s easier just to volunteer to work with kids (e.g., Jerry Sandusky). It take years to be a priest.

        1. Or school teachers, who are far more likely to be child molesters than priests, and get the added benefit of your pedophilia will never be the target of a massive political crusade so long as you support the union.

    2. It is amazing to me how many people I meet, who used to be or should be bedrock, “law and order” liberals or conservatives, have turned on law enforcement as a whole, and now look on cops unfavorably. It’s a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

      As I’ve said before, when the cops lost the support of your average dumpy, middle aged conservative white guy, they lost America.

  2. I realize Tuccille is writing for the general population, most of whom still believe ‘the police are our friends’, but the article does not mention the fact that the police themselves appear to enjoy being brutal and take pride in being above the law.

    1. This. Officer Friendly used to go to the schools and bring his dog to show the kids. Now the dog bites the kids and the cop shoots himself in the leg.

      1. The cop doesn’t shoot himself; the gun accidentally discharges.

        1. … was accidentally discharged, please.

  3. The best policing model is to have cops with the equipment of a SEAL platoon, the close-quarter battle skills of Elmer Fudd, the aggression of a roid head, the self-restraint of Keith Richards, and the self-satisfication of a toddler taking his first dump in the toilet.

    1. You forgot the part about the paid vacations when they brutalize some civilian who wasn’t showing them the proper respect.

    2. How many cops does it take to break an egg?


    3. There are cops here in Minneapolis that have to be using steroids. They look like fucking capons.

  4. For laws to be respected they must be moral and just. Immoral and unjust laws breed disrespect not just for those laws, but for the law in general. This isn’t such a bad thing to someone who has their own moral compass, but it is a dangerous thing to someone without such a compass.
    There really is a class of people in this country with neither. They’re the ones shooting each other on the streets of Chicago and other places.
    I’m sure there’s some irony in there, but I can’t articulate it.

    Anyway, when the law is not respectable, it only makes sense that those who enforce it will not be respected.

    Again this is dangerous, because police rely on the fact that the public in general does not interfere with them. Once a majority of people respect neither the law nor the enforcers, it’s going to get real ugly. Like traffic tickets at gunpoint ugly.

    1. This is exactly right. The root of the problem is laws that put law enforcement in the position of not protecting us from the actions of others but from ourselves. This makes cops into our communal parents and as Epi above points out, this is a position that will readily be filled by violent psychopaths.

  5. You give people incentive to act like thugs and remove accountability and yes, you’re going to have this.

    1. q: How do you write cops so well?

      a: I think of a thug, then I remove reason and accountability..

  6. http://blakesnow.com/wp-conten…../url-1.gif

    ^^slow clap gif^^

  7. They involve activities in which there’s no victim?nobody to file a complaint or cooperate with police.

    What we have is a kind of perfect system– where the system files a complaint against its citizens, then enforces the complaint.

  8. When the US and UK had no cops they had SLAVERY. So you bigoratti are pro-slavery. /prog

  9. People turn to the Internet for their gambling fix. What’s the government going to do about that?

    uhm, make it illegal?

  10. Why the escalation?

    1) Near zero accountability. 2) Thugs are attracted to a job where they can be thugs with no accountability. 3) Large swaths of the population don’t see a problem. These are the kind of people that believe the near empty tautology, “the law is the law” means something. “If you would just obey the law, then nothing will ever happen to you.” 4) a judiciary that has actively enabled said zero accountability. 5) The “my cock is bigger than you cock” among mentality among legislators regarding being tough on crime. 6) Drugs are evil becuase fuck you, that’w why. 7)Americans are fucking pussies that love to suck the cock of authority.

    I think it is going to get worse before it gets better.

    1. When you’re midwifing the total state, you need a shit load of enforcement. We’re firmly entrenched in the era of ‘free stuff’. It’s going to get way worse before it gets better.

      The state doesn’t need a police force, it needs a pacifying force. What we’re seeing with modern police is no aberration.

      1. That is a good point….. a pacifying force.

        1. Police Officers? No
          Peace officers? Yes

          Notice how peaceful a dead person is in his coffin.

    2. 8) Even people who oppose the Drug War are often mindless authoritarians who have an almost religious aversion to admitting that government can be powerless to stop something.

