by Anthony Gregory: Springtime
for the Regime
On May 13,
1985, in the twilight of the Cold War, residents of Philadelphia
were ruthlessly bombed from the sky. The enemy government was conducting
a political mission, but innocent inhabitants of that distinctly
American city were caught up in the attack. After ten thousand rounds
were fired at civilians over a period of two hours, a helicopter
swooped in and dropped C-4 and Tovex explosives, destroying 65 houses.
Five children were slaughtered in the strike.
was not the Soviet Union, or else the attack might have escalated
into international conflict. It certainly would have made it into
textbook timelines and become part of the nation’s consciousness.
No, those responsible for this atrocity were members of the Philadelphia
police department. The local cops sought to finish off their political
enemies after years of animosity and tension. The proximate legal
excuse for bombing their own city? The cops had gotten complaints
about noise and the stench of compost.
years have passed since the bombing of the MOVE
house and if there was any doubt before, it is now beyond question
that the local police have become the occupying troops that Malcolm
X described. They are the standing army the Founding Fathers warned
against. In the United States, they are the most dangerous gang
operating and they do so under the color of law.
Grigg should be familiar with this reality. The man who once
edited the magazine for the John Birch Society, an organization
whose 60’s mantra was "support your local police," has
since then focused largely on documenting the daily outrages conducted
by these tax parasites. Reading his specific accounts of misconduct
and brutality, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that police
abuse is not a bug in the system; it is an intrinsic feature.
We can cite
some of the most gruesome and high-profile outrages of recent years,
such as the murder of Oscar
Grant on New Years Day, 2009, a young man shot by a Bay Area
cop in the back while lying face-down on the ground; or the brutal
beating of Alexander Landau, a college student who dared to
ask Denver cops for a warrant before they searched his trunk; or
the plight of seven-year-old Aiyana
Stanley Jones, who was murdered last May in Detroit as she lay
on her family’s couch while the cops raided the home, tossed in
a flash-grenade that set her on fire and then shot her in the head.
Any one of
these incidents should set off as much anti-government anger as
the Boston Massacre, but some will object that I am cherry picking.
So let us limit ourselves to just the last couple months to illustrate
the depth of the problem. Last month, police
in Trenton shot and killed an unarmed man, saying he was reaching
for his waistband. In
Orlando, police tased a man to death for being disorderly in
a movie theater. In
Derby, Kansas, a police officer broke a teenager’s arm because
he dared to talk back after getting in trouble for wearing sagging
On May 5, police
in Tuscon stormed into Jose Guerena’s home around 9 AM, and
shot him 71 times. Yes, fearful for his family’s safety, he
was holding an AR-15 in self-defense, but didn’t get a shot in,
despite lies to the contrary – yet there was no evidence found of
any wrongdoing or illegality on his part. In Alabama, a
police officer beat an 84-year-old man for reporting a car accident
and daring to put the offender under "citizens arrest"
– a more civilized version of what police do routinely – and then
the officer turned an ambulance away, insisting the elderly victim
didn’t need medical help. Louisiana cops tased Kirkin
Woolridge at a traffic stop on May 18, and he soon died of complications
Just in the
last week, we have the
DC cops who brutally beat up a defenseless man in a wheelchair.
In Moore, Oklahoma, innocent
residents are upset that police shot at their homes indiscriminately
in attempting to chase down an "armed suicidal subject."
In Fort Collins, Colorado, a
police patrol car seriously injured a bicyclist, but unlike
nearly any other collision between a bike and car, it is being blamed
on the bicyclist.
These are just
very recent examples that can be found from a minute of Googling.
They are no doubt the tip of the iceberg. They do not begin to represent
the millions of smaller injustices conducted by police daily, both
under the cover of law and in naked violation of statutes and court
decisions, or the thousands of daily injustices and acts of torture
and sexual abuse in America’s prisons and jails, for which law enforcers
are at least indirectly and very often directly responsible.
violence of the modern police state is ubiquitous. Every
day there are 100 SWAT raids in America. Remember in the old
days when SWAT raids were reserved for stopping some terrorist intent
on destroying half the city? Maybe that was just in the movies.
