I admit it, I was horribly naive. I actually thought that pictures like the following…
…would finally make Americans take people like me seriously when we warn that the U.S. is morphing into an outright police state before our very eyes. I mean the “legal” infrastructure is already in place–the NYT ran a prominent story about the “secret kill list” of the current occupant of the White House. And so, I thought the photos from Ferguson would finally get the average American to realize that libertarians and other vocal groups haven’t been crying wolf all these years.
Well I was wrong. After a few days of genuine shock, most Americans have now managed to place the events unfolding in Ferguson into their familiar compartments. Progressive pundits want police forces to hire more black cops and for the government to provide more job training to eliminate the “root causes” of poverty and crime. The talking heads on Fox News, for their part, are outraged that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are butting in yet again, and trying to tell white guys how racist they are. And while these media figures go back to their normal posturing, Americans have just gotten another taste–after the Boston Marathon lockdown and the Bundy Ranch standoff–of heavily militarized security forces confronting regular citizens on U.S. soil.
For those who wish to defend the strong-arm tactics of the Ferguson police (which were then supplemented by outside help), the argument that I’ve seen picking up traction is that it is the duty of the State to ensure law & order. If the government didn’t rush in with overwhelming force, then the poor residents of Ferguson would be at the mercy of riots and looting. I’ve seen people drive home the point by linking to YouTube videos of Reginald Denny getting beaten in the 1992 L.A. riots.
First, let me be clear, even though this should go without saying: The people who are using the outrage over Michael Brown’s shooting as cover to steal from stores are acting both criminally and immorally. Whether or not the police officer killed Michael Brown in self-defense, that has nothing to do with other people stealing from local stores.
Yet beyond this concession (which should be obvious to anyone in this discussion), the defense of the police is quite lacking. For one thing, pointing out the Reginald Denny case as an example of what can happen if the State lets “angry blacks” get out of hand is rather odd: The reason the L.A. riots occurred is that after a car chase, a group of LAPD officers had a year earlier stood around Rodney King on the ground as some of them beat him severely. The video of the beating isn’t what sparked the outrage. No, the rioting began after the officers were acquitted of almost all charges (the jury deadlocked on one charge). Thus the defense of the heavy military presence in L.A. and Ferguson boils down to: “We need a brutal State to prevent citizens from hurting innocents when they react violently to prior State brutality.”
But let’s put aside the specific triggers of riots and looting, and take them as given. It still doesn’t follow that we need a strong State to protect innocent lives. No, as I’ve explained elsewhere (try here and here), a free market economy can provide voluntary police and judicial services far more efficiently and peacefully than a monopoly institution. If only the State would get rid of its gun control laws and allow genuine competition in the “industry” of property protection, then the threats to person and property from looters would be minimized.
Finally, let’s step back and look at the big picture: White Americans who are more worried about “young black thugs” than they are about the emerging police state need to reevaluate their situation. Last year I paid a good 40% of my income to criminals, the vast majority of whom were white. They didn’t take my money through looting, instead they won elections.