      9) Historically, lots of police forces were basically enforcers of class separation. As long as the riff-raff kept to themselves and didn’t bug their betters, cops were content to maintain that division and take some bribes on the side. Now you’ve got more professional “true believer” cops who are willing to take enforcement to everyone.

      10) Government is based on the theory that it has the monopoly on ultimate power. Nobody in government is ever going to acknowledge that the government could lose a war with the serfs.

      1. 10) this one is also used by the gun grabbers, to an extent. As in, “do you think you’re going to outgun the military, the cops, etc.?”

        To which, I answer “you don’t have to outgun them since the goal isn’t to win as one would define win. You just have to mount enough of a defense to make it very ugly for them.”

        1. “You just have to mount enough of a defense to make it very ugly for them.”

          Why do you think the cops are stocking up on military gear? So if some white suburban neighborhood tries to make it ugly for them, the cops can go in with their armored personnel carrier and kill everyone. I mean everyone. Women and children alike. Then they’d raze the homes.

          Notice I said cops. I don’t believe our military would do this, but cops would.

          1. I don’t believe the military would either. I think with the pigs though, you’d have impose a lottery because there’d be so many of them jumping at the bit to slaughter some “civilians” who have it coming.

            1. The only the reason the Military wouldn’t contribute to this is the happy accident of most service-members originating from families and locations that are traditionally resistant to federal control. The fact that their service reinforces the concept that the feds are incompetent in all major categories might help as well.

        2. Or in other words

          “They’re going to win anyways! So let’s make it easier!”

        3. I routinely tell progressives that, had the average European Jewish family of the 1930s had been as well armed as the average Arkansas family of the same period, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened.

          It gets a reaction every time.

  11. That enthusiasm for enforcing the unenforceable at all costs

    2Chili, what part of “it’s for your own good” do you not understand?!

    When your mommy and daddy, the government, speaks, you listen and obey.

  12. You left out the part where an interventionist national government sends hundreds of thousands of young men overseas for combat experience, who then return home to bring their mindset to municipal police departments.

  13. Check out this story from last night.


    Dallas cops murder guy sitting on his front porch. Neighbors hear the victim plead for his life. Vomit inducing policeone comments.

    1. Just wow. Why do the police even use policeone? The comments they make can;t help public relations.

    2. Tasers are deadly weapons!

      Oh wait…

    3. resisting arrest and assault on a public servant.

      Servant. I don’t think that word means what they think it means.

  14. Brilliantly well written piece

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  17. Interesting article.

    The problem doesn’t lie with the police but with our court system. Cases drag on for years. Indigent defense is ill equiped and/or non-existent. It takes a lot of money to hire a lawyer and defend yourself. Judges are willing to strike down the slightest non-conformance, for example freedom of religion issues concerning prayers at a school funciton; yet judges have completely trashed the 4th amendment, right to privacy, and property rights.

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  19. For what it’s worth, It is wrong to use a gun in “self defense” and call it that. The understanding should be to use a gun to “save ones self” Not defend oneself. This is my theory that to save oneself, he must pay a price for that save. Therefore, no such thing as to shoot someone attacking you, but don’t have a gun, and call it self defense. You shoot, you pay for your save. This should apply to Police too. Not everyone will agree with me, but this would curb, shooting with impunity. Pity

  20. Do I see an MP-5 in the hands of that lead cop in the photo? Isn’t an MP-5 an “assault weapon?” What are the cops doing possessing a weapon that’s probably prohibited in the state where the photo was taken? I can’t tell because the bottom of the pic cuts the end off, but I bet he’s got a “high-capacity magazine” in that firearm. Another point: is that firearm capable of full-auto fire?

    If the cops can have prohibited firearms, why can’t the rest of us? I know, I know, because the police are exempt from such prohibitions? But why is that? What’s wrong with the semi-auto pistol and the 12-gauge? Why do the cops need machine guns with lots of rounds? Who are they going to be fighting?

  21. The first step in privatization is to make the public hate a service that is being provided by the government, either through degrading the quality of the service, propaganda or both.

    Once the public no longer sees the government as a reliable provider, private enterprise will increasingly be given free reign to turn the public service into a profit-making venture.

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