Michael Brown Shooting

Ferguson, Black Rage, and The Libertarian Critique of State Power

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Why have events in Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of Michael Brown catalyzed a long-overdue conversation about the militarization of local law enforcement? As I write at The Daily Beast, the deaths of unarmed citizens (particularly black men) during police encounters happen all the time without starting such national discussions (google John Crawford III to see what I mean).

Part of the reason Ferguson exploded was because the authorities there have misplayed virtually every decision they made since Saturday, August 9. But something else is also at work and deserves serious attention:

In Ferguson, 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. Most interestingly, the coverage of Ferguson hasn't been dominated by figures such as Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Even a few years ago, they would have been at the forefront of the coverage. Now, the people at the center of this conversation have been journalists on the scene and local community spokespeople.

And when it does come to the political class, Rand Paul's op-ed in Time was far and away the most trenchant (and early) sustained commentary on Ferguson and the issues it raises. "There is a systemic problem with today's law enforcement," he wrote. "When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands. Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them."

Indeed, 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 Libertarian Moment in Ferguson."

As my colleague and co-author Matt Welch has pointed out, eminent-domain abuse is another area in which the overlap between longstanding concerns of African Americans and libertarians is particularly strong. And as Reason's Damon Root, author of the tremendous forthcoming book Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court, has noted, the NAACP filed an amicus brief in Kelo v. New London. Read Root's great essay on the classical liberal Moorfield Storey, one of the NAACP's founders, here.

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NEXT: Even "Justified Shootings" Can Cost Local Governments Millions

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  1. If you want to see the lengths to which people will go to avoid confronting these issues, check out the comments at InstaPundit on a Ferguson story.

    People who follow a libertarianish blog are nearly unanimous in dodging and deflecting, even to the point of claiming that police in the US aren’t militarized at all.

    Its sad, and gives me no hope of rolling back the creeping total security state and its swarms of paramilitary enforcers.

    1. Do you think the commenters are police plants, or people in denial.

      Remember that the middle class craves security above all else and will always side with security over freedom often with disastrous results for themselves.

      1. I read them as people in denial.

        Try this one:

        http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/193738/

        I pitched in a little, but just gave up. Such gems as “Well, cops had Tommy Guns in the ’20s, so that means the police aren’t militarized today” just frickin’ wore me out.

        1. If people question giving military hardware to police, they might start questioning all Top Men.

        2. Well, this is our moment and it’s up to us whether to seize it…or not. Yes, it’s a daunting task to confront the denial and disinformation.

          Absolutely serious that this is the most teachable moment we’ve had in a long while.

          1. Absolutely serious that this is the most teachable moment we’ve had in a long while.

            Not to be a dick, but to be a dick, I kind of thought the market collapse and housing bubble bursting on ’07 was the most teachable moment we’ve had in a long while and, well, look what that got us.

            1. No, you’re not being a dick, Paul. It’s arguable whether seven years (2007 – 2014) is a long while on a scale measured in election cycles. It’s also arguable how accessible that housing bubble was to the average voter. Also, renters and those in public housing weren’t affected by this. This hits populations that are generally hard for libertarians to reach.

        3. Only one of them has to be an ISIS member to with a suicide belt to cause considerable chaos, I would hate to be an unprepared cop at that moment.

          Well that’s certainly a nice little fantasyworld they’ve got there.

          1. Only one of them has to be an ISIS member

            Or a zombie.

        4. I pitched in a little, but just gave up. Such gems as “Well, cops had Tommy Guns in the ’20s

          Did you point out that we had Tommy Guns too?

        5. The sadder fact is that that meme originated on the blog of a gung-ho RKBA writer.

          The level of “move along – nothing to see here” is pretty deep.

      2. One could ask if the posters here are delusional, or leftist plants?

        I mean, seriously, you’re acting like tanks rolled over dozens of protestors.

        When in reality, police fired tear gas at crowds once they got too violent, usually after someone in the crowd shot someone else in the crowd.

        Tear gas is not police militarization. Body armor is not police militarization.

        1. Not to mention that the initial incident, that of the shooting of Michael Brown, had NOTHING to do with “police being militarized”.
          The tear gas, body armor etc, was in reaction to the community’s refusal to look at the incident and wait for a full explanation and now their reaction has become part of their dug-in emntality of “well we can’t admit we shouldn’t have taken it to the streets, now”.

    2. The militarization of police isn’t really an issue here. Wilson wasn’t in military attire when he shot the kid. The cops who beat up Kelly Thomas were regular officers. I imagine cops used flash bangs and tear gasses before militarization.

