After the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, America is finally embracing police reform. As is so often the case in matters of personal freedom, libertarians were here long before mainstream political counterparts and fought a frequently lonely battle against abusive government power. Now, just as they did with same-sex relationships, drug reform, and the ongoing battle against the surveillance state, people across the political spectrum seem ready to concede that a little more freedom could be a good thing. If the effort succeeds, we may not get the creditnewly converted reformers are already trying to separate the cause from its long-time promoters but at least we'll live in a better world.
"Where are the libertarians?" is such a knee-jerk cry after incidents of police brutality that it's safe to assume that it's a matter of bad faith rather than of ignorance. Having left the issue on the back burner for so long, some people don't want to admit that we were there ahead of them. Unfortunately, when it comes to police misconduct, we've been way ahead of them.
"Of the three political alternatives, a free economy, a mixed economy, a totalitarian state, only one provides the economic, political, and cultural context in which systematic police brutality cannot be a problem: a free society," wrote Reason founder Lanny Friedlander in a very '60s-ish 1969 essay. "The police of a free society, engaging in retaliatory force only, enforcing laws of a defensive nature only, would be bound by the same laws they enforced, and would stand fully accountable for their actions."
Going beyond window-dressing, libertarians favor minimizing opportunities for police to act against the public and making any interactions as non-confrontational as possible.
In 1971, the fledgling Libertarian Party (L.P.) called for "the repeal of all 'crimes without victims' now incorporated in federal and state laws," such as the prohibitions on drug use that have driven so much of the escalation in aggressive police tactics. The same platform declared itself opposed to "so-called 'no-knock laws'" of the sort that got Breonna Taylor killed by cops this year when they crashed through her door at night, unannounced, looking for illegal drugs.
In cases of police misconduct, libertarians favor holding government agencies and their employees accountable for their actions.
"We support full restitution for all loss suffered by persons arrested, indicted, tried, imprisoned, or otherwise injured in the course of criminal proceedings against them which do not result in their conviction," the L.P. proposed in 1976. "Law enforcement agencies should be liable for this restitution unless malfeasance of the officials involved is proven, in which case they should be personally liable."
That police agencies too often foster abusive conduct was no secret to libertarians long before the Minneapolis Police Department failed to implement reforms that might have saved George Floyd's life.
"When a rookie Houston patrolman named Alan Nichols did the unthinkable and reported three fellow officers for the vicious beating of a black prisoner, police internal-affairs investigators tried to have him fired, the chief publicly reprimanded him, and other police ostracized him," Glenn Garvin wrote in Inquiry, a Cato Institute publication, in 1979 coverage of violent and racially charged policing in Texas.
"Civil libertarians need to recognize that federal prosecution of law-enforcement officers who use excessive force often provides the only check on such unrestrained state power," Dirk G. Roggeveen urged in the pages of Reason as Americans reacted to the 1991 police beating of Rodney King.
Through these years, police not only misbehaved but also came to act like an occupying army lording it over a hostile populace.
Seattle's "police force has spied on local political activists for more than 20 years," Roxanne Park warned in Inquiry in 1978. "The intelligence abuses discovered in Seattle are 'typical examples' of the practices of urban police departments."
"Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work," Radley Balko cautioned for the Cato Institute in 2006. He expanded his argument in his 2013 book, Rise of the Warrior Cop.
Now, after decades of manifestos, journalism, research, and advocacy, America seems to agree with libertarians. "Americans by a 2-to-1 margin are more troubled by the actions of police in the killing of George Floyd than by violence at some protests," the Wall Street Journal reports from survey results. That just may result in policy changes.
Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, the only Libertarian in Congress, literally wrote the bill that would eliminate qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that makes it so difficult to hold police accountable for their bad behavior unless courts in the same jurisdiction have already ruled that such conduct is wrong.
If Congress doesn't rise to the occasion, the Supreme Court could. Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor both look eager to revisit the mess the court created when it invented qualified immunity.
No-knock raids, which so often end in tragedy when police kick-in the wrong door, or when suddenly awakened residents try to defend against intruders, are also getting a second look. Louisville, Kentucky is considering banning such warrants, a half-century after the Libertarian Party proposed exactly that.
City council members in Minneapolis are even talking about disbanding the police department amidst a national, though ill-defined, movement to "defund police." Whether or not that's an improvement depends on what comes next. Retaining harsh enforcement by another name will continue the abuses, the intrusiveness, and the disproportionate use of state violence against disfavored communities under nothing more than different branding.
