Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Bullshit Laws, Fiscal Irresponsibility, and the Inevitability of Police Abuse

missing plate

Every day fleets of law enforcement officers, from the DEA on down to the local police department, head out onto the streets armed with guns and hair-trigger fears for their own safety.

If they were going to fight the good fight against violence and theft, we could be unreservedly grateful. All too often these armed ingenues, represented by unions, covered by workers comp, and unwilling to tolerate any degree of risk to their person, instead spend their time enforcing petty, bullshit laws that accomplish nothing more than mindless bureaucratic authoritarianism—and revenue for overspent budgets.

Samuel Dubose was missing a front license plate. Walter Scott had a broken brake light. Caroline Small was sitting in her parked car. Eric Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes. James Boyd was camping in the wrong place. David Garcia was feeling suicidal. Zachary Hammond was on a first date with a woman carrying ten grams of marijuana. Freddie Gray was …

Does anyone even know?

These are the “crimes” for which they died.

In July, protestors at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix interrupted Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley to heckle their talking-point platitudes and demand concrete proposals for addressing police abuse. O’Malley, whose tough-on-crime polices as mayor of Baltimore sent its police department into a downward spiral of violence and corruption, had little to offer. Earlier this week Scott Walker, the only candidate in the first GOP debate asked a question on the topic, came up with nothing more tangible than better training, more support, and “consequences.”

Not independent investigators to handle accusations of misconduct. Not better record keeping to identify problematic officers and departments. Not body cams or enhanced protection of the public’s right to record. Not abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing laws that make suspects desperate. Not decriminalizing nonviolent offenses. Not ending the disastrous “war” on drugs.

Some of the protestors, who have continued to interrupt Sanders’ appearances, focus on racism. An independently worthy cause, ending racism is nevertheless not enough to solve police abuse. Racism is a sufficient cause of such problem, but not a necessary one.

No. The problem is you.

You have to stop supporting all the petty laws that can ultimately be enforced only with violence. Sex-for-money between consenting adults. Sale by and to and ingestion of substances by peaceful adults. Jaywalking, loitering, broken tail lights and the myriad thousand other nonviolent offenses that exist for no greater purpose than that the upper castes may express their disapproval of those who achieve less than Stepford levels of respectability.

Every law, every rule, every regulation—from cigarette taxes to fines for broken brake lights to driving without a license to civil penalties for refusing to make a wedding cake—carries with it the implicit edict that you are willing to have officers in uniforms kill people to enforce it.

Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh was sleeping when militarized police threw a flash grenade into his crib during a raid looking for someone who sold $50 worth of illegal drugs. No drugs were found, no arrests made; the suspect no longer lived there.

Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was sleeping when police threw a flash grenade into his crib during a raid looking for a suspect alleged to have sold $50 worth of illegal drugs. No drugs were found, no arrests made; the suspect no longer lived there.

That you are willing to throw flash grenades at babies to keep grownups from ingesting methamphetamine (even though you know once thusly tasked, cops will lie to get those warrants). That you are willing to put that cigarette-tax dodger in a chokehold. That you are willing to kill those Oregon bakers if they won’t pay the fine for not baking the cake, and try to lock their door when the sheriff comes to execute on that judgment. You will risk violence by sending thuggish swat teams into legal medical marijuana dispensaries to terrorize customers inside. You would rather that poor mother with the broken brake light or the expired plates pay her fine to your government than feed her children. You are willing to shoot a man in the head for only having a rear license plate on his vehicle.

You are willing to spend billions packing our prisons, eroding our civil liberties and constitutional rights, and imposing roadside anal probings as the acceptable costs of keeping peaceful people from ingesting the substances of which you disapprove.

To your countenance of such tactics for such ends, add the near irresistible temptation of unearned riches—in an era of profligate spending and mismanaged budgets—and violence is an all but inevitable outcome. Civil asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives that lead police departments to prioritize nonviolent drug crimes, while victims of violence wait weeks for assistance; where crime labs let murder evidence backlog for decades, while drug cases get processed within hours.

Yet the insidious evil of treating citizens like municipal ATM machines takes place on an even smaller level than civil asset forfeiture. An official shake-down system also exists in the form of excessive tickets for petty offenses, doled out to those who cannot afford to fight back (disproportionately poor and minority), and then ballooning and escalating into ever more unmanageable sums until arrest and jail time result.

