The protests (warranted) and riots (unjustifiable) prompted by the horrific death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer produce all sorts of stupidity masquerading as truth-to-power armchair wisdom. This morning, I found my email in-box loaded with half a dozen Quora (follow me!) questions about using guns in various ways, some prompted by fear, others by rage. One, however, gobsmacked me:

I hope that this poster (no name attached) gets a visit from those folks with the suits, sunglasses, and earpieces, even if his question was a trolling provocation rather than serious.

This sort of thing shows the ugly side of social media: that one person’s stupidity can fly around the world in the blink of an eye. We’re best off when we ignore such, allowing their nonsense to wither on the vine rather than be nourished by responses, no matter how contrary. But, some stupidities catch hold despite our best efforts to ignore them. One such was noted by a friend, who reports that the original poster is a black woman in academia (who, in using a plural pronoun, asserts herself as the voice of others):

Demand 1 is not only reasonable, it’s proper, and it’s already happening. The (now ex – he was fired) cop who killed George Floyd is facing third degree murder charges. The other three cops, who were there but failed to stop the killer, will, I surmise, face charges of their own. Everyone deserves a day in court, but barring some radical new revelations, I see them as obviously complicit in Floyd’s death.

The stupidity lies in Demand 2, and it shows us how people too often don’t think about the crap they eternalize on the Internet. Defund the police, when assessed with a rational mind, is a demand for anarchy, for even in a libertarian or minarchist or Constitutionalist society, government has certain duties and obligations that are carried out by law enforcement organizations. In such societies, government serves to protect individuals’ rights from infringement by others. Homicide, arson, rape, assault and battery, kidnapping, robbery, theft, and destruction of another’s property are all transgressions against individual rights. Those rights are guaranteed (explicitly and implicitly) by the Constitution and by the Common Law framework upon which it is overlaid. Defund the police and you reject that fundamental purpose of government.

That certainly doesn’t mean that we shrug our shoulders and accept what was done to Floyd, however. We can and should address the systemic problems that led to his death (and to the wrongful killings of others by law enforcement officers).

George Floyd was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Under the basic government obligation I delineated, police were justified in being there and interacting with him. Whether this suspicion was correct, I don’t know, but that’s something for the legal system to sort out. The problems and escalation that led to his death, however, arise from less justifiable elements of our law.

One is the existence of too many laws. It’s not directly at play here, but it is at the root of the difficult and contentious relationship that several communities (e.g. minorities, working poor) have with the police. There’s the War on Drugs, most heavily prosecuted in those communities. There’s policing-for-profit (discussed often on this blog), that treats those communities as revenue centers and turns street cops into revenue agents. There’s its cousin, the black market created by excessive government greed (see: cigarette taxes and Eric Garner). There are excessive licensing requirements that hamper people’s ability to work and build careers, and prompt more unnecessary interactions with the police. And so on.

The more laws the cops have to enforce, the more interactions they will have with citizens on the streets, and thus the more chances for things to go wrong.

The other is the matter of qualified immunity, which elevates the threshold for prosecuting bad acts by police officers to an often-unreachable height. While it’s understandable that those tasked with enforcing laws need some sort of protection from nuisance suits that would hamper their ability to perform, what we have now isn’t working, and Floyd’s death may prompt a much-needed revisitation of the doctrine.

As to the broader picture? It’s something I’ve preached before:

Clean your own house.

If the police want to restore order, if they want better relations with the communities they serve, they need to end this “blue wall of silence” culture, and eject/prosecute the bad apples in their midst. That goes for the protestors as well (especially given the reports that professional agitators and malignant actors are seizing the opportunity to promote violence). Peaceful protest is a FAR more effective tool than smashing and looting stores or jumping up and down on police cars. You don’t win hearts and minds by destroying the lives and livelihoods of people who had nothing to do with Floyd’s death.

Finally, the hypocrisy. The woman who called for defunding the police would, I’m sure, dial 911 should she find herself in a perilous situation or the victim of a crime. Who’s going to show up, if there are no cops? Who’ll pursue the criminals who wronged her, if government didn’t fulfill its obligation to protect individuals’ rights?

There’s vast room for improvement, in the law and in its enforcement. But, social media comments demanding reductive measures don’t do anyone any good.

Nor do ridiculous “questions” about justifying violence.  Against property, against police, or against the President.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

2+

Like this post?