      As far as reducing police shooting is concerned, demilitarizing the police will be effective as gun control. You can shoot 6 rounds from a standard pistol. If the cop snapped (like Dorner) he could always purchase legal rifles in the event that he can’t use his military guns.

      I only see “militarized” police after a local sports team win championship. I saw police surrounding a house with someone who violated parole, and they were not militarized.

      1. The level of militarization depends a lot on the location, the particular jurisdiction. Some of them are highly militarized and some are not.

      2. “Militarization” is not limited to arms and armor. Its shorthand for the “dominate and control” cop culture, with the military weaponry and equipment just the most visible manifestation.

        The overt militarization of equipment is just the last, accelerating stage of the conversion of civilian police into paramilitary enforcers.

        Any cop who refers to citizens as “civilians” is a militarized cop. And they all refer to citizens as civilians.

    3. People who follow a libertarianish blog are nearly unanimous in dodging and deflecting, even to the point of claiming that police in the US aren’t militarized at all.

      Cops kill a few hundred people a year. What percentage of those killed involve military gear? Military weapons? Military strategies? Has that increased or decreased over time? Some data please.

  2. As my colleague and co-author Matt Welch has pointed out, eminent-domain abuse is another area in which the overlap between longstanding concerns of African Americans and libertarians is particularly strong.

    Oh jesus, not this. Everyone knows that when you displace poor blacks to help developers put in high-dollar businesses and coffee shops, you help everyone.

    So some minorities got moved. Big deal.

    1. So some minorities got moved. Big deal.

      You mock, but now those minorities can get good, union jobs with a solid living wage working on these developments, and don’t need to live in these horrible neighborhoods. It’s really one of the most effective ways that local politicians can help minorities: it may seem cruel, but displacing them ultimately is for their own good.

      1. it may seem cruel, but displacing them ultimately is for their own good.

        Good thing you know what is better for them than they do.

    2. Paul.|8.22.14 @ 12:47PM|#
      …”So some minorities got moved. Big deal.”

      At the point of a gun, so yes, it IS a big deal.

  3. Did Jesse break the comments again or am I the only one seeing bullet points?

    1. Bullet points and a mysterious input box.

      1. Great now I look crazy. At least I have Paul’s testimony.

      2. The bonus input box has been there awhile. The bullets were new… and oddly refreshing.

        1. And yet they’re gone now.

  4. What’s up with the Minor Threat reference? Who did the cover?

  5. “When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury?national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture?we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

    Hopefully, this would indicate “President” Paul’s judicial nominees will be selected based on their willingness to give a big tug on the reins. Confirmation is another matter.

    Also- there seems to have been a significant format change. Or is it just happening on my antiquated system?

    1. Barako Bama solved his confirmation problem by appointing Czars that don’t need confirmation.

  6. alt-text two-fer:

    1. “Stop resisting!”

    2. “Start resisting!”

  7. Shouldn’t the discussion pivot to #officergofuckyourself, the panicked cop aiming a military weapon at Livestreamers walking the street?

    YouTube clip of #officergofuckyourself at the Ferguson Protest

  8. If the officer’s side of the story holds up, then this sordid affair will have more in common with the OJ Simpson and the Brian Banks saga than the Rodney King beating.

    People rushing to judgment, blacks playing identity politics, and interested observers trying to use this as platform to discuss tangentially related matters.

    I’m not saying militarization of cops is irrelevant. But where did our sympathies and focus lie in the Zimmerman case? A man defending himself against physically intimidating assailant that tried to take away the victim’s gun? In both cases, the victim was treated by a monster by the mob.

    1. If the officer’s side of the story holds up,

      The side where he hassles somebody for jaywalking, and a jaywalking stop escalates to a killing?

      Yeah, that makes it all better.

      1. C’mon. Hassled for jaywalking is not what happened.

        It is starting to look more and more like the shooting was completely justified.

        Of course, that in no way detracts from the legitimate concerns about the militarization of the police. It is just unfortunate that this is the case that brought it all to a head. If this is the case we get, then so be it.

    2. And cop Darren Wilson lacked a Taser? Darren Wilson couldn’t merely Taser Michael Brown?

      Did Darren Wilson need to pump six bullets into a guy? One bullet over one goes beyond any b.s. self-defense claim.

      Should those so frail as Darren Wilson even work as cops if when pressured a bit, they can’t keep their wits about themselves and can only see killing as the fix for immediate circumstances?

