no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics

Where Are All the “Good” Cops?

June 6th, 2012

Carl D. Johnson suffered a diabetic attack when driving home from Bible study on May 27, 2010, causing him to crash his truck in to a guardrail. State Trooper Davon Parker responded to the scene, proceeded to pepper spray Johnson through the car’s open window.

At the hands of such fine public servants as Trooper Davon Parker, Carl D. Johnson was beaten, pepper-sprayed multiple times, punched in the face, thrown over a railing, and tasered at least 5 times by at least 6 police officers before losing consciousness, and ultimately dying from cardiac arrest.  But it would not be hyperbole to say that the agents of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore County Police murdered Carl D. Johnson that evening.

A common refrain among police apologists, in the wake of misconduct in the news, is that it was just a few “bad apples” and that most cops are “good cops”.  According to a complaint filed by Johnson’s widow, there were at least fourteen police officers among as many as fifty-two respondents to the accident scene.

Where were the good cops when Carl D. Johnson was being murdered? There were 14 representatives from at least two departments there, so, you do the math.


Note: the official version of the story has Johnson, a 48-year old architect with no criminal record, “resisting arrest“. I’ll believe it when I can see the dashcam footage that corroborates that version of the events, because “stop resisting!” is boilerplate language for “Imma beat the fuck outta you and it’ll be your word against mine” (Digby also notes, this “is obviously something  [cops] are taught to do for the dashboard camera so that it appears that they have reason to do what they’re doing”).


The question as it pertains to this event – as it pertains to other events where I have been critical of law enforcement – is this:

If these are allegedly the acts of “bad apples” then what about the other cops in that department? Do they know about the bad apples in their department? If not, why not? If so, why aren’t they doing anything about it? Are they afraid? Powerless? Strangled by bureaucracy? What about the good cops who occasionally witness these events and turn a blind eye to them?


My Thoughts on the Trayvon Martin Incident

March 26th, 2012

trayvon martin

I fear that this case will be spun by the anti-gun folks as further ammunition (no pun intended) for the argument that “civilians” should be further restricted or denied their right to own or carry firearms, and/or as evidence that communities are incapable of self-policing for fear of shoot-first-ask-questions-later vigilantism (an agument which conveniently ignores numerous examples of police misconduct which also falls under the “shoot first” umbrella).

What are overshadowed in these tragic cases are the multiple failures of the municipal police that lead to tragic outcomes like this.

In the Martin case, for example, the police’s previous failures to protect the community created a need for supplemental security which was in this case filled by George Zimmerman. Were police forces at at all capable of protecting the public from legitimate threats at reasonable costs, communities would have no need for supplemental security.  Another narrative is that the police failed to protect the community from George Zimmerman. And last but not least, the police failed to protect Trayvon Martin from Zimmerman by 1) not giving explicit instructions for Zimmerman to back down and/or 2) failing to respond quickly enough to diffuse the situation with (one hopes) a lesser amount of violence.

The Martin case, and others like it, need to be viewed as evidence that the municipal police forces are abject failures not only at a department-specific level (i.e., the “few bad apples” argument), but that the entire model is irrevocably and institutionally flawed.

Failure is built-in because municipal police forces are essentially monopolies of the worst sort: not only are competing defense/security agencies crowded out of the marketplace for such services, in some cases legally precluded, but consumers must pay for the services rendered, whether they like it or not, whether they are performing adequately, whether they are keeping anyone safe, etc. Furthermore, municipal police departments are generally not accountable to their victims (in the case of misconduct/negligence/wrongdoing) or to the members of the public if/when they fail to protect and serve.

Whatever the outcome of the Martin incident, one thing is absolutely certain: justice will not be served.

Militarization of Law Enforcement: Is it Preparation for Civil War?

December 21st, 2011

A century ago, the Federal government established armories throughout the country ostensibly for the purpose of “national security”, although it’s not abundantly clear what the real threat was at that time. These armories were probably most-often used to supply federal troops and private security brought in to put down popular movements like strikes and shutdowns. This was essentially a civil war, although it is never mentioned as such.

Today, we have the Department of Homeland Security doling out billions of dollars (a nice interactive map, here) to Everytown, USA, in order to supply them with battlefield-grade arms and armor, to fight hypothetical bogeymen and non-existent threats.

Just your ordinary small town police force, nothing to see here

Just your ordinary small town police force, nothing to see here

Authorities in Fargo, ND (which has averaged 2 homicides per year over the last 5 years) spent $8 million buying state-of-the-art military grade weapons like the assault rifles which now come standard in every squad car, and the “$256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret”.

Sadly, rather than being some unfortunate exception, Fargo is just another example in the trend to militarize local police departments (via Daily Beast).

  • In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests.
  • Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots
  • An Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank.

To understand this trend, you have to understand a little bit about government appropriations. Generally the money is on the table and you have to use it or lose it. The logic is almost always that if you don’t spend the money, if you don’t pretend you need it, then you can get by with less, so they cut your budget. And government agencies are always in the business of preserving their power, whether it is just looking out for No. 1, or something more Machiavellian like amassing your own little fiefdom or mercenary force, the incentive structure in government always works the same way. Use it or lose it.

Also, follow the money:

One beneficiary of Homeland’s largesse are military contractors, who have found a new market for their wares

Warfare is big business and government contracts are essentially guaranteed profit. So the companies involved in this business can afford to spend lots of money (given to them in fulfillment of government contracts) lobbying the government to give them even more budget for larger contracts next year. It is a sick cycle that shows no signs of abating any time soon.

The article highlights some moral hazard of the hyper-militarization, which I would liken to “Field of Dreams”. If you build it, they will come. Well, if you give it to them, they will find a way to use it.

“With local law enforcement, their mission is to solve crimes after they’ve happened, and to ensure that people’s constitutional rights are protected in the process,” says Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “The military obviously has a mission where they are fighting an enemy. When you use military tactics in the context of law enforcement, the missions don’t match, and that’s when you see trouble with the overmilitarization of police.”

When the only tool you have is a hammer, sooner or later, everything starts to look like a nail. When you arm officers to the teeth, when you train them for war, when you hire a disproportionate amount of ex-soldiers, and when you bombard their psyche with warrior mentality training it is not really a surprise when they start putting that training in to practice, no matter if its warranted or not.  Over the last decade we’ve seen an increasing number of SWAT teams raiding teenage rave parties or serving routine drug warrants on non-violent offenders, creating volatility and chaos where there would never have been any had the police taken a more conventional approach and we are even seeing incidents of police tasering and pepper-spraying children.

Riot police attacking protestors

Riot police attacking protestors

What will be the longer-term ramifications of increased militarization, especially in light of NDAA and the PATRIOT Act? I fear that these weapons will one day be turned on the people of this country. I fear that it is a matter of “when”, not “if”. We’re already seeing some of it in the deplorable way that local cops have handled several situations in the Occupy Movement, still in its infancy.

As government institutions always seek to preserve and expand their power even at the expense of their constituents’ liberties and livelihoods, there doesn’t need to be any evil villain, plotting and scheming, no Illuminati/New World Order tin-foil hat bullshit. All of the pieces are already falling in to place, the product of human action, not of human design. In other words, it doesn’t matter if they’re explicitly preparing for a civil war, everything they’re doing is inadvertently preparing for one, anyways.

A century ago, the Federal government’s armories were turned against its citizens, used to put down popular movements and general strikes.

Today, they’re shipping the munitions directly to what will eventually be the front lines.





no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics