Police brutality is back in the news cycle following the Dallas shootings, Philando Castile shooting, and [insert your regional news cycle shooting here] in early July. I expect the topic to be removed from the news cycle as the Olympics draw closer so I am writing this note now explaining why I don’t trust the police and why I hope other classical liberals have similar reservations.
Two quick asides:
- I am at heart at pacifist and I don’t encourage the use of violence against anyone.
- The current literature shows that police activity reduces crime rates; here is an ungated article for those interested in reading part of that literature.
I come from a poor migrant family and was raised in Los Angeles’ Koreatown back in the 90s. The area has become more middle classed in recent years due to new development, but at the time it was a working class neighborhood populated largely by recent migrants and other minority groups. Unsurprisingly there was plenty of crime and the sound of police sirens and helicopters was common for me growing up.
Despite this I don’t think I ever held police in a high prestige. It is true that I often saw the police round up criminals, but I also saw them round up several innocents or perpetrators of ‘victimless’ crimes, mostly unlicensed merchants.
Many of the migrants in my neighborhood, including my family, were illegal and therefore unable to acquire employment in the formal sector. To survive they instead turned to work in the informal sector. I had a neighbor who ran a bakery from her kitchen and sold her goods on the street. Another neighbor sold various electronics and clothing apparel; during the weekend they would go around buying things from garage sales in bulk and re-sell them during the week. My father ran a taco stand. Often times the police would harass these informal vendors by confiscating their goods and/or destroying their makeshift stands. I vividly remember my father’s taco stand being thrown to the street when he didn’t have the proper documents for passing police.
In my mind the police were worse than the criminals they put away. To be sure criminals are undesirable, but most of the ones I encountered in my youth only wanted to steal what cash you had and they would leave you alone otherwise. On the other hand whenever my father’s taco stand was raided by the police his cash would be confiscated and he’d be put back several hundred dollars in fines and having to rebuild his stand. Not only was a robbery cheaper, but criminals never pretended to have the moral high ground.
Note that in my story there was no mention of police corruption. The police who harassed my family and neighbors might have been acting out of genuine belief that they were serving the public good. Their good intentions still had negative consequences for the neighborhood though. Those who were harassed were the immediate losers, but so were their consumers. There were plenty of people who would have wanted to purchase from the informal vendors, but were denied the freedom to do so.
-And for what reason? It was not like vendors in the informal market have any incentive to cheat their consumers. The neighborhood baker might not have been licensed, but she could hardly afford to give food poisoning to anyone. The apparel salesperson relied on repeat business and would quickly be out of business if they didn’t sell clothing others wanted. My father certainly wasn’t adding horse meat to the tacos or anything like that – migrants are picky about how their tacos are made!
The police may be filled with good intentions, but they ultimately are enforcers of illiberal laws. If well intentioned can so easily cause harm one needn’t much imagination to see how corrupt police can do much worse. It is difficult for me to understand those who defend the police or even honor them. It may be the case that they are a necessary evil to discourage other criminals, but they are still an evil themselves. Police ought to be tolerated at best, but never glorified.
9 thoughts on “A note on the police or – “Why I don’t trust the police.””
Interesting read. I was the beneficiary of white privilege [sorry Dr. Foldvary]; blue collar steelworkers and their families were my world. Interactions with police invariably involved the consumption or over-consumption of alcohol. Unsurprisingly, the police blotter in the daily newspaper was dominated by the black neighborhoods in town. I didn’t develop negative attitudes towards the police until I discovered sex, drugs, and rock’nroll later in life.
The police are “agents of government” and enforce laws passed by politicians who in turn effectively are the servants of wealth. Of big business, the corporations, all of whom oppose the free market whenever it reduces their own profits, incomes, whatever. As the first Adam Smith pointed out, whenever businessmen get together, their first discussions are upon how they can establish “agreements” so that everyone can exploit the people to their own private benefit.
Government hates enterprises that it doesn’t control. Your father’s taco stand would fall into this category. Government also wants people to be “dependent” upon it as such people are easier to control, to tax, to serve the “interests” of the “State” through their labor and the taxes they pay.
The great majority of laws passed do not meet the standard of opposing aggression against people or their property. Or preventing the use of force or fraud against people or their property. Government only prohibits endangering people when its “paymasters” wish it to do so.
It can be seen here that only with a government based upon libertarian principles that the police actually serve to “protect” the people from those who would harm them. In all other political systems the police are merely agents of the “state” in enforcing the laws passed by the bribe takers who now supposedly are our “representatives”, but in reality are only “puppets” who “dance” to their master’s wishes.
It is noteworthy that those who founded this country were great admirers of the Roman Republic, of the Roman Senate which was an oligarchy run by what today we refer to as the 1%. It is also very obvious to anyone who has studied American history that they wanted rule by the rich, for the rich, and by the rich. Many of whom were also slave owners for that matter. This is why the right to vote was limited to those who owned income producing property. Why state governments, not the people were to appoint Senators to represent them. Why the electoral college existed as a “check” on the popular vote. Otherwise they could have copied the parliamentary system of Great Britain. However they feared such a type of government as one that might in the future threaten their wealth. So by creating a political designed to make it as difficult as possible for the people to have any real “say” in things. Thus we have a government divided into three parts, with each part acting as a check on the other.
We should not delude ourselves as to the true nature of the society in which we now live.
We should be dubious of anyone who works for a corrupted entity. The government is no exception.
great post, I dislike any form of abuse so when I see so many killings by police I get angry and also grateful to not live in USA. I hope change begins soon
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