      What are Americans doing giving guns to people with IQs of 104 on average as work tools and then authorizing them to make snap life and death decisions?

      1. Wouldn’t this justification go for private citizens as well? Why use a gun? Why do you need more than one bullet? I don’t buy that argument.

        1. Have you never learned about residents and citizens being prosecuted for going beyond self-defense?

          You might not buy it, but court records are filled with such cases.

          What is a “private” citizen? So cops aren’t “private” citizens?

          Do some citizens have more citizenship than others?

          All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

          1. So you believe it’s justified to prosecute someone for using a gun, or more than one bullet? Or don’t you? Yes he is a private citizen also.

            I think if it had been some random guy asking Brown to get out of the road who ended up shooting him most here would see it differently. Since it’s a cop it must be dirty.

            Now you want to argue self defense is limited by a certain amount of rounds, or that guns aren’t even justified. Let’s say you win that argument, why wouldn’t these same silly arguments be used to limit everyone using a gun, or using more than one bullet.

      2. If an officer is attacked or pursues a violent criminal, he has a right to use deadly force. Furthermore, deadly force means pumping six bullets into a guy. That’s the actual legal situation.

        Why do we give guns to people with average intelligence? Because those are the people who apply for police jobs and we need to hire someone. Contrary to what progressives and lefties usually think, smart people are scarce, and they can pick and choose among desirable jobs.

      3. You repeatedly state that people of “average” intelligence are incapable of making “life and death” decisions.

        then,

        You repeatedly make suggestions like “locking police weapons in the trunk of their vehicle”, or “requiring supervisory approval for the use of deadly force”, suggestions which are UTTERLY. FUCKING. RETARDED.

        Enough. You sound like a sniveling fat fuck that’s never spend a day outside your cubicle. You’re incapable of coherent thought. MILLIONS of “average” citizens carry firearms every day. They go about their business making “life or death decisions” every time they encounter another person. NOBODY, policeman or not, is obligated to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a 6’5″ 290lb man that has attacked them.

      4. One bullet? Like in the movies where you shoot someone in the shoulder and they go down, wounded but still alive and smiling?

        Do you know anything about firearms or shooting?

  9. Is the situtation in Ferguson, MO leading to a wider discussion about police power or for the widest group of citizens, this is exclusively a racial issue?

  10. The war on poverty has produced millions of feral children. The defy any and all authority. Why shouldn’t they walk in the street instead of the sidewalk? Why shouldn’t they defy the cop who tells them to get out of the street? Why not attack the cop? They’ve never seen civilized behavior. So they attack cops and get shot. Which the cops use to justify getting military hardware. The two sides are co-dependent.

    1. Concerned Citizen:
      You are spot-on with this analysis.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if the crappy REASON comment program listed who one was responding to, instead of a “hashtag”?

  11. My guess why some small measure of libertarian dialogue has crept into the national dialogue is simply because identity politics and the race hustlers have begun to bore the masses.

  12. “Blacks feel targeted by the government”

    Aren’t the president and attorney general black dudes? Isn’t STL a hot bed of democratic, public-sector unions (cops and teachers), and social engineering?

    I see one Statist killing another Statist after the second Statist proved to be a threat. This is not a teachable moment, because Statist-a wants to militarize more. Statist-b wants you give them loot for being poor. Statist-c wants you to pay for more programs that make Statist-b even more poor and statist-c wins elections with the help of statist-a.

    1. More importantly, Ferguson is 2/3 black, it’s a small town of 21000 people, and police conduct is determined by local government. The people of Ferguson could have had a gun-free, no-stops police force if they really wanted to.

  13. The events in Ferguson strongly highlight the drift our nation is taking toward a police state; a state supported by a politically connected and moneyed elite. The biggest supporters of militarization of law enforcement herald from the gated communities of our nation.

    They see the lower classes as a threat to the power and wealth they have accumulated, and quietly plot in their parlors and salons political initiatives that support the abuses law enforcement in this country are now wreaking on the less moneyed segments of their communities.

    Living in a fairly affluent part of the country I have witnessed the disparity that officers in uniform exercise in their conduct with people based on the presence or absence of the accoutrements of wealth.

    With all the science that has been revealed about the factors that contribute one’s success in life there remains a blatant and willful ignorance among the educated and pampered elite of our country about why those of lower economic means than them are in that state.

    They see threats to their safety in every non-white lower income face they pass daily and see in footage of TV news channels. It is easy to propound prescriptions to societal issues from afar when one is isolated from those issues and ignorant of realities faced by those being affected by them.