There are no debtors prisons in the U.S.A. Unless the creditor is the government. Then you’re fucked.

The Justice Department’s scathing report on the Ferguson, Missouri police department documented the disturbing end-game of such practices: a situation where 25% of the city’s revenue came from fines imposed by an unsupervised police force prone to excessive use of force. Jack Hitt at Mother Jones has reported on another Missouri suburb where, in response to a legislative cap on revenue that could be generated via traffic stops, the city enacted a whole host of other petty, bullshit laws (against such menaces as basketball hoops in the front yard, overgrown hedges, disorderly window blinds, and pants worn to low) and increased its non-traffic related arrests by 495%.

For the affluent this may be nothing more than an annoying shadow tax system to prop up an overreaching government that spends so far outside its means it pays tax dollars to research how robot-provided Swedish massage affects rabbits’ recovery from exercise. For the poor, knowing their lives will be ruined by fines they cannot afford to pay, jail time, job loss, and mandatory minimums that destroy families, it is why they run.

It is also why they kill.

Because at its worst, this system of official shakedown invites the very threats that put officers on edge. Dionne Wilson, widow of a slain California officer, understands this only too well. Her husband Dan Niemi showed up to investigate a noise complaint and found himself facing Irving Ramirez, who had a history of drug incarcerations. Carrying both guns and drugs when confronted, and desperate not to go back to jail, Ramirez shot and killed Officer Niemi. Wilson used to wonder why Ramirez was ever let out of prison.

Now she wonders why he ever had to go in.

It is easy to blame the problem of police violence on racist cops with (the gender neutral equivalent of) small dicks and big Napoleon complexes. It is harder to take responsibility for the crap laws and fiscal irresponsibility that make bad cops inevitable.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

One of the Original “Liberty Papers” Turns 800


A mere 572 years before the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, 561 years before the Declaration of Independence, and 465 years before John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government was a government-limiting charter which inspired the authors of each of these was the Magna Carta. In June of 1215, a full 800 years ago, a group of land barons had decided that they had enough of the tyrannical rule of King John. Rather than depose the king outright, the barons forced King John to surrender some of his powers, thus creating the concepts British Common Law and the Rule of Law.

The history of the Magna Carta and how it was almost quashed is quite interesting:

There are four copies of the charter still in existence – one each in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, and two in the British Library.
The curator of the Library’s exhibit, Dr Claire Breay, told Sky News: “The most important thing about Magna Carta is that it established the principle of the rule of law.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights, or outlawed or exiled, except by the judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. And that clause is really at the heart of Magna Carta’s fame today.”

Those who negotiated the treaty would be astonished at how its reputation has survived eight centuries, because it was annulled after only 10 weeks.
The Pope ruled that King John had been forced to sign it under duress. Yet in the years afterwards, the language in the charter was revised and reintroduced and became part of the cornerstone of English law.

Vicor Hugo famously said “No army can stop an idea whose time has come.” Shortly after King John’s signing of the Magna Carta, the idea of the rule of law had come; the divine rights of kings was no longer universally accepted.

Conservative Blogger Advocates Religious Oppression in America

first-amendmentNot much shocks me anymore but once in a while, I run across something that is so idiotic I wonder if there some sort of serious glitch in the matrix. It wasn’t but a few weeks ago that conservatives were standing up for private business owners’ right to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds. The rights of individuals to practice their religion as they see fit trumps nearly all else according to Christian conservatives.

What I’m about to share with you next may well make your head explode (it might be a good idea to get some duct tape to prevent your brains from splattering all over the place).


Conservative blogger writing for Western Journalism Steven Crowder is praising China for “banning” Islam within its borders. Not only is he praising China, Crowder also believes the same policies should be enacted here in the U.S.

So what is China doing? It’s declaring an all-out war to make sure Islam doesn’t take over and never gains the strength to attack them. So let me simplify it:

– Female head-coverings are banned. Period.

– Men are discouraged from growing long beards (often poorly grown ones, might I add).

– Even Islamic restaurants are forced to sell cigarettes and drinks. And …

– They must display them prominently. Any business owner who does not follow this order…will lose their business. Gone.


