Category Archives: Strategies For Advancing Liberty

Georgia Legislature to Consider Modest Reforms for ‘No-Knock’ Raids

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On May 28th, 2014 around 3:00 a.m. in Habersham County, Georgia a SWAT team raided a house the police believed to be occupied by Wanis Thonetheva, an alleged drug dealer. In the chaos of the raid instead were four children and up to four adults. The youngest of the children, 19 month-old “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was burned and permanently disfigured from a flash-bang grenade which set the play pen he was sleeping in ablaze.

No drugs or contraband of any kind was found in the home. Also absent from the residence was the man they were looking for.

Bou Bou was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where he was put into a medically induced coma. Doctors were not sure if the toddler would ever wake up but fortunately, he did.

This is not by any means, the end of the Phonesavanh family’s problems with Bou Bou’s medical expenses around $1.6 million and surgeries into adulthood. These expenses, by the way, that will not be paid by the county or the departments responsible for severely injuring this child.

In the aftermath of this botched SWAT raid, several Georgia legislators are looking to reform the use of “no-knock” raids. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) introduced a bill he’s calling “Bou Bou’s Law” which would require a slightly higher standard for no-knock raids than required by SCOTUS. Bou Bou’s Law would require “the affidavit or testimony supporting such warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.”

In the House, Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) introduced a similar bill which would go even further by requiring that no-knock raids be conducted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. unless the judge issuing the warrant “expressly authorizes” another time. Tanner’s bill also requires that each department keep records of each raid which would be compiled with all the other records around the state into an annual report which would be sent to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House.

While these are laudable reforms which I would hope would pass any state legislature, these reforms do not go nearly far enough. Several of the articles I read in preparing this post had titles like “No Knock Warrants Could be a Thing of the Past.” In reading over these bills, I’m not quite that optimistic. As Jacob Sullum pointed out at Reason, its not at all clear that Bou Bou’s Law would have prevented the raid from happening. The police at the time thought their suspect was probably armed; it probably wouldn’t take much to convince a judge to issue the no-knock warrant.

As I took another look at Rep. Tanner’s bill, I saw no language that would restrict the hours of the standard knock and announce raids. His bill seems incredibly vague to my lay reading “all necessary and reasonable force may be used to effect an entry into any building or property or part thereof to execute such search warrant if, after verbal notice or an attempt in good faith to give verbal notice by the officer directed to execute the same of his or her authority and purpose”.

Its human nature to stretch and bend language in such a way that is favorable to one’s objectives. I can imagine the police “interpreting” this law to mean they could gently knock on the door at 3 a.m., speaking in a barely audible voice “Police, search warrant open up,” counting 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi, CRASH!

There is some concern by those who think that even these modest reforms put the police in unnecessary danger – police lives matter. I’m of the opinion that ALL lives matter and propose some (admittedly) radical ideas as to how and when SWAT tactics and/or police searches should be used to protect the life and liberty of all concerned:

– If the reason for a surprise raid on a residence is that the evidence could be quickly flushed down a toilet or easily destroyed by other means, then this isn’t enough reason for such a raid in the first place. A couple of ounces of any drug flushed down a toilet is not sufficient reason to put the lives of those in the residence or the police at risk.

– SWAT should not be used at all unless its an active shooter situation, a hostage situation, or credible reason to believe there will be active, armed resistance to the search. Unless there is a very real clear and present danger, leave your military grade toys at the station.

– Each and every police officer involved in the search wears a camera (preferably on the head to have a true POV). All video from the search would be made available to the suspect’s defense attorney.

– The police departments involved are responsible for any and all “collateral damage” to life and property. In the event an innocent life is taken, the individual officer(s) responsible should be treated as anyone else who takes a life. Investigation/prosecution would be conducted by an independent investigators and prosecutors.

– Absolutely no raids or searches of any kind between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. (though stakeouts and other activity which does not require interaction with the suspect(s) during these hours is permissible).

I’m sure that some if not all of these ideas are too radical for many lawmakers. If we really believe that “all lives matter”, however; these proposals should be thoughtfully considered.

If you would like to make a small donation to help pay Bou Bou’s medical expenses, go to this GoFundMe page which has raised nearly $43k so far.

Let Us Rediscover the Art of the Peaceful Protest and Civil Disobedience this MLK Day

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In the year 2015 there are many good reasons to protest: police brutality, injustice, the war on (some) drugs, the war on (some) terror, etc. One thing from Martian Luther King Jr.’s legacy that seems to be lost and something we should rediscover is the art of the peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

King understood that for positive change to occur, he had to truly win the hearts and minds of his fellow Americans. Being a positive example by showing the world that he and his followers would take a stand against injustice without resorting to violence was even more important than the words he spoke to that end. Certainly, not everyone believed in using the non-violent approach. Malcolm X and the Black Panthers believed that violence was necessary to achieve their shared goals.*

Who was right?

Personally, I find the pictures and the videos from the non-violent protests and the acts of civil disobedience to be far more compelling. There’s just something about seeing people refusing to act in a violent fashion against the state which inherently IS violence. This has a way of changing hearts and minds.

Contrast this with today’s protests in Ferguson, New York, and elsewhere concerning the police. For the most part, the protesters are peaceful and are using tactics which King would likely be proud. Unfortunately, however; it’s the nasty protesters that are violent, incite riots, or cheer at the news of cops being ambushed which receives far too much of the publicity. Even holding up signs like “The only good cop is a dead cop” or “fuck the police,” though certainly permissible as recognized by the First Amendment, turns people off who might otherwise be sympathetic to one’s cause.

Sadly, it’s not just a few misfit protesters who think that aggression is sometimes warranted to get one’s way. No less than the pope himself last week in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks said: “(If someone) says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

The leader of the same Catholic Church which normally advocates finding non-violent solutions to conflict (such as the Just War Doctrine) says that because someone says something offensive about one’s parents or faith it is permissible to use violence against that person! People’s feeling are more important than the concept of free expression.

I’m not interested in living in a world where I cannot insult the pope or his religion nor do I want to live in a world where the pope cannot insult me or my atheism. The world I am interested in living in is one where we can have passionate, even hurtful disagreements without fearing physical harm to my family, my friends, or myself.

Let us all rediscover the art of peaceful protest and civil disobedience on this Martian Luther King Jr. Day.

NY Jets RB Learns the Hard Way What Happens When You “Just Cooperate” With the Police

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With the plethora of news stories about police misconduct, excessive force, non-indictments, and the understandable corresponding outrage to such perceived injustices in the waning days of 2014, certain law and order types thought it proper to offer some advice to stop the bloodshed. Quite simple advice really: obey the laws and/or cooperate with the police.

But maybe instead of “simple” I should say “simplistic.” It seems most of those who offer such advice are middle aged white guys who don’t fit the profile the police look for when they decide to stop someone who “looks suspicious.” Take this jackass by the name of