There were 3,000 SWAT raids in 1981, the year I was born, which
was bad enough. There will be 40,000 this year.
In modern America,
even small towns have their own air forces. The TV news frets about
al-Qaeda, but rarely exposes the threat of the thin blue line. About
as many Americans have been killed by police since 9/11/01 as died
on that day. Between 1980 and 2005, police
killed 9,500 people in the U.S., approximately one per day and
almost three-fourths as many people as have been sentenced and executed
in the United States since colonial times. A study in Harris County,
Texas, found that between 1999 and mid 2005, officers
in the county shot 65 unarmed people, killing 17.
But don’t police
put their lives on the line for us? Only
117 police were killed in the line of duty in 2009, which might
seem like a lot, but being a police officer is
not even one of the top ten dangerous jobs in America.
people who are killed by the cops had it coming. Well, consider
how many are killed when the police presumably do not intend to
kill at all and so reach for their taser. Amnesty
International found that "the number of people who died
after being struck by Tasers in the USA reached 334 between 2001
and August 2008."
This all puts
aside the unspeakable corruption that plagues virtually every police
station in America. From an Orlando
officer covering up evidence of vicious brutality against a
100-pound woman to the systematic
corruption of a small-town department in Kansas to San
Francisco undercover cops stealing drugs for themselves, even
the reported cases of police misconduct – there
were 2,500 such reports last year – are enough to show the whole
system is rotten. A cursory look at the
admitted child rapists and other such lowlifes who often "serve"
as officers for years before being caught also puts the lie to the
very idea that police are on average any more noble than the general
libertarians often reserve at least three functions to the state
– military, courts and police. But why police? We never tire of
talking about America as it was before the government swallowed
society whole. In particular, we reminisce about the principles
of 1776. Yet, although there was plenty to object to in colonial
law and law in the early republic, police as we now know them didn’t
exist back then.
adopted a police force in 1845. New Orleans, Cincinnati, Chicago
and Baltimore followed suit in the next decade. From the beginning
these were politicized bodies, involved in corrupt local politics
and enforcing questionable laws. They were not immaculately conceived
any more than the state itself. But it was not until the Progressive
Era that the modern police force was truly born. At the turn of
the century, cities adopted fingerprinting and forensics labs. Soon
came radios and patrol cars. Berkeley, California, home to many
great strides in progressive social engineering, was also a pioneer
in creating modern police. August Vollmer, Berkeley’s chief of police,
trained a new generation of cops through the University of California.
His protégé O M. Wilson went on to revolutionize the
forces of Wichita and Chicago.
By the 1960s,
police were more often in cars than walking the streets. This made
a big difference. Lawrence M. Freedman writes in Crime
and Punishment in American History:
A cop on
foot was a familiar cop, a neighborhood cop; he knew his beat,
and the beat knew him. He was also pretty much on his own. Headquarters
was far away; he was beyond its beck and call. But now a ton of
steel separated the motorized officer from the community; police
cruising in patrol cars were strangers to the dark, dangerous
streets; these police tended to feel alien, beleaguered; the locals,
for their part, thought of them as an outside, occupying force.
from the community tends to galvanize the police into a tight-knit
gang complete with its own identity: "The police are a tight,
beleaguered group. They develop their own subculture, and it is
a subculture of tough, macho conservatism. . . . They see human
beings at their worst, and that certainly colors their philosophy
cops have come to "believe in fighting fire with fire. Police
brutality was part of a more general system of police power. It
rested on a simple credo: the battalions of law and order had the
right, if not the duty, to be tough as nails with criminals. Force
was the only language the criminal understood."