In other words: China learns. Unlike our inept government, it realizes, ‘Hey, Islam wants destroy us.’ It realizes that Islam is political in nature, not just religious. Don’t get me wrong: communism is terrible, but it’s also what absolves China from the shackling burdens of political correctness. They’d rather survive than be politically correct.

Full disclosure: I have not checked out for myself if China is actually implementing these policies. It wouldn’t surprise me but whether or not China is oppressing Muslims is beside the point. What concerns me is the idea that there are certain Americans who would cheer these kind of policies here (provided that it doesn’t apply to their faith, of course). I never thought I would see the day when conservatives would praise China for religious oppression.

To Mr. Crowder’s point about our “inept government” in how Muslims are being allowed to freely exercise their religion. In most cases, I would not argue against the notion that our government is inept but this isn’t the case this time. You see, Mr. Crowder, here in America we have something China does not. It’s called the First amendment. What part of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” do you not understand? And no, the First amendment does not just apply to Christians but everyone.

As bothersome as this is that someone would write such inane garbage on a conservative* website, it’s even more concerning that there are so many people agreeing with him in the comments section. These people are a much greater threat to our liberties than a minority of American Muslims ever could be.

Misunderstanding Law, Government, and Society

GovernmentIsForceMost people… At least most people in modern western democracies… Seem to have a fundamental and unconscious assumption about the nature of law and government, that goes something like this:




Law and government, are or should be, the expression of the will of the majority, for the purpose of making collective decisions, taking collective actions, fixing problems and righting wrongs.

If I gave that definition to most people as what government “should” be, or even what it is, I’d guess they would agree.

But that’s not what law and government are at all. In fact, that notion of the nature of law and government, is not only wrong, it is extremely harmful.

What are law and government?

Government, is the instrument of collective delegation of the legitimate initiation and use of force against others.

Law, is the body of rules by which that force is administered and applied.

The only legitimate purpose for which, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals governed by them.

So, what’s the other thing, and why is this a problem?

The other definition, is more properly that of society (as distinct from culture).

Government is NOT Society, and Society, is NOT Government

This conflation of government, and society, is a very serious social and political problem because those who hold it… and I firmly believe it’s a large majority… believe that law and government, should be used for “doing what’s good, and stopping what’s bad”.

They naturally wish to see government do what they think is right, or best, and stop that which they think is wrong, harmful, or wasteful… And not just in areas where force should be applied.

They conflate “legal” with “good” and “illegal” with “bad”, and try to make laws against things which they think are bad, or mandating things which they think are good.

They often even conflate “legal” or “attempting to make legal” with “approving and supporting”, and “dissapproving and opposing” with “illegal” or “attempting to make illegal”.

This is incredibly harmful

We have allowed… even encouraged people… to deeply hold the fundamental notion, that they get to vote on other peoples opinions, choices, and behavior; and if their “side” wins the vote, that it is legitimate to make those things legal or illegal.

It also means that these people automatically and reflexively try to solve personal, moral, social, or societal problems, with government and law, when it is entirely inappropriate, even harmful, to attempt to do so. Most of those problems cannot be solved by the use of force;, or at best can only be solved inefficiently, ineffectively, and while violating the rights of others.

In encouraging this misapprehension, we have in fact made the personal, the political, and the political, the personal.

How do we stop the harm?

We must correct this critical error in peoples fundamental apprehension of law and government.

People need to understand, at the most fundamental level, that government is force, and that law is how that force is directed and administered. No more, no less.

If we don’t correct this misapprehension, then we will continue to simply seesaw back and forth between majoritarian tyrannies, as social changes dictate.

Rights will continue to be violated and abrogated as the opinions of society fluctuate.

The favored, will continue to be privileged over the disfavored at the expense of the disfavored’s rights, until the pendulum swings again and the roles are reversed.

Yes, I realize, that is largely how it has always been… But never has law and government had such a depth and breath, had so great a reach into our personal lives, as it does today, and this unfortunately shows no sign of receding.

The absurdity of this reach… and overreach… is finally becoming apparent to many people, on all ideological “sides”; be it the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, privacy and surveillance, or gay marriage and wedding cakes.