    For the moneyed classes of America ignorance truly is bliss.

    1. The police of Princeton, NJ or Sea Girt, NJ probably don’t even have guns. These are places with actual money.

      The police of Furgeson is the police of Furgeson only. Nobody outside of Furgeson decided that they should wear helmets.

      The wild thing here is why a white dude would set foot in Furgeson or worse yet be a cop there. Wouldn’t the wiley “monied” class just have black lackies like the “hugs for thugs” state trooper manage Furgeson? They would do better than Barney Fife, no?

    2. The events in Ferguson strongly highlight the drift our nation is taking toward a police state;

      I’ve spent time in actual police states, and you are full of it.

      With all the science that has been revealed about the factors that contribute one’s success in life there remains a blatant and willful ignorance among the educated and pampered elite of our country about why those of lower economic means than them are in that state.

      Yeah, and you are obviously among that willful, pampered economic elite, spewing your nonsense.

      They see threats to their safety in every non-white lower income face they pass daily

      The only threat, to non-whites, to me, and to our nation, that I see is people like you, people who claim to want to help others, but actually work hard to keep them in poverty and ignorance.

  14. When a man decides to be a police officer, when he decides to join a force who’s primary function is to protect and serve doesn’t he come with the attitude that he might have to lose his life in the line of duty and if he really believes this doesn’t he have to face the fact that he might have to pay that price rather than kill an innocent citizen? If he is so afraid of losing his life that he will react out of irrational fear and take the life of an innocent civilian he is acting out of cowardice and has no business being in uniform. Since when does a police officer’s life have a higher value than the citizens he has sworn to protect?

    On a related topic I read over and over about tactical units at the local level being out of control but I never read about the city council meeting or the board of commissioners meeting being packed with irate citizens demanding the police chief’s resignation or the recall campaigns removing the members who are complicit in this militarization of our local police departments. As long as the citizenry remains silent and compliant this will continue until there is no liberty left which we will be willing to fight for.

  15. The “minority outrage” in Ferguson appears to have been largely due to activists and hooligans carted in from the outside; it is not a reflection of the people of Ferguson. As for “state power”, how police operate and when they may use deadly force is a local matter; the people of Ferguson (67% African American) have full control over that if they only went to vote in municipal elections. Of course, many African Americans are tired of violent criminals in their communities, so it’s not clear they want less strict policing as a whole, and it appears to be likely at this point that Brown was a violent criminal.

    Ferguson is a lousy case for libertarians. It’s not clear yet that the police even acted improperly. It’s not a case of an overbearing central government imposing its will on an entire nation. Instead, it represents local control over important issues such as police, which is what libertarianism prefers. If that local control failed, it is up to the residents of Ferguson to fix it; but it’s not clear even that it has failed.

  16. Perhaps police militarization is a response to falling budgets for personnel and falling civility.

    Perhaps it’s less expensive to turn one cop into a robocop than it is to afford two police officers in each patrol car. Equipment doesn’t need a pension, time off, or require a union negotiator every few years.

    At the same time, it is rare to hear of situations like Ferguson in suburbs or other rural communities where a critical mass of lawlessness or lack of respect for others’ property and lives doesn’t exist.

    Was the outburst in Ferguson a long-simmering tension bound to snap (sorry for the mix metaphors). Is their a point of diminishing returns when too much law-enforcement is required, or can’t keep up with the law breaking but spending continues?

    Or is the militarization of police (if such a thing exists) the ultimate consequence of citizens delegating to a 3rd party responsibility for their protection? If communities forfeit by ordinance or negligence the power to protect and police themselves, won’t the third party increasingly rely on technology to be a more efficient keeper of the peace?

  17. It appears that Rand Paul and Reason are jumping on the Ferguson bandwagon in the hopes of picking up public interest re the growing power of the state. But I’d like to see them showing a little leadership instead of chasing a mob somewhere in Missouri.

    In Ferguson, 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.

    You mean that blacks will now demand an end to affirmative action? An end to minorities-only contracts? An end to black studies programs? An end to HuD housing vouchers which move them into middle class neighborhoods? Blacks will now be changing their party affiliation to Libertarian? How about if they stop rioting in Ferguson, since rioting is an initiation of force?

    Anyone see any evidence this is happening?

    Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.

    The “racial disparities” exist because blacks commit violent crime all out of proportion to their numbers. Again, check the stats on black perpetrated murder, assault, armed robbery, home invasions, drive by shootings, flash mob attacks, and etc.

    What is Paul proposing? That violent criminals not be arrested, indicted, and tried?

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