The Ferguson community is rightly outraged over the fatal police-shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the broader problem it represents: how American blacks are treated like a subject population under military occupation. They are also right to be doubly outraged at how the police state that dominates them has been baring its fangs and pushing them around with a fully militarized response to their protest.
It is good that they want justice for Mike Brown and the mitigation of police impunity. It is also good that the public is now finally aware of and deeply concerned about the militarization of the police. But this has been a decades-long, losing struggle. By now, it should be obvious that the police state, and especially its treatment of blacks, will never be fundamentally reformed.
You might ask, “Well, what else can we do but keep trying?” My answer may initially take you aback, but hear me out. Abolish the police, at least in Ferguson and any other black community that has had enough.
The notion of doing without police may seem as outlandish as abolishing parenthood or outlawing air. But police forces are not some timeless, sacred feature of human society. In its modern form, policing was actually only developed in the past couple of centuries. And tellingly, it originated directly out of imperial domination. As Will Grigg puts it, modern police forces have from the beginning been:
“…paramilitary bodies designed to operate as occupation forces, rather than as a protective service. In creating his London Metropolitan Police, Robert Peel adapted the model he had employed in creating the “Peace Preservation Force,” a specialized unit within the 20,000-man military contingent Peel had commanded as military governor of occupied Ireland.”
With this in mind, the long-running subjugation of blacks by the American police state (which recently has also been trampling on ever more non-blacks as well), and the accelerated militarization of police and sheriff’s departments, should come as no surprise. These developments are not perversions of the institution of police, but a coming to fruition. Pretenses notwithstanding, this is what government policing has always been about.
Mustn’t I be exaggerating? Aren’t the police necessary for public peace and security? Aren’t they the “thin blue line,” as they like to boast, that stands between good citizens from criminals? If one afternoon we were to be without cops, by nightfall wouldn’t criminals be everywhere running rampant, causing injury, destruction, and chaos, like when the police went on strike in Robocop?
If, for a moment, we drop assumptions we have imbibed since grade school, and just consider this question in light of recent events, and of general principles, we might be surprised at the answer we arrive at.
Case Study: Ferguson
First of all, there was the initial shooting of Michael. The contact that led to the shooting was initiated by the police officer because Brown and his friend were walking in the road. Now, what would you expect someone whose function was to preserve the peace to do in this case? In general, you would expect him to de-escalate, as opposed to escalating the situation. Now, since the teenager was not impeding traffic, and not presenting any danger to person or property, the situation was already completely peaceful, i.e. maximally de-escalated. So the officer escalated by simply initiating the contact at all, especially since he did so by barking an expletive-laden order at the teens. This is indisputably true, even if the witness account of the officer’s subsequent rapid escalations—aggressively pulling up to him, grabbing him, threatening to shoot him, and then actually shooting him—is not perfectly accurate (although it very well may be). This “peace officer” had escalated the situation which went from zero to homicide in seconds. A young man who moments before was almost home, doing nothing more than jaywalking, lay dead in the road, with blood draining out of his head.
And then when Brown’s community congregated to mourn and protest his killing and to call for justice, how did the police deal with the delicate situation? With more escalation. They responded with an immediate, aggressive display of police force: the very thing most likely to provoke a riot in a crowd already outraged by the police.
And after provoking unrest, how did they react to it? They doubled-down on escalation of course, with full-spectrum dominance and martial law, wheeling out all their paramilitary gear, including materiel they had received from the Pentagon that had been used for “shock and awe” in Afghanistan and Iraq: tank-like Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), full body armor from head to toe, assault and sniper rifles, tear gas launchers, stun grenades, and even sound cannons. The cops stormed around in full armor, pointing their assault rifles directly at unarmed protesters, blasting protesters with chemical and sonic assaults as well as rubber bullets, and generally showing a level of aggression that shocked even Iraq War veterans. Many vets claimed to have acted with far more restraint, even when in insurgent-filled locales like Fallujah. The cops even threatened, gassed, and arrested journalists. Everything they did either directly created or engendered more conflict, violence, and chaos.
And then, suddenly they were called back, and were gone. What happened then? Was it like the police strike in Robocop? Was it even more chaotic than when the cops were there? Was the crowd a cauldron that was going to boil regardless of what the government did. Did the police crackdown at least put a lid on it?
Apparently not, because the Day of No Cops was very peaceful, and widely described as “almost festive”.