So, we have to take action, now

Use this growing awareness of the overreach, to help people understand.

We have to show people these aren’t just outlying excesses. That they result from the way we think of, look at, and attempt to use, government.

We have to get people to understand, that if they can say “there ought to be a law”, and then get a law made banning something that they don’t like; then their worst enemy, can get a law made banning something they love.

We have to return to the notion that fundamental rights matter, and that the only legitimate purpose of law, and government, is to protect those fundamental rights.

Everything else?

That’s up to individuals, and to society as a whole, NOT GOVERNMENT.

Voluntary collective action. If it’s really what people want, then they’ll work for it, without the threat of force. If it’s not really what they want, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to do it.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Cause And Effect in Baltimore

grayWith what’s going on in Baltimore, we’re beyond simple deja vu. What we’ve been witnessing is a sickeningly predictable process. Police beat the shit out of a black guy, and he dies. People get mad. Protests turn to violence. Everyone views the incidents through their own prisms, and assigns blame and praise as their worldview permits them. We have been repeating this process for some time, but in recent times it was the death of Michael Brown that instigated what has become a nationwide movement.

In order to fix the mess that’s currently being made, we need to see what got us here in the first place. Simply sticking our fingers in our collective ears while hauntingly saying “well, don’t riot!” is like someone whose answer to sexual assault is to tell men “well, don’t rape!”. It’s condescending and unhelpful. We need to investigate how we got to where we are, both in Baltimore and other communities such as Ferguson, MO.

Do the protesters have legitimate complaints?

Only a partisan fool would argue that the protesters in Baltimore don’t have legitimate reasons to be extremely angry.

The flash point for this community was the death of Freddie Gray, who was taken into police custody on April 12th and somehow came out of it with a broken spine the likes of which usually happen in car accidents. The incident sprung from Gray seeing a police officer and taking off running. It’s unknown exactly what happened inside the police van that he was taken into, which is different from the case of Walter Scott, who was taped being gunned down from behind by a police officer.

In addition, police brutality is a major issue in Baltimore, and with so many payouts – of taxpayer money, mind – for brutality cases, keeping in mind that these are just the ones that got caught, a reasonable person can draw one of two conclusions: either the Baltimore Police Department is so incompetent that they can’t even get away with one of the easiest things for an officer to get away with, or police brutality is so prevalent in the BPD that it’s skewing the numbers.

So it’s a race thing, right?

That’s not cut-and-dried. Baltimore’s a bit different in that they have a black mayor, a heavy black population within their police force, and their minority population is mixed race, with Latinos and other ethnic groups mixing in and creating an eclectic mix. This isn’t Ferguson, whose white police force regards their black population as walking ATMs.

But at the same time, race is heavily tied to class in all of the cases that have sprung up. This goes back to decades old debates on the poor economic straits of black people in America, owing to hundreds of years of slavery, followed by Jim Crow laws, enhanced by racist mindsets throughout America. Those are different articles altogether, but the economic plight of black people in America, on a bird’s eye level, contributes heavily to the crime rate, which causes police to react disproportionately, and perpetuates a never-ending cycle of distrust. The chicken vs. egg debate of which came first – the black inequality or black crime – is irrelevant to this context. What’s important, right now, is that in many cases, the police – even black cops, like the one who covered up for Michael Slager – have not helped, for years, due to outright profiling.

Wait a minute. You just said blacks commit more crimes. In fact, most of the people who have been killed had rap sheets as well! That kind of justifies at least some action, right?

Ever hear of a self-fulfilling prophecy? Because that’s what’s happening in most cases. Yes, in many cases, as reported by the press, the individuals who have been victimized recently had prior run-ins with police. Despite consternation by some that this is a ploy to prove that black people are all criminals, it would be irresponsible journalism to omit those facts.

But this issue isn’t just affecting poor blacks with a record. CNN’s LZ Granderson on Twitter yesterday pointed out the reality:

There’s also New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who’s son was stopped at gunpoint at Yale University, where the son is a student. It was a black cop that detained that young man, but ultimately, it’s the colour blue that matters more. As Mr. Blow notes in his piece, all that matters is how you look.

