Unwarranted Violence


Henry Blake: Pierce….

Hawkeye Pierce: What is it? What?

Blake: I wouldn’t try to leave camp.

Hawkeye: Wha — I’m under arrest?

Blake: I didn’t say that. You’re restricted.

Hawkeye: That means I’m under arrest.

Blake: Not at all, you’re only restricted up to the point where, er — where, er — you’re under arrest.

Hawkeye: Henry, what’s happened to you? Did you sneak off behind our backs and enlist? You’re regular Army now!

Blake: Sit down Pierce, that’s an order!

Hawkeye: You’re forcing me to stand.

Blake: Please.

Hawkeye: That’s an order I can take.

A key exchange between Lt. Col. Henry Blake and B.F. "Hawkeye" Pierce, from the M*A*S*H episode "For the Good of the Outfit."

Government, as we must never forget, is force. And as Simone Weil so memorably observed, force is that mysterious influence "that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him."

Every government function, no matter how mundane or apparently harmless, carries with it the implied (and often overt) use of lethal force against those who do not submit. Stefan Molyneux perceptively describes this as the principle of the "Gun in the room": Whenever anybody refers to the supposed virtue of a given government undertaking, Molyneux sagely observes, the central question is not whether the end is desirable, but rather "whether I am allowed to disagree with you without getting shot."

Not every government functionary carries a gun and a license to kill other human beings. But every government functionary collaborates closely with those who are thus equipped to compel the rest of us to submit. The people in question are readily identifiable by the blue, brown, or black clothing they wear, which is usually accessorized with a conspicuous piece of chintzy costume jewelry called a "badge."

At some point or another, it becomes obvious to everyone save those hopelessly in the thrall of official propaganda that the central purpose of law enforcement bodies is not to protect private property*, but rather to extract revenue for the State.

Granted, police agencies are advertised as a way of defending private property from the depredations of private criminals, and many individual police officers have carried out that function with courage and compassion. But that is not the central institutional purpose of such entities; it is an ancillary function that provides some limited benefits to society. Besides, as Albert Jay Nock observed, government isn’t interested in punishing or preventing crime, but rather in establishing and preserving a criminal monopoly.

The order of priorities that government law enforcement today can be appreciated in this contrast:

Under existing judicial precedents, a police officer cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for failing to come to the aid of an individual citizen whose person and property are under criminal attack. However, police agencies across the country routinely discipline police officers who fail to fill their quota of traffic citations.

This may at first glance seem to be a spurious comparison. But consider it in light of the principle of opportunity cost as applied to the time budget of the typical patrol officer: Should he organize his time in such a way that he can be available to help a victim of violent crime, or in the best way to take advantage of "hot spots" for traffic violators, thereby making his quota and enhancing his prospects for lucrative overtime?

A given officer can be in only one place at a given time, after all, and each hour spent trolling for inattentive drivers represents an hour taken away from the task of "serving and protecting" the local population.

Here in Payette, Idaho (population circa 7,000), the local police force has not one or two but no fewer than three undercover, unmarked cars (recognizable from some angles by the antenna cluster at the back) that apparently circulate through the town in search of traffic violations. One of them can be seen every morning making circuits through a local "hot spot": It’s a section of a business route branching off I-95 where the speed limit suddenly dips from 35 MPH to 25 MPH for several blocks.

This kind of ticketing-by-quota — the existence of which is indisputable, the anguished denials from police officials to the contrary notwithstanding — isn’t "law enforcement"; it’s revenue enhancement. And it’s increasingly common as the economic implosion accelerates and governments at the municipal and county levels are starved for tax revenue.

"When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement," observes Michael Reaves, a police chief in Utica, Michigan. "But if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues. That’s just the reality nowadays."

The Detroit News article containing Reaves’ lament was entitled "Traffic fines help fill city coffers: Officials increasingly target drivers to bolster budgets." The piece, the first in a two-part expos, reported that "Court and police records from 2002—2007 [show that] many Metro Detroit police departments have drastically increased the number of moving violations issued in what some people say is an effort to offset budget shortfalls caused by the sluggish economy."

One former Detroit-area police officer summarizes: "A portion of the tickets our officers write helps pay their salaries, but the rest is profit for the city. ‘Profit’ may not be the right word to use in government, but that’s pretty much what it is."

No, "profit" — a term describing material gain honorably earned through mutually beneficial commerce — is not the correct word. "Plunder" is.

Detroit and its environs are in the throes of a severe and deepening depression, and suffering a predictable increase in property crimes and violent assaults. And yet, as the perspicuous Karen DeCoster (herself a Detroit native) points out, "the cops do nothing to prevent the scores of home robberies, car thefts, and assorted property crimes because they are too busy sitting in ‘hot spots’ that are good for catching the more dangerous types, like speeders and drivers who don’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign in an empty intersection."

That’s opportunity cost at work. And this underscores, once again, the true priorities that define police "work": Revenue collection for the government ber alles, protection for the governed … sometimes.

The embodiment of the Detroit-area police plunderbund is Officer David Kanapsky, the champion pen-slinger for the Warren Police Department. During 2007, the Warren PD issued 54,100 traffic tickets — an increase of 20 percent over the previous year’s total of 44,809.

Kanapsky, a physically unimpressive wad of aging cholesterol who couldn’t chase down a robber or wrestle an assailant to the ground without risking an immediate coronary infarct, wrote ten percent of Warren’s citations during 2007.

Most of them were issued at Kanapsky’s favorite fishing hole, an intersection with a stop sign at which some drivers would make a "rolling stop."

But then again, it doesn’t really matter whether drivers come to a full stop, since Kanapsky — by virtue of the costume he wears to what he calls "work" — enjoys the benefit of the doubt when tickets are contested in court.

And since Kanapsky is paid (note carefully: not "earns," but "is paid") overtime simply for appearing in court, he actually has a perverse incentive for issuing citations he knows will be challenged. Last year he was given $21,562 in overtime simply for dragging his tax-engorged corpus into court to wheeze out his allegations before a judge.

Each of those contested tickets was a case of Kanapsky’s word against that of his victim — the word of a self-interested tax-feeder against that of a productive citizen. Naturally, the judge invariably takes the side of his comrade in the tax-feeding class. So Kanapsky is let free to grow another subsidized chin and prey on other innocent people; meanwhile, those who dared object to Kanapsky’s predations are out the price of a ticket and the valuable time spent in the useless, infuriating, self-abasing attempt to contest it in court.

Any citizen is free to pursue that disagreement further, at his own time and expense, in the same system that depends on the support of armed predators like Kanapsky. However, if that citizen simply shrugs his shoulders and says, in effect, "You’ve proven nothing, and I have no intention of surrendering my legitimately earned money on the word of a self-interested thug," he’ll eventually learn that he can’t persist in his disagreement without getting shot.

It’s important to recognize that many police officers are nauseated by the use to which they are put by the governments that hired them.

“The people we count on to support us and help us when we’re on the road are the ones who end up paying the bills, and they’re ticked off about it," observes Trenton, Michigan Police Sgt. Richard Lyons. “We might was well just go door-to-door and tell people, ‘Slide us $100 now, since your 16-year-old is going to end up paying us anyway when he starts driving.’ You can’t blame people for getting upset. No politician wants to be the one to raise taxes, but if the community needs more money they should go ahead and raise taxes. At least that’s more honorable than chasing down cars for doing five miles over the speed limit.”

Of course, no politician wants to raise taxes overtly, and with property values and retail earnings sharply declining, property and sales taxes are being choked off. This is why police nation-wide are increasingly being deployed as armed revenue farmers — and why the already lengthy lines outside your local traffic court get longer every week.

Roadside police holdups aren’t the only creative means of illicit revenue extraction being employed by local governments; "code enforcement" citations are likewise proliferating, often in the name of maintaining property values amid the housing collapse. Given the dimensions of the housing bust, this is a bit like swimming against the tidal pull of Charybdis. But the intent here, once again, is not to aid homeowners, but rather to contrive new opportunities for revenue collection.

This brings us to the case of Ian Bernard (also known as "Ian Freeman") of Keene, New Hampshire. Last summer, Freeman received a citation — delivered, as it turns out, by a retired police officer who is "working" part-time as an ordinance officer, while drawing a tax-provided pension — for allowing the occupants of a rental property he owns to store a couch in its front yard.

Mr. Freeman, recall, owns the rental property. No respectable person complained about the couch; the source of the complaint was another city official. Quite properly perceiving this to be a matter of property rights, Freeman refused to pay the citation. In early November Bernard wound up in District Court before a judge antagonistic to Mr. Bernard’s beliefs, which are well-known in Keene.

In the mistaken belief that he would make a point of some kind, the judge arranged for a little demonstration during Freeman’s hearing: Knowing that Freeman and other local freedom activists reject the stilted formality of court hearings, the judge summoned several Bailiffs to the courtroom and instructed them to be ready to arrest Freeman or any of his associates who failed to display the expected deference by standing when the judge sashayed into the room, and sitting promptly when instructed to.

Like Hawkeye Pierce, Freeman and his friends live by the axiom that someone who "orders" them to sit down is forcing them to stand, and vice-versa. This is an entirely commendable thing.

So it was that the judge ordered that Freeman be arrested for contempt for standing a barely perceptible fraction of a second longer than the judge thought proper. A special closed trial was then held, at which Freeman received a sentence of 93 days in jail — three days refusing to pay the original fine, and a total of 90 days for contempt.

Once again: This individual, who did nothing to harm anybody, will spend more than three months in jail for asserting control over his own legally acquired property, and refusing to offer slavish obedience to some fellow with a Liberace complex.

It could have been worse.

Oh, my, yes: In a time when armed tax harvesters consider it their right and duty to subject people to electroshock torture at the first sign of resistance, it can always get much worse.

Just two days ago (Wednesday, November 19), Houston resident Marvin Driver, the father of Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver, was reportedly beaten bloody and unconscious by a pair of Houston’s Finest who had arrested him because of outstanding traffic tickets.

Marvin Driver, 56, was "unresponsive" when taken to jail. Shuttled to a local hospital, he was treated for a cerebral hemorrhage resulting from blunt force trauma. Left speechless by the assault, Driver scribbled some details about the assault. He was arrested outside his mother’s home; his brother Winston, who witnessed the arrest, says that one of the officers threatened him, ordering him to get back in the house. As the police drove away, Winston called 911.

The next thing the family knew, Marvin was in the hospital. He claims to have been dragged behind a gas station and beaten by the police, who also tried to shove something down his throat. At one point, Marvin recalled, one of the assailants tauntingly told him he was "going to see Jesus."

Mr. Driver’s injuries — which included abdominal bruises from being kneed to the stomach — were consistent with his story.

While it was clear that Driver came to serious harm while in police custody, the department’s initial reaction was that it couldn’t account for or comment about Driver’s condition until after a lengthy inquiry. However, the force quickly reassigned three officers — Bacilio Guzman, Gilberto Cruz and M. Marin — believed to have been involved in the assault.

Officers Cruz and Guzman both became sworn police officers within the last 18 months. Mr. Driver has said that the beating he endured was less painful to him than the fact that he had known one of the assailants in the neighborhood before he grew up to be a police officer. They had been on friendly terms until one of them was given the assignment to collect revenue for the government, and the power to turn his erstwhile friends into corpses.