Then the city and county police were replaced by highway patrol officers, led by a chief who played “good cop” to the prior “bad cops”: marching with protesters, and even hugging them.
This didn’t last long, and eventually the cops reverted to form, resuming their assaults and orders to disperse, and imposing a curfew. Protesters who, during the brief armistice, had been chanting, singing, laughing, and dancing, were back to dodging tear gas and shouting at their tormenters. The cops had returned, and chaos returned with them.
So much for fostering peace. But how did the police perform when it came to security? Most protesters were peaceful, if angry. But there were some looters. You would think with all that armament, the police could roll in and easily ward off or arrest the unarmed thieves. But the police did absolutely nothing to protect private property. They were there to squash political expression and intimidate the uppity serfs, and that was it. Any property that was protected from looters was secured, not by cops, but by armed, private owners and good-Samaritan protesters linking arms at the entrances.
Was this complete failure of the Ferguson police to carry out their alleged function due simply to the exigencies of the situation? One indication that this is not the case is their treatment, years before one of their officers gunned Michael Brown down, of Henry Davis, a 52-year-old welder who ended up in Ferguson after taking a wrong exit. He was mistaken by an officer for another man named Davis, arrested, caged (even after the mistake was realized), forced to sleep on concrete, and, when he complained, beaten severely. The Ferguson police later sued him for property damage, since allegedly he had dared stain their sacred uniforms with his blood as they beat him. And yes, this really did happen.
So then is Ferguson just a particularly dysfunctional police force? Do other police forces do a better job keeping the peace and providing security?
No, as a survey of police activity, both during protests, and in everyday contacts with citizens will show, the police almost always escalate situations, as opposed to de-escalating them.
And the notion that we have the police to thank for our security in persons and property from the depredations of common criminals is a myth.
Enemies of Security
To understand the interest that the police has in public security, one must understand the nature of the state itself. The state is not an agent of the public, commissioned to provide security; that is just the cover story. The state is, as Albert Jay Nock put it, a “monopoly of crime.” Its whole function is to systematically coerce (“regulate”) and plunder (“tax”) the public. It only combats other coercers and plunderers because it simply doesn’t want the competition. It is a band of big-time criminals that, when it kills or imprisons small-time criminals, is essentially saying, “Back off: this is my turf, and those are my victims.”
This explains why the criminal “justice” system hardly provides any actual protection or restitution for victims, but only neutralizes its competition by throwing non-state criminals in a cage (which only makes it harder for their victims to obtain restitution from them). This is why the police have “Call 911″ (code for “Don’t bother me”) painted on their cars and then take their sweet time showing up when you do call 911 to report an actual crime: unless of course they suspect that drug offenses are involved, in which case it is a plunder opportunity for themselves, and so they will swoop in like avenging furies.
As Tom DiLorenzo has written: “The police are, at best, crime historians who show up after a crime has been committed, write up a report, and then use the report to lobby for more money to hire more police, who take down more reports.”
Most actual security in society is already provided privately: families and business owners protecting their own persons and property with locks, alarms, and (when they’re allowed) guns, and contracting with private security service providers to help them. There are far more private security guards than cops, and the public spends more money on private security than is extracted from them to pay for police.
After all, how do you feel when you see a cop on the road? Do you suddenly feel more “secure”? Not really, right? To the contrary, I’ll bet your blood pressure spikes, and you suddenly feel uneasy and paranoid. That is because you know that, even if you haven’t hurt anybody, your likelihood of being, however temporarily, deprived of liberty (i.e., being detained or arrested), and being deprived of property (i.e., being cited or charged) just skyrocketed, especially if you’re black and/or poor. You feel less secure, because you know you are less secure in your person and property: the very things cops are alleged to make secure.
You are not only at greater risk of being detained and shaken down, but of being brutalized if you somehow piss the cop off. In fact, you are eight times more likely to be killed by a cop than by a terrorist.
The police enjoy “sovereign immunity,” which basically means they are legally nigh untouchable. As long as they are clocked in, the worst that a cop will suffer for aggressing against an innocent, no matter how egregiously, is losing his job. He’ll almost never be charged with a crime, and he’ll more likely just be given some paid vacation before being reinstated. This near total impunity frequently has precisely the effect one should expect: reckless disregard for the rights of others and rampant childish indulgence in one’s basest urges, which means violence induced by hyper-sensitive pride, indignant scorn, steroid-addled rage, “officer safety” paranoia, power-mad sadism, and even rapacious sexual lust. Just look through the archives of PoliceStateUSA, Copblock, The Free Thought Project, or Liberty Crier to see countless instances of this playing out.
Even when they restrict themselves to executing the law, most of what cops do is trample on the rights of their fellow man. That is because most laws that are on the books are completely unjust. All mandates of behavior and prohibitions of any activity that does not directly violate someone else’s person or property are fundamentally unjust. (To understand why, read For a New Liberty by Murray Rothbard.) And most laws that cops are tasked with enforcing fit that description.
The police not only fail to provide and directly threaten security, but many of the ways in which they threaten it corrosively undermines security by systematically making it harder for individuals to provide it for themselves. They have turned their War on “Crime,” including especially their War on Drugs, in to a veritable War on the Home. At least 124 violent, paramilitary SWAT raids are executed in America every single day, most over victimless crimes. Some jurisdictions now serve every single warrant with a SWAT raid. Most raids are executed in the dead of night while the residents are sleeping, often in order to prevent the destruction of drug evidence they can use to win more Federal money. Seeing black-garbed armed men bursting into their homes, many residents, especially those living in tough neighborhoods, understandably think they are being attacked by non-governmental home invaders, about to rob, rape, or kill their family, so they go for a gun or other weapon for protection. And since cops are trained to cowardly treat “officer safety” as a divine imperative, the terrified “king of his castle” is unceremoniously deposed by being gunned down in his underwear.
Just about anything you do to protect your home—from just owning a registered gun to merely having burglar bars—puts you at greater risk of suffering one of these paramilitary assaults. As Will Grigg has written:
“Gun ownership is one of the key considerations in the standardized “Threat Matrix” used in planning SWAT operations. A representative Threat Matrix form lists a number of individual criteria that dictate “mandatory” SWAT deployment; in most circumstances, the confirmed presence of firearms falls into that category. This is particularly true if a home has “fortifications,” such as burglar bars – or, in the case of the home targeted in the Akeny raid, security cameras.”
How can you provide for your own security against the depredations of common criminals when doing so can make you and yours dramatically less secure against the depredations of the state?
And of course, especially if you are black and/or poor, the government often won’t even give you permission to own a gun to protect yourself, your family, and your home, and so cops will arrest you on “gun charges” if you try to.
So, cops not only provide no security, but their assaults undermine a man’s ability to provide it for himself. They even undermine man’s recourse to his most timeless and rudimentary security precaution, the household dog, since invading cops routinely shoot dogs, even when the animal is obviously posing no danger.
The police are antithetical to peace and security; they don’t provide it, they directly attack it, and they undermine it. You need them like you need a hole in the head (or like Mike Brown needed a police-provided hole in his head).
After all, think about the good people in your community: concerned fathers, loving brothers, and guiding mothers and sisters. If the cops marched out tomorrow, do you really think they would stand helplessly by when and after crimes occurred? And don’t you think local businesses would have every incentive to protect their property and their patrons in a way that respects the rights of their patrons and neighbors? Who, after all, would patronize the businesses that don’t?
Don’t Support Your Local Occupation Force
If you cannot bear the subjugation anymore, fire your cops. This is your community; tell them to get the hell out. If they don’t leave, perform mass civil disobedience until they do. Don’t call them, don’t help them, don’t serve them in your business, don’t even talk to them. And don’t try to democratically “reform” them. Withdraw your consent and express your contempt, through signage, through speech, and through the internet. Peacefully stare them down. Keep standing your ground until they stand down.
But, most importantly, don’t be like them. Respect the rights of others, including them, even if for no other reason than the fact that you need to cultivate the sympathy of your fellow countrymen in order to succeed. Never hurt the persons and property of innocents. Never attack anyone who is not presently attacking you. And never respond to force with disproportionate countervailing force.
There has been a lot of talk of “demilitarizing” the police, but again, the whole function of the police is and has always been to serve as an extractive military occupation. Demilitarizing the police would be like trimming the claws of a predator; it may reduce its deadliness for a time, but it won’t change its predatory nature. And the claws will grow back.
Rather than demilitarizing the police, we should de-police-ify our communities. Only then will the systemic brutality stop. Only then will “open season” on civilians (especially black civilians) be over. Only then will we be free.