Obedience and Subservience

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The recent incident in Boynton Beach, Florida, in which a police officer hit a 22-year-old woman twice with a 50 thousand-volt taser gun, is being played out in the usual manner: all heat and no light. Yet, beyond all of the rhetoric that has accompanied the aftermath of this action, we can see that it represents a much deeper problem in our society — and tells us just how far we have strayed from our roots of liberty.

For those not familiar with the story, the officer stopped the woman for a routine traffic violation. When he walked to her vehicle, she was talking on her cell phone and did not end the conversation when the officer ordered her to do so. He then told her to get out of the car; she did not respond. (She still was talking on the phone.)

The officer then told her to get out of the car or he would "tase" her. When she did not respond, he shocked her and she screamed. He then shocked her again, after she had fallen to the ground. He and his partner then handcuffed her and led her off to a patrol car.

The woman was black and the officer was white, which is how much of the story is being framed. Unfortunately, that does not do justice to what happened, as it clearly was not a racial incident in the way we might think of such a thing happening.

I make that claim because from what I could see, the officer would have done the same thing had the motorist been a white man or a white, pregnant woman. The issue here is not race; rather the real issue is whether or not we are to "obey" people in authority or be subservient to them. In my lifetime, I have seen Americans become increasingly subservient to government officials — who, in turn, have seized more and more power over our individual lives.

Once upon a time, a "poorly-trained" local police officer (who most likely would not have stopped the woman for the minor offense in the first place) would have walked to the window and started talking to the woman. Had she refused to end the phone conversation, he simply would have started writing a ticket, and had she been belligerent, he would have shrugged his shoulders and left the ticket with her.

Yes, the "poorly-trained" officer might have said something smart to her, but almost surely under the old rules of police work, this would not have turned into a national incident. Today, however, police officers are trained in "military" style. Those people who can access the video can see that he is acting like a marine or some other "roger reg" officer. Police officers trained in "modern" academies are taught that they immediate must "get control of the situation."

Now, in some situations that might be appropriate; a routine traffic stop of a woman talking on her cell phone is not one of them. In the "bad, old days," a police officer would have recognized the difference and accounted for it. However, today, "modern" academies teach that everyone is a criminal and that police officers are to have total contempt for the public. Furthermore, their training makes clear that police are to ensure that everyone obeys them, and obedience in this case is nothing less than full subservience. Anything else is treated as a threat and dealt with accordingly.

In the not-so-distant past, raids conducted by law enforcement officers were rare events. They were saved for situations in which the lives of officers — and others — clearly could be at stake, and were conducted only when no other alternative was available.

Today, raids are commonplace and often are conducted where it is obvious that the only people who are armed are police. "Law enforcement" entities that are part of federal agencies like the IRS have more than 100 "SWAT" teams that do nothing but conduct raids. I have spoken to people who have gone through the experience of being raided, and it is extremely frightening. Police officers armed with automatic weapons and who often are hyped beyond anything normal people would call sane, burst into workplaces brandishing their loaded guns, screaming orders and obscenities. Raids ostensibly are carried out to deal with dangerous people, but in the vast majority of raids today, the only "dangerous" individuals are the "law enforcement" personnel, many of whom obviously are itching to be able to gun down somebody — anybody.

The purpose of the modern raid, of course, is not to ensure the capture of the "bad guys" or to protect the lives of officers, but rather to send a message to the rest of us: government officials can do what they want when they want. The rest of us are scum and peons.

After viewing the video of the torture of that poor woman (remember, it is a war crime to use a taser on someone held as a prisoner of war), I went to a blog where people posted comments. While some were outraged, many others posted the "we need to obey the police" platitudes ad nauseum. No one, however, was able to see the larger picture. Blacks were outraged that a white officer had zapped a black woman, and others simply raged against the police.

Yes, the woman should have ended her phone call. I say that not because she should have been subservient to the cop who approached her, but rather because she — and the rest of us — must understand that when we are approached by a police officer, all too often the person coming toward us is armed and dangerous. And has a license to kill, or at least inflict torture — and suffer no legal sanctions for his actions.

June 14, 2005

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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