So what does this have to do with someone that has a “rap sheet”? There’s a huge difference between LZ Granderson and some random guy in the projects, right? Well, let’s extrapolate this to its logical conclusion:

1) Man is stopped for superfluous reasons. There are provable statistics that show blacks are far more likely to be stopped than whites. This is often called “walking(talking) while black”.
2) Man is ticketed or arrested for a meaningless crime. This is partly the fault of overlegislation – chances are good that due to the addition of “regulatory” crimes, you are breaking the law while reading this – but it’s also a problem for black people, so often pulled over by officers needing to justify themselves, especially if there’s a financial impetus.
3) If that person is later the victim of brutality, reasonable doubt can be cast on the victim by referencing “previous run-ins” with police. This not only affects criminal and civil trials, it doubles as a character assassination.
4) The general public – still overwhelmingly white, mostly conservative, and educated with a strong belief in law, order and the police as a force of protection instead of oppression – are quick to label the action reasonably justified, unable – or unwilling – to personalize the problem. The spectre of police brutality is so foreign to most white people that even well meaning individuals simply cannot understand what it’s like to walk around with a constant fear of police reactions. It’s literally not in our realm of thinking.

Whatever, you bleeding heart liberal. So the police occasionally thump a guy too hard. But I don’t wanna hear this stuff about poor people! They have just as many chances as we do! Just look at others who made it! Look at guys like Herman Cain!

First off, if you’re poor, you don’t have as many chances as you think, as is easy enough to prove. I grew up poor, and it took an immense amount of work, four years of the military, and a lot of luck just to make it into the middle class, and if something goes wrong now, I’m largely screwed.

Now, go back to that Ferguson report, know that that report could be written for entirely too many communities – particularly in the South, where blacks are still fighting the ghosts of Jim Crow, slavery, and a significant number of people who feel the Confederacy was justified – and imagine how hard it would be to “come up” under those circumstances. It’s hard to climb the social ladder when it keeps getting kicked out from underfoot.

This is the major reason why so many communities are protesting, fighting, attacking, you name it. They see no way out of the hell they’ve been born into, and the people that are supposed to be protecting them are inflicting further injustice. The minutia of how we can get poor people out of their plight is a political debate for another time.

OK, maybe I understand that. But that doesn’t justify rioting! Looting isn’t helping! In fact, it’s taking away from that community!

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, looting and rioting are bad, m’kay? Looting is not protesting. It is naked theft, brought on by a simple-minded materialism that some could argue is a major reason why the poor are poor. And flies are said to be more attracted to honey than vinegar. This is all true.

But in light of everything that’s happened in the past two years, it’s hard to argue that the “nice” way of doing things has worked at all.

The above argument is the one that The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates made recently, stating that calls for order are only made with no other solutions in mind.

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?


When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.

As for the stealing, it’s bad. It’s wrong. It hurts the moral standing of the protesters. But if we’re talking in terms of scale, it’s worth noting that the City of Baltimore has a bad history of using civil forfeiture as a form of revenue enhancement. If we put the scale of that in a bar graph next to some assholes stealing some kit from the electronics department, the first bar is going to be astronomically higher.

Well… I still think what they’re doing is wrong. Win some elections and make change the right way.

Actually, Ferguson did just that.

It’s OK if you don’t care about the protests, and their resulting riots. It’s OK if Freddie Gray is just one more name on the news. If you want to mention some white guy somewhere that didn’t get this kind of attention – here, I’ll even do the work1 for you – then sure, even if you’re kind of being a dick.

But to sit there and assume that this is a problem caused by those in the streets is irresponsible, insensitive, and flat-out wrong. The people out in the streets right now aren’t nobodies, doing this for fun; they are citizens who think they have been getting a raw deal for years, decades even, and the death of one of their own, unjustified, by the people tasked with their “protection”, was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back. This isn’t the inane ramblings of a “social justice warrior” claiming that all sex is rape or some other crap. There are cold, hard, verifiable statistics showing that the poor and the black – too often synonymous terms – get an extremely raw deal all over America, and if it doesn’t change, what we’re seeing now will continue to be the new normal.

Note: In the time between this piece being written and being edited for release, six police officers have been charged with crimes ranging from false imprisonment to murder.

1 – Before reading that WT link – if you can get past all those damn surveys – go back up and read that Census link from before.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.
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