Michael Brown Shooting

The Libertarian Moment in Ferguson: Birth of New Politics?

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My latest Daily Beast column argues that one of the key reasons events in Ferguson have started a tragically delayed discussion on militarized policing is because "minority outrage at police mistreatment has intersected with the libertarian critique of state power in a way that has brought the concerns of both groups to a national audience." Snippets: 

What has helped the story to go fully national, however, is that the events surrounding it exemplify the concerns that libertarians have been raising for decades about the militarization of police, which has its roots both in the drug war and the post-9/11 terror-industrial complex. As my former colleague Radley Balko, now at The Washington Post, has documented for years (first at The Cato Institute, then at Reason, and most fully in last year's Rise of the Warrior Cop), "The buzz phrase in policing today is officer safety. You'll also hear lots of references to preserving order, and fighting wars, be it on crime, drugs, or terrorism. Those are all concepts that emphasize confrontation. It's a view that pits the officers as the enforcer, and the public as the entity upon which laws and policies and procedures are to be enforced."

Balko is just one of many libertarians who worked to highlight these issues long before Ferguson erupted. "Dress like a soldier and you think you're at war," Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at University of Tennessee and the proprietor of the massively influential libertarian aggregator site Instapundit, wrote  in 2006. "And, in wartime, civil liberties—or possible innocence—of the people on 'the other side' don't come up much. But the police aren't at war with the citizens they serve, or at least they're not supposed to be."…

What Ferguson demonstrates is how tightly related abstract concerns libertarians have about the government's power and the very real-life fears of police harassment that many African Americans have really are. So too are other issues of interest to both groups, ranging from school choice to sentencing reform to occupational licensing. As these sorts of newly recognized common causes filter through the culture, all sorts of new coalitions and possibilities can come to fruition. Glimpses of this are already visible in actions such as the nearly successful effort by Republican Rep. Justin Amash and Democratic Rep. John Conyers to defund National Security Agency surveillance programs last summer.

Read the whole article.