be necessary to deal with violent thugs, but allowing the greatest
predator of all – the state – to monopolize the sector of the economy
concerned with using force against criminals is a recipe for oppression
and injustice. The entire history of government police demonstrates
they cannot be trusted. They are the henchmen of all the totalitarian
regimes we see on the History Channel. In the United States, they
were always a menace, at least to some. They tended early on to
focus their brutality against the other – immigrants, gangsters,
ethnic minorities, transients and the counterculture. Today they
still bias their violence against the fringes of society, the young
and the powerless, but they are now so vast a presence that no one
is safe, no matter how respectable, no matter his demographic.
century brought us all the horrors of progressivism, and one conspicuous
example has been the militarized city police force, which has become
an organization hostile to all manner of civilized decency. The
last century, particularly since the 1960s, also meant an increasing
nationalization of police, arming them with military weapons, plugging
them into national databases, harmonizing oppression throughout
the country so there is no escape, charging cops with new national
crusades against drugs and other non-crimes. Then there is the revolving
door between the military and police precincts, with veterans, often
traumatized from battle, increasingly enlisting back home as cops.
The institutional and cultural nationalization has made matters
worse, although local police, as agents of the state, have been
very eager partners in the federalization of law enforcement. They
have never been the great defenders against national usurpation
conservatives long hoped for; but today they are all-out quislings.
say, all anarchists should support outright and immediate abolition
of the police. We’re talking about the enforcement arm of the state,
after all. If you oppose the state monopoly, you must favor eliminating
the state’s method of maintaining its monopoly – through the police.
And indeed, if you distrust socialism, you should distrust law-enforcement
socialism as much as anything, for this is the original sin
that allows all other state depredations to follow. Also, when the
state misallocates resources, it is not nearly so evil in itself
as when it inevitably misallocates violence on a massive scale.
For much of
U.S. history, Americans had less government and fewer police. Government
will necessarily be weaker, all else being equal, the fewer enforcement
agents it boasts. Without any armed enforcers, the state withers
away. The fewer armed state agents the better. The growth of modern
leviathan in the 20th century accompanied the rise of
the city police force. Big government and cops go hand in hand.
If your goal
is to end the welfare state, the regulatory state, the wars, or
anything else seriously bad about government, abolishing the police
would seem to be a major priority. Do you oppose taxation? Abolish
the police, as well as all other agencies of government law enforcement,
and see how threatening those 1040s and state tax forms seem then.
Some will argue
that the police protect our rights. But if the market is really
better than socialism, abolishing the police outright shouldn’t
be a problem. Why trust the state to continue cornering the market
on rights protection? If protecting life, liberty and property is
important – and it most certainly is – we cannot to let the central
planners and their armed enforcers run the show. Fire them immediately.
The market will find a better way to protect us within 24 hours,
if it takes nearly that long. If we all take up the abolitionist
cause, certainly by the time police are abolished, civil society
will find a way to fill the void.
And of course,
the very premise that we must maintain state police for the sake
of our rights assumes that they protect our rights more than they
infringe them. This is completely dubious. Surely we have no "constitutional
right" to police protection, as the Seventh Circuit Court determined
v. Devito (1982). When there’s a riot or huge unleashing
of social unrest, police often bail out, leaving shop owners and
other people to fend for themselves, who do a better job anyway,
as during the 1992 LA riots. What’s more, the police often exacerbate
the catastrophe by disarming homeowners and shooting at people committing
petty offenses, like they did after Katrina. Furthermore, studies
seem to indicate that police
strikes don’t lead to any demonstrated rise in crime.
We can probably
assume that abolishing the police would not lead to the apocalypse
people fear, not even in the short run as the market sorts things
First of all
actual crimes are almost never prevented by the police. The vast
majority go unsolved. At best, the police investigate them after
they occur, and then usually do nothing. Sometimes they make an
arrest, which might, at a huge expense to taxpayers, result in someone
in jail – and maybe even the right person. Even in this minority
of cases, the idea that jail is a remedy to the rights violation,
or prevents more rights violations from occurring, is an unchecked
premise. Even putting violent predators in prison where they can
brutalize less violent people may not actually reduce the amount
of aggression, if we count the victims in the cages, as we should.
Meanwhile, even the government’s pursuit of actual criminals entails
numerous rights violations in itself – investigations of the innocent,
enslaving jurors and witnesses, turning lives upside down. Victims
are never made whole. And for this we have to run the risk of being
shot or wrongly arrested by the state.
Second of all,
the police actively encourage violent crime in myriad ways. They
enforce the drug war, which probably doubles the number of homicides
and vastly increases street crime, along with some help from gun
control, which they also enforce. Gun control, by the way, demonstrates
that people do fear the police more than criminals – otherwise no
one would follow these gun laws. Instead, law-abiding folks know
the risk of being caged for this non-crime is more significant than
the risk of being caught unarmed by a private thug. So does gun
control operate in preserving the advantage for private criminals.
Abolishing the police outright, even if it put upward pressure on
crime rates, would probably overall lead to fewer crimes because
of the elimination of the criminality incited and encouraged by
Third and most
important, the police themselves routinely violate the rights of
innocent people as a major component of their job description. The
greater their numbers, financing and power, the worse it gets. It
is the job of police to harass the innocent, to jail people for
victimless crimes, to stop people for minor traffic violations,
to trick people into admitting law breaking, to fulfill quotas for
arrests, and to generally instill in the community a fear and awe
of the state. It is almost impossible to be a police officer on
the beat and not violate the non-aggression principle on a regular
basis. As a material fact, most police conducting arrests on the
street are committing acts of kidnapping, theft, trespass, and invasion.
Those who arrest people who end up in prison are effectively accessories
to rape and assault.
Even if having
police is a desirable thing, we cannot do so safely until the bad
laws are off the books, and then it would be best to fire all police
and start over. If having had a severe criminal record tends to
disqualify people from the job, so too must having been a reputable
police officer. If I am too harsh in this regard, it is just one
more reason to abolish the government’s police and allow for the
market to take over. Allow entrepreneurs to decide which former
government police are redeemable and employable as private security
and which are not.
What to do
about violent thugs? The market, social norms, private security,
the wonders and corollary institutions of private property, gated
communities, private gun ownership, religious values – all the blessings
of civil society are on our side. But the police rarely are. When
a violent criminal kills or assaults or rapes or steals, we all
condemn it, and we can find a way to deal with it when the criminals
are not protected by the system. But what about when the criminals
are the system?
is already a greater bulwark against violent and property crime
than many people realize. As of 1997, according to the Economist
cited by Robert Higgs):
three times as many private policemen as public ones.... Americans
also spend a lot more on private security (about $90 billion a
year) than they do, through tax dollars, on the public police
($40 billion). Even the government itself spends more hiring private
guards than it does paying for police forces.
For a decade
and a half, we have had three times as many private guards as public
ones, yet it is an oddity indeed to hear about their abuses, unlike
those of the police that make the papers every day – and that’s
just counting reported offenses. It should be no wonder. As market
actors, private security guards are generally heroic defenders of
property, commerce and life, and are liable for the wrong they do,
unlike the state’s armed agents, who work for an institution of
monopoly, theft, kidnapping, rape rooms and murder.
Can we really
survive without government police? When we consider how much they
do to disrupt civil society, it would seem obvious that we can.
The police, on balance, are a force for decivilization and disorder.
They commit massive violations of person and property. They enforce
gun and drug laws that basically create organized crime and breed
gang activity. Most of what they do encourages, rather than diminishes,
violence. Despite all this, America remains a fairly civilized place.
If we survived this long with the police, just imagine how much
better off we’d be without them.
Gregory [send him mail]
is a research analyst at the Independent
lives in Oakland, California. See his
webpage for more articles and personal information.
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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