A Police-Less Society

The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 24 – This week:

  • Rioting like it’s 1969
  • Can the police be abolished?
  • Georgia Dems choose Ossoff

‘60s America is back: Modern Americans are getting a taste of what it was like to live in the 1960s. Cities are being destroyed by rioting and looting. Part of Seattle claims to have seceded from the Union. (Come to think of it, perhaps that’s a throwback to the 1860s.)

We already passed the stage where medical and public health experts shredded their credibility. One cannot claim the coronavirus is a serious matter, then declare that social distancing and lockdowns no longer matter as long as you’re demonstrating for an ostensibly good cause. It’s simply Orwellian, and it’s even worse given that the demonstrations in question have little to do with the cause that’s been cited.

The media seem especially loath to challenge what seems like a pervasive new reverence for wokeness. If this seems like it all just sprang up overnight, that’s because it did. As such, it’s also certain to draw a backlash. President Trump is hoping that this will assist him in his re-election effort. There’s still a chance that he’s right.

The death of George Floyd in police custody rightly elicited a sharp reaction from nearly everyone. Police couldn’t defend the actions of Officer Derek Chauvin. Conservatives refused to defend it. Libertarians and liberals, both having talked up the issue of police brutality for years, were already there on the issue.

But somewhere in the first days after his death, the largely white and college-educated antifa crowd, self-styled violent revolutionaries looking for a chance to swing into action, found a way to hijack the cause. They have already succeeded in making it into something unsympathetic — loathsome, even. No, George Floyd did not deserve to die as he did — nor did he deserve to be made into an excuse for urban violence and lawlessness. 

The burning of Minneapolis provided a spectacle that has since been reproduced elsewhere. Hundreds of businesses — many of them minority- and immigrant-owned businesses already suffering from the coronavirus — were destroyed. And a shocking number of people, including elected officials, are making excuses for the lawlessness and destruction.

In a state like Minnesota, which will be key to Trump’s re-election hopes, an event like this one will not go unnoticed. It is already exposing many liberal politicians and media figures as moral cowards. America’s greatest treasure is the rule of law — the guarantor of the nation’s prosperity. Those who refuse to defend it, or who would even use public discontent over police conduct to excuse violent revolution, deserve to be turned out of office.

In the end, this will pass and things will return to normal. Perhaps there will even be needed reforms to police tactics and training.

But in the meantime, this specific traumatic event is sure to form the opinions not only of horrified suburban and rural residents, but also of many city-dwellers being harmed directly by the violence against life and property. As much as the rioting and looting will be a national issue — and it certainly will — the sacking of Minneapolis will be an even bigger local issue. 

Defund the police? According to a YouGov/Yahoo News poll, only 16 percent of Americans support defunding the police. This is a tiny fraction of the 70-plus percent who support using the National Guard against rioters. That piece of context helps explain what’s really going on, and what isn’t, with the craziness on the streets today.

Democratic politicians seem especially ill-equipped to handle the left-wing call for abolishing or defunding municipal police forces. It’s an awkward position they find themselves in. On the one side, they face these calls. On the other, they need to run cities across the country. Liberals are famously fond of passing authoritarian laws — everything from gun control to bans on Uber to the New York law against loose-cigarette-sales that led to the death of Eric Garner. Such laws might as well not exist if there is no police force to enforce them. 

Meanwhile, in the absence of police, it is a certainty that more people will arm themselves for protection. In states whose cities abolish the police, Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws will become ever-more-important. For the Left, these inevitable consequences are unacceptable. They cannot stand such ideas, and will therefore ultimately balk at their own experiment, or else produce something even more tyrannical and brutal than the existing government police forces in order to enforce their ultra-woke vision.

On the other side, it is worth considering the right-wing tradition — on the fringe, certainly, but it is there — that supports the abolition of public safety officers. 

Disciples of Murray Rothbard, in particular, who called the state an “unnecessary evil,” support the exclusive use of private security to maintain order. The idea is considered outlandish nowadays, but the rationale is not difficult to understand. Between neighborhood cooperatives, corporations, merchants’ associations and the like, private stakeholders have an incentive to guarantee the safety of residents, customers, and others. People will want the laws enforced in a friendly enough way as to preserve property values, quality of life, and the opportunity to profit. 

Government police forces, Rothbard wrote, have “no incentive to be efficient or worry about their ‘customers’’ needs” and “live with the ever-present temptation to wield their power of force in a brutal and coercive manner.”

In contrast, he argued, “A free market in police would reward efficient and courteous police protection to customers and penalize any falling off from this standard. No longer would there be the current disjunction between service and payment inherent in all government operations, a disjunction which means that police, like all other government agencies, acquire their revenue, not voluntarily and competitively from consumers, but from the taxpayers coercively.”

The strongest argument against this notion is that private individuals and security companies cannot be held accountable as effectively as public servants. To this, one might answer — really? In what possible sense could they be less accountable than existing police forces? Absent a doctrine of qualified immunity, would these private police be harder to sue?

Most people would still not accept these arguments. But note that they are less crazy than they seem at first blush. 

There is even today a very important and robust sense in which most personal safety is already a private matter that is handled in the free market. Ninety-nine-plus percent of life is possible because others obey laws and behave reasonably without being coerced. If everyone chose to break the law, there could never be a police force large enough to hold society together. Thus, everyone already acts according to self-interest in self-policing and, perhaps on rare occasion, preventing injustices that they witness in public. 

Government-funded police forces, in fact, only to deal with the very worst of the worst of humanity and of human actions. If the laws were scaled back according to a less interventionist vision — for example, if the police abandoned their mission to make arrests for non-violent drug offenses, business licensing violations, gun control, and the like — there would be far less cause for a public police force in general. 

The problem is that this vision is incompatible with the growing left-wing demands to control not only personal economic activity, but free speech and thought as well. This is why the movement to defund or abolish the police will never amount to anything more than a slogan on Twitter.

Senate 2020

Georgia: As expected, Jon Ossoff finished first for the Democratic nomination against Republican Sen. David Perdue. Ossoff also managed to get it done without a runoff, finishing north of 50 percent. Ossoff, who spent a massive amount of money in the process of blowing a very winnable special election in April 2017, won by dint of greater name recognition.Both Georgia U.S. Senate seats will be at stake this fall, with the other seat — that of Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler — to be decided in a multi-party jungle primary. Perdue’s race, the less-watched of the two, is nonetheless expected to be competitive.

Iowa: Republicans might have more to worry about here than they expected. Sen. Joni Ernst, R, trails Theresa Greenfield by 3 points in a new poll from teh Des Moines Register. Such an outcome, were it to come about in an election, would point to an overall collapse of the GOP in 2020.