It's the STATE, Stupid!

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On
Monday, August 7th, a judge in Philadelphia reduced the
bail of John Sellers from $1 million to $100,000. Although the $1
million dollar figure is usually reserved for the like of serial
killers, Sellers had not been accused of murder, rape, or arson.
The 33-year old director of the Ruckus Society – which calls
Berkeley, California home – had been charged with misdemeanors
connected with organizing the R2K protests that paralleled the GOP
National Convention in Philadelphia last week. According to the
A-Infos [Anarchy Information] News
Service
, "As of August 7, about 300 [protestors] are still
being illegally held and brutalized by the city of Philadelphia,
amounting to legal kidnapping of human rights activists." Among
them is Terrence McGuckin, an AIDS activist, whose bail had been
set at $450,000.

Why
set a bail so outrageously high that it crosses over into denial
of due process? Police Commissioner of Philadelphia John Timoney
explained, "There's a cadre, if you will, of criminal conspirators
who are about the business of planning conspiracies to go in and
cause mayhem and cause property damage and cause violence in major
cities in America that have large conventions…" Timoney's
solution is to convert these "conspirators" into "martyrs,"
into political prisoners oppressed by an unjust and discriminatory
system.

A-Infos
reported conditions of the imprisoned, "A young man handcuffed
crucifixion style to a cell door. The screams and moans of young
women echoing through the cell block C. Another young woman dragged
naked, bloody through a garbage strewn prison hall. Hunger strikers
denied access to water or toilets. Metal handcuffs pounding, smashing
the fingers, hand and wrist of prisoners who refuse to be finger
printed." According to the Independent
Media Center of Philadelphia
, "Arrestees have…been held
for over 60 hours without arraignment, some without phone calls
or contact with their lawyers. Detainees report missing paperwork,
and arraignments with incomplete or slipshod records. Philadelphia
continues to restrict…lawyers, allowing only a total of three
access to all six detention sites."

Meanwhile,
the comments of ACLU leader Stefan Presser have enraged those sympathetic
the protestors. Stephan claimed that the police "showed enormous
restraint" in handling violent protesters. It is too early
to know which account is true, especially since they do not directly
contradict each other. But the very act of asking the question,
"are the Philadelphia police brutes?" injures respect
for their authority.

"Questioning
authority" is close to an unqualified "good," but
there are at least three things about the ongoing debate that make
me cringe.

1)
Even granting Timoney's assessment that there are professional
conspirators who converge on population centers to protest…what
is wrong with that? What is wrong with American citizens planning
together to express civil rights anywhere within their
own borders? The rights of free speech and freedom of assembly
are guaranteed by the US Constitution. The Bill of Rights does
not specify that you must be a son or resident of Philadelphia
in order to assemble or speak freely in that city; you must merely
be American – and, perhaps, not even that. The First Amendment
– which guarantees not only the right to protest but also
the right to assemble – does not recognize city limits. Timoney's
objection to "outsiders" would have prohibited "freedom
riders" from riding their buses through cities in the South
during the u201860s drive for civil rights. It would have barred abolitionists
from speaking out against slavery during their lecturing tours
in pre-bellum America. Arguably, it could prevent anyone on a
lecture tour from criticizing local authorities. By Timoney's
logic, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams could
have been run out on a rail from his own city, from Philadelphia,
where they met to produce the US Constitution.

2) Allow
me to grant, strictly for the sake of argument, that the police
have a right or duty to remove protestors who are disruptive
– e.g. who impede traffic. Even with this assumption, the
offenses in Philadelphia were low-grade misdemeanors, not criminal
acts that merit denial of due process and the setting of a $1
million bail. At most, the protestors should have incurred a
fine or a few days in jail. In the anti-World Bank demonstrations
held in Washington, D.C. a few months earlier, the police and
court system acted with relative restraint. They held protestors
almost in a pro forma manner and released them when the
convention was over: that is, when all prospect of disruption
had ended. By contrast, Philadelphia continues to imprison peaceful
protestors far after any threat of disruption has disappeared.
Even granting that the authorities in Philadelphia have a right
to keep their city safe, they have crossed the line from protection
into punishment: they are now punishing people for expressing
their political opinions.

3) I
don't want these protestors to become civil rights martyrs because
their political opinions constitute one of the greatest threats
to liberty, especially to the free market. As a crass oversimplification,
the protestors are "anti-globalization," and especially
against a global free market. Most of them are not against "the
State" because they would use that institution if it furthered
their goals.

In
an earlier
column for lewrockwell.com
, I argued, "Libertarians are
in a unique position to counter the anti-capitalist, anti-technology
philosophy of the protesters. For one thing, libertarians realize
that there are three and not two players on the political scene:
anti-capitalists, the State, and free market advocates. They know
that an attack on the protesters' goals must not be a defense of
the State, the IMF/World Bank [frequent targets of protest] or the
police because they all are enemies of individual freedom….[N]o
one seems to be arguing for the true benefits of u2018true' globalization
– benefits such as the increased standard of living and health.
Indeed, no one seems to be defining u2018true' globalization clearly:
namely, it is the abolition of all trade barriers and privileges.
Arguing from such a definition is the only effective means by which
to counter the growing association between globalism and oppression."

I
am pleased to be proven wrong on the latter point. A new book effectively
presents the huge benefits to mankind offered by all corners of
the earth communicating and trading with each other. More importantly,
A
Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization

by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (both correspondents
for The Economist) explodes the popular myths of the anti-globalization
movement. As the book's reviewer Daniel Akst commented, "The
spread of information and technology, the movement of goods and
ideas and people – all of it is taken for granted, especially by
the educationally endowed, who seem to carry around, along with
their cell phones and handheld organizers, a burden of guilt that
prevents them from defending too loudly the embarrassing state of
affairs that has led to their good fortune. Globalization, after
all, has a bad name."

It
is a name that is being disgraced by both the protestors who oppose
it and the police who claim to defend it. To the protestors, I can
only shout "It's the STATE, stupid!" – not the free
market. To the police, "for the love of liberty, do not turn
these people into martyrs for civil rights!" But, then, the
police are rarely swayed by arguments for liberty.

August
10, 2000

Wendy
McElroy is author of The
Reasonable Woman
. See more of her work at ifeminists.com
and at her personal website.

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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