George Floyd

The Libertarian Roots of Police Reform: Q&A with Radley Balko

How to stop police killings and enact real, lasting reforms.


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George Floyd's death at the hands of the Minneapolis police has sparked nationwide protests against police brutality. A new consensus is forming around the urgent need for criminal justice reform.

Six years ago, after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, just 43 percent of Americans believed that such incidents indicated a systemic problem. Now, though police killings have remained level since 2014, 69 percent of us agree that "the killing of Floyd represents a broader problem within law enforcement."

To better understand the shift in calls for police reform and what sorts of changes would be most effective, Nick Gillespie sat down with Washington Post opinion writer Radley Balko, a former Reason reporter and editor who covers police abuse, the drug war, and criminal justice reform. His Reason coverage of Cory Maye, a black man in Mississippi put on death row for killing a police officer during a no-knock raid, helped bring about Maye's acquittal, and his books Rise of The Warrior Cop and The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist document widespread problems with law enforcement, expert testimony, and media coverage of crime.

Edited by John Osterhoudt.

Photo: Radley Balko by Gage Skidmore

NEXT: How 2020 Demolished the Case for Gun Control

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  1. Any chance at a transcript?

    1. I’m 30 minutes into it. It’s worth a listen.

      1. The audio on my PC isn’t working.

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  2. Nine unarmed black men and one unarmed black woman were killed by police in 2019, and this represents a systemic problem? If you want fewer people to be killed by law enforcement, give law enforcement fewer laws to enforce.

    1. That seems like ten too many to me.

      1. Ten is the same as zero. It’s in the noise, more people are killed by jaywalking.

    2. As I understand we actually have horrifically sparse information on police shootings.

      The other issue is that the killings are a tip to an iceberg, of a lot of other shitty behaviors and violations from the cops. Needless hostility, selective enforcement of petty laws, etc etc.

      1. Sure. I hate cops as much as the next man. But the real issue isn’t that cops abuse civilians. Of course they do. Their entire job description is to exercise force against the civilian population. The issue is that they have so many reasons and excuses to abuse civilians.

        1. Why not both?

    3. Keep in mind that people will likely count Rayshard Brook as “unarmed.”

      1. And the cop involved was fired immediately.

        So much for the power of police unions.

        And when my hamlet ran short of funds, they started strict enforcement of fines, using the hoopla over AirBnB as an excuse.

        Good to know that has its historic roots in racism, being the population here has been majority white since forever.

        As with most libertarian thought, some good, some bad, but building any type of consensus with the various tribes seems to be a stretch at this point.

        Shame really.

        1. “And when my hamlet ran short of funds, they started strict enforcement of fines, using the hoopla over AirBnB as an excuse.”

          Without cops, good luck on them doing much with that.

          Who’s going to evict anybody if the police decide to be hands off and let you do it yourself?

          1. They would levy the fine and if disputed or ignored, issue a tax lien.

            I have noticed with current financial collapse, cops are out in force to make up for lost revenue.

            With the current anti-cop furor, this has the makings of something wicked for what has already been a long hot summer.

            1. If you ignore the tax lien, how can they collect it?

              1. If and when the property is sold, it will be collected then, as well as any accumulated interest.

                Witness the houses in Detroit that can be had for the price of a fancy dinner.

                But have a few hundred thousands in tax liens.

    4. The deaths any deaths, are far too many, however the brutality, and viscous behavior that leads to countless injuries, both mental and physical, and other harm from the inherent biases designed into the system should make any of us white people with a heart or a brain to be disgusted with the behavior of all white folk before us and currently that has had a lasting negative impact on the quality of life for any people of any color.

      1. I’m disgusted by your run on sentence.

    5. Nonstopdrivel nailed it.

      There are just too many laws that put too many cops in contact with too many poor, young, urban males, most of which happen to be black. In this milieu, inevitably a cop will react with anger and with a loss of self control with fatal consequences. For a comprehensive elaboration of this idea, see David Stockman’s Contra Corner today entitled ‘Liberty Can’t Breath’ (Part One).

  3. I am going to guess that in decades past the police had an easier time making arrests with fewer incidents of violent or aggressive resistance by suspects. Police probably have a long list of bad outcomes (dead officers) that have informed more aggressive and faster reaction by police when the arrest goes sideways.

  4. Use of Force and Preservation of Life Policies

  5. Lots of weak sauce here. And no libertarian would ever work as a writer for the Washington Post.

  6. It requires Social Libertarians to make any positive progress, as the rest can really give a crap about anyone else. The self serving narcissistic circle jerk that has become the Libertarian party disgusts me, as so few actually embrace the Constitution, The general welfare is so vital to our country it’s even included in the preamble! There is nothing more patriotic than helping our fellow Americans.

    1. “Social Libertarians”

      Is this kinda like Democratic Socialist? Now fuck off back to Vox or wherever, and maybe take an English class.

    2. LMAO! This has to be complete BS sarcasm right… Only liberal lefties truncate and take completely out of context every word in the Constitution….

      “The Congress shall have Power to Lay and collect Taxes ….. to … provide for … general welfare of the Unites States …. but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”

      Every the most mentally retarded with a tiny speckle of attention can figure out “United States” in the Constitution is the NAME of the federal government… “The States” should be self explanatory as well as “The People”.

      1. Here’s a simple exercise to demonstrate. Pretending “United States” is the citizens would make the Constitution read…

        “borrow money on the credit of the [?civilians?]”
        “to provide … current coin of the [?civilians?]”
        “Treasury of the [?civilians?]”????
        “No person(<<<NOTICE) holding any Office under the [?civilians?]"
        "become the Seat of Government of the [?civilians?]"
        "No title of nobility shall be granted by the [?civilians?]"
        "No person(<<<NOTICE) except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the [?civilians?]" lmao 🙂

        You get the picture…. Lefties are trying to reword the Constitution is absurd ways to annihilate it without just down right lobbying for it's dismissal.

        1. “There is nothing more patriotic than helping our fellow Americans.” — SO GO FEAK-EN HELP THEM idiot…. I don’t see legislation that forbids you helping your fellow Americans. I think you should; I think that’s great.

          The problem is; many you chant the “helping” phrase is political circles really don’t want to help anyone but themselves by legislatively forcing others to be SLAVES!

          1. Oh man, major correction —
            The problem is; many of you that chant the “helping” phrase in political circles really >>don’t want to help<< anyone but yourselves by legislatively creating servant SLAVES!

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