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In my column this week for Defining Ideas from the Hoover Institution, I look at the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and the reaction they’ve inspired in the press. One of my conclusions: that many libertarians have gone overboard with otherwise legitimate concerns about policing. As I note:
It is not that I entirely part company with modern libertarians on all issues relating to the police. It is that I would like to see libertarians of all stripes slow down their denunciation of public authorities, without whom we cannot enjoy the ordered liberty that we all prize. The correct attitude on the police force is to see it as a regrettable necessity, but a necessity nonetheless. Without police intervention, many cities in this country would turn into Iraqi-style war zones. The point remains true even if it is the case, as it is in Iraq, that most people have a strong desire to live out their lives in peace. So long as some fringe groups are intent on using violence, they can force everyone else to follow suit, until by degrees entire nations can be plunged into chaos and sectarian violence unless there are some organized institutions to protect us.
Like many people, I’ve kept my mouth shut on the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, on the grounds that I don’t want to form a judgment before knowing the real facts. I do, however, know a little about about how police control riots, and sharing that knowledge may help others evaluate the police’s behavior in restoring order.
While I was getting my masters degree, I did a practical class (i.e., an internship, but one that was also a job) in a city of about 30,000. While I was there, I rotated into the police department for a week to learn how cops work and train, and part of that included a day at a riot control training sponsored by the Kentucky State Police. I was the best dressed rioter of the day, suit and tie and all.
As America is yet again riveted on a controversial police shooting, one thing that keeps coming up in the discussion is the subject of police cameras. Ricochet’s Own Troy Senik mentioned it in his thoughtful post on the tragedy of Ferguson, and it seems to be an article of faith, in particular among more libertarian-leaning precincts of the Right: “You want to solve this? Body cameras for cops. Done.”
I have seen this point bandied about a lot in the past week. And while I agree with the overall point, I feel I must offer a word of caution: people see these cameras as argument-ending panaceas, and they are not.
I was recently in the testing program for a number of wearable camera systems my department is looking at, during which time I frequently felt like the DP on the world’s stupidest documentary. I generally liked having them, and I’m eager to get one issued (the bureaucrats are currently hashing out which system to buy). But they are not without their issues, and a great many people seem unaware of them.
I’ve not yet written anything about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri for the simple reason that I haven’t had to. On stories like this, that’s the singular luxury of not having to fill column inches or airtime — you simply don’t have to speak up until you have something to say. I’ve often thought that’s the poverty of 24-hour cable news — when the red lights comes on, you start talking, whether or not you have anything intelligent to say and whether or not you have a clue in hell as to the facts of the story you’re supposed to be covering (I’ve just described CNN’s business model).
As the situation presently stands, we still seem to have remarkably little information about the shooting of Michael Brown. It’s plausible that information yet to come out may either vindicate the outrage over the incident or demonstrate at least some measure of culpability on Brown’s behalf. Those who are leaning strongly towards one side or the other are probably telling us more about their ideological priors than about the case itself. Still, a few words deserve to be said about some of the events that have followed in the wake of the shooting.
— Ricochet was littered last week with posts decrying the militarization of law enforcement, a trend that’s been on display in Ferguson, but one that the libertarian right in particular has been calling attention to for years now. (This is only part of a broader trend of civic-police disconnect: I believe I’m on record as noting that, in America, the indiscriminate killing of family dogs is probably the most expedient route by which law enforcement can lose the public trust).
I am in agreement with much of what Claire Berlinski and Jon Gabriel wrote in their earlier posts on the events in Ferguson, Missouri. For the last fifteen years, much of my writing has been devoted to the cause of explaining — if not always justifying — police actions that have come in for criticism in the media. While I know little of the incident that precipitated all that followed, if it is indeed true that the officer was 35 feet away from Michael Brown when he opened fire, I cannot imagine a set of circumstances that would justify him.
That said, like Claire and Jon, I have been troubled by some of the images broadcast from Ferguson. And while I’m comfortable to be in their company, it’s strange to also find myself agreeing with the likes of Rachel Maddow, who on her program on Tuesday, showed a picture of police officers in camouflage aiming rifles at… I’m not quite sure.
Just hours ago, I proposed to Ricochet’s Liz Harrison that comparing the United States under Obama to Turkey under Erdoğan reflected a failure of imagination. I was remembering, among other things, the circumstances under which I left Turkey, which I detailed at length here:
June 1: Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in more than 40 Turkish cities keep protesting. The protesters move to the office of Prime Minister Erdoğan in Beşiktaş, providing the police with an excuse for even harsher retaliation. Every living being in the district gets showered with tear gas—including, I’m told, the officials in the office, which at least was satisfying to imagine, if it’s true. Ankara and Izmir rise up in force.Snippets of conversation: “They’ve got to be running low on tear gas.” … “They saturation bombed this part of the city with gas, how much can they possibly have?” … “This is just ridiculous. What the [redacted] are they thinking?” … “Why the [redacted] are they provoking this, I wonder? Completely lost it? …
At the risk of nauseating Rob Long, I offer a few words on suicide, about which I have learned more than I would have cared to.
I’ve seen many sorrows in more than 30 years as a cop, but the images that haunt me most are the suicides. My first, when I was just weeks out of the police academy, happened on the beach. A woman called the police to report her husband missing, and it was my partner and I who were assigned the call. The woman greeted us at the door of a beautiful home near the beach, showing us inside to take in the trappings of what was – or had been – a prosperous life. There had been financial setbacks, she told us, and she was worried that her husband would not be able to cope with the sudden change in the family’s fortunes. They kept a gun in the house, and when her husband did not come home as expected she feared the worst. When she found that the gun was not in its customary place, she called the police.
It was wintertime, or what passes for wintertime in Los Angeles: gray skies, a bit of drizzle, and a biting wind coming off the ocean. My partner and I began to trudge across the sand of what appeared to be a deserted beach. But there was someone out there, down near the water. From a distance, he looked to be sleeping. Or perhaps he was just gazing up at the passing clouds. But as we got closer we could see the gun near his hand, and then the blood in the sand, and then the wound in the side of his head.
I’m out of town this week, but I’m grateful that a fellow Phoenix resident is taking up the slack in my absence:
The incident began about 2:30 a.m. Friday when a man went through the drive-through at a Julioberto’s near Seventh Street and Glendale Avenue and lost track of his cellphone, said Sgt. Steve Martos, a Phoenix police spokesman.
I have had the misfortune of knowing two individuals in my life who I can confidently call narcissistic sociopaths. Their moral disregard for even their closest relatives and friends is shocking. They are as cruel to children and elders as to peers. At their best, they are either dismissive or manipulative. When angered, often by […]
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One of my good friends serves as a police officer here in the Pacific Northwest. Over time, he’s been frustrated. About a month ago, he expressed his frustrations thusly:
Dear Conservative Ideology — There is no easy way to say this, so I am just going to say it. I’m breaking up with you. I know what you are thinking. No I am not seeing anyone else. I am not going to remove my conservative sign and replace it with a liberal one. Right now, I’m just going to stand on my own. Ironically, the thing that has pushed you away from me is the one thing that has always kept me far away from liberal ideology … anti-police rhetoric.
He goes on:
My latest piece over at PJ Media concerns the murders in Isla Vista. Among other issues, I discuss the pro forma calls for more gun control, this in a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country. A sample:
And still there are those who entertain the childish fantasy that some act of legislation, some magical addition to California’s already voluminous gun laws, might have been the one that impeded [Elliot] Rodger from carrying out what he was determined to do. Richard Martinez, father of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, one of the students Rodgers killed on Friday, has been passionate in his condemnation of the National Rifle Association and the politicians he perceives to be in its thrall. “Why did Chris die?”, he asked reporters. “Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.”
Mr. Martinez can be forgiven in his grief for failing to blame the actual killer, but even in grief one must not disregard the grief felt by others whose loss is just as great. Elliot Rodger killed six people, three of them by gunfire. And he injured 13 others, eight by gunfire. The parents of those stabbed to death or run down in the street might ask, “You seek to ban the implement that harmed your child, but what’s to be done about the one that harmed mine?”
What the flaming heck is going on in Brighton, Michigan? If you curse near one of their city-owned playgrounds, the cops will give you a ticket and a steep fine. That just burns my biscuits.
Colin Andersen, age 19, swore at a police officer for giving his buddy a skateboarding ticket. (I guess skateboarding is a crime after all.) For some reason Andersen was surprised that the officer didn’t approve and was shocked to receive a ticket and a $200 fine for disorderly conduct.
“What got me to start arguing a little bit, they were asking all of us to leave because he got a ticket,” Andersen said. “That’s not fair. We’re just standing around.”
My latest contribution over at PJ Media concerns two cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Both cases, Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, involve warrantless searches by police on cell phones seized from people who had been arrested. Current case law allows officers to examine the property of people they have arrested, which sometimes leads to the discovery of incriminating evidence. Such was the fate of Mssrs. Riley and Wurie. The former had his conviction upheld through appeal while the latter’s was overturned, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to resolve the conflict.
But how should the police deal with the cell phone found on an arrestee? Should cell phones, owing to the vast amount of personal information often stored on them, be accorded more protection than a wallet, a notebook, or anything else a person might carry? If you think it should be, what legal precedent would you apply? And if there is no established precedent, should it be left to judges to create one, or should it be left to the legislative process?
Read the column here, then come back and weigh in with your comments.
In a nation of 300+ million people, the occasional tale of legendary idiocy or corruption is to be expected. Hey, it happens. A few incidents across one of the largest nations on Earth is not a trend.
What grabs my attention in Mark Steyn’s latest column, however, is the long series of high-ranking officials who are apparently willing to excuse the inexcusable — a young man, wrongly suspected of stealing a car, taking a bullet (which collapsed his lung) from a policeman after objecting to the cops’ rough treatment of his mother:
My most recent piece over at PJ Media concerns a police shooting that occurred last October in Albuquerque. The officer responded to a call of an armed robbery, and when he confronted the suspect, the suspect pulled a gun. The officer fired eight rounds, striking the suspect once, not fatally. As is usually the case, controversy followed.
Should the officer have fired? Would you have?