Maybe that's why it's taken so long for people to seriously consider police reform, and why they're so resistant to giving libertarians credit on the issue. Real change requires not just dropping the word "police" but reducing the opportunity for government agents to use violence against the public. That means fewer laws to be enforced and less intrusive enforcement of those laws. That's a hard pill to swallow for ideologues who are committed to forcing people to do what they don't want to do, or to forcibly stopping them from exercising their own preferences.
Libertarians should be happy that Americans are ready to discuss police reform. But we'll have to see if the country is actually prepared for less policing.
See the article here:
- Libertarian Free Will and the Kalam, Revisited | Jonathan MS Pearce - Patheos - August 17th, 2020
- Floating Cities and Sea-Level Rise - an unsinkable idea - Anthropoce - August 17th, 2020
- When Joe Biden Tried To Paint Clarence Thomas as a Crazy Libertarian - Reason - July 31st, 2020
- Libertarian Assembly candidate calls for line item veto to rein in spending, elimination of property taxes and more to get rid of 'tyranny' and bloat... - July 31st, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | The last days of the tech emperors? - Minneapolis Star Tribune - July 31st, 2020
- Buchanan and Anarchism | Mises Wire - The Shepherd of the Hills Gazette - July 31st, 2020
- Trump Wanted To 'Throw Massie Out of Republican Party!' but the Libertarian-Leaning Congressman Just Won His Primary Anyway - Reason - June 24th, 2020
- Google's warning against the Federalist is why libertarians will lose fight over Big Tech - Washington Examiner - June 24th, 2020
- Texas-based conservative group funding 'green' PAC in MT - KTVH - June 24th, 2020
- Non-mask wearing fools - The Real Nurse Jackie - McKnight's Long Term Care News - June 24th, 2020
- Morelle with big lead over Wilt but absentee votes still to be tallied - WXXI News - June 24th, 2020
- Lockdown easing analysis: Boris Johnson's libertarian instincts returned... and he went further than anyone really expected - Evening Standard - June 24th, 2020
- How a fringe sect from the 1980s influenced No 10's attitude to racism - The Guardian - June 24th, 2020
- Radley Balko on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the Libertarian Case for Criminal Justice Reform - Reason - June 17th, 2020
- While pro-marijuana parties thrive, other minor parties struggle - Southernminn.com - June 17th, 2020
- Letters: 'It is suggested that Boris's Libertarian beliefs were the reasons for delayed Lockdown' - The Northern Echo - June 17th, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | At the center of that Supreme Court ruling were people - Minneapolis Star Tribune - June 17th, 2020
- The other Jo, wants your 2020 vote, if youre fed up with the two-party system or if youre not - WIZM NEWS - June 17th, 2020
- Protests: Meet the Romney-Gary Johnson-Bloomberg voter embracing Black Lives Matter - Vox.com - June 13th, 2020
- What the Pandemic Revealed - Niskanen Center - June 13th, 2020
- Santa Cruz Shooting Suspect Preached Libertarian Ideals, Was Pushed Over the Edge By Police Actions Against Protesters, Friends Say - SFist - June 13th, 2020
- Libertarian Think Tank Praises Pelosis Call to Remove Confederate Statues from Capitol: Slavery is The Least Libertarian Thing Imaginable - Mediaite - June 13th, 2020
- How Not To Build a Transpartisan Coalition for Police Reform - Reason - June 13th, 2020
- Primary Election ballots are in the mail | YourHub - The Know - June 13th, 2020
- Scared for their jobs, Iowa Republicans are gaming the democratic process - The Gazette - June 13th, 2020
- 61 Quick Facts and Observations on Socialism, Jesus, and Wealth | Jon Miltimore - Foundation for Economic Education - June 13th, 2020
- Nelson lead up to 23 votes over Tarkanian - The Record-Courier - June 13th, 2020
- Amash decides against Libertarian campaign for president | TheHill - The Hill - May 19th, 2020
- Libertarian Group Sues Ohio Again On Behalf Of Closed Gyms - WOSU - May 14th, 2020
- The Libertarian Party Critique of Justin Amash - Reason - May 14th, 2020
- Third Parties Unlikely to Wreak Havoc in 2020 Election - New York Magazine - May 14th, 2020
- Modest meat reforms would help Americans stay fed during the pandemic - The Maine Wire - May 14th, 2020
- Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections | TheHill - The Hill - May 14th, 2020
- Drop off or in person, 8 p.m. is deadline to cast your vote in the primary election - North Platte Telegraph - May 14th, 2020
- Another ludicrous Thought of the Day from the BBC: The Bishop of Manchester assures us that we have libertarian free will - stopthefud - May 14th, 2020
- Live Blog: Nebraska 2020 Primary Election Results | netnebraska.org - NET Nebraska - May 14th, 2020
- Will COVID-19 block third-party ballot access? - The Aggie - May 14th, 2020
- Michigan Rep. Justin Amash on Why Hed Run for President as a Libertarian and the Culture of the GOP - TIME - May 9th, 2020
- Governments Have Screwed Up Mask Purchase and Distribution. Maybe Everyone Should Be a Libertarian in a Pandemic. - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- We Need Economists, Civil Libertarians, and Epidemiologists in the COVID-19 Discussion - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- Is the Chinese Communist Party Really Trying To Take Over the World? - The National Interest - May 9th, 2020
- 600K primary election ballots are in the mail to Montana voters - Missoula Current - May 9th, 2020
- The Coronavirus Might Force Minor Parties Off the 2020 Ballot - New York Magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Who should be included in the libertarian canon - UConn Daily Campus - April 21st, 2020
- The Government Has a Lot More Emergency Powers Than Libertarians Like, but It Still Can't Control Everything - Cato Institute - April 21st, 2020
- Opinion | A new populist revolution is here. Don't buy in. - The Daily Northwestern - April 21st, 2020
- COVID-19 is killing minor parties' ability to get candidates on the ballot in Minnesota - MinnPost - April 21st, 2020
- Why You Should Be a Socialist and a Marxist - Jacobin magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Mark Cuban To Run For President? Billionaire Dallas Mavericks Owner Does Not Rule Out 2020 White House Bid - International Business Times - April 21st, 2020
- Berkeley institution Top Dog is on the ropes. But they still wont take federal aid. - SFGate - April 21st, 2020
- No One Is Coming - Tom Webster - Elemental - April 21st, 2020
- Briefs filed in case over whether NM will move to vote-by-mail primaries during coronavirus emergency - New Mexico Political Report - April 9th, 2020
- Construction Accidents and Personal Injuries, Everything You Ought To Know - The Libertarian Republic - March 24th, 2020
- 'Tiger King' is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - WICZ - March 24th, 2020
- As Science And Business Go To War With Each Other, President Trump Pours Fuel On The Fire - Forbes - March 24th, 2020
- Vermin Supreme's quest to win hearts, minds and the Libertarian primaries - The Spectator USA - March 22nd, 2020
- Where the 2020 Libertarian candidates stand on Jewish issues? - The Times of Israel - March 22nd, 2020
- COVID-19 and . . . 2024? - National Review - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul Proves He Is Too Good For Us, As He Upsets the Right People - The Liberator Online - March 22nd, 2020
- Tiger King is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - Q13 News Seattle - March 22nd, 2020
- Campaign Beat: The Pandemic, The Primary And Third Parties - MTPR - March 22nd, 2020
- The Right to Assemble Not Erased By Government Emergency Libertarians to Continue Meeting in Keene Sundays at 5pm - Free Keene - March 22nd, 2020
- Just Send the Checks - Reason - March 22nd, 2020
- Opinion | Rufus Woods, Art of Community: Now is the time to sacrifice for elders and the vulnerable - wenatcheeworld.com - March 22nd, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | Amid the outbreak, Minnesota's minor political parties will struggle to get on the ballot - Minneapolis Star Tribune - March 22nd, 2020
- The small-government case for giving everyone a big check - The Week Magazine - March 22nd, 2020
- Armstrong: Liberty in the midst of a pandemic - Complete Colorado - March 22nd, 2020
- At war, Britons can be trusted to do the right thing - Telegraph.co.uk - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul looms as wild card in surveillance fight | TheHill - The Hill - March 8th, 2020
- Our Standards on Civility are Trash - The Libertarian Republic - March 8th, 2020
- Freelancers Shouldn't Betray Other Gig Workers By Allying with Anti-Union Opponents of AB5 - Common Dreams - March 8th, 2020
- Schiff says Democrats are negotiating to include more privacy protections in key surveillance bill | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Senate passes $8.3 billion coronavirus bill, sending it to Trump | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Civility and pleas to be heard mark debate among 18 marginal candidates - The Fulcrum - March 5th, 2020
- Talking about a revolution - The Economist - March 5th, 2020
- Plenty of contested races on the ballot this year - Norfolk Daily News - March 5th, 2020
- CA Voters Asked To Approve $17B In School Construction Bonds; Much Of It Unneeded (Opinion) - Patch.com - February 3rd, 2020
- Ahead of polls, New Zealand's opposition party rules out deal with kingmaker Peters - Midwest Communication - February 3rd, 2020
- Will SCOTUS Hearing on Ballot Position Apply to Minor Political Parties? - The Libertarian Republic - February 3rd, 2020
- Fire Wipes Out OC Nonprofit That Helps People Get Back Into The Workforce - LAist - February 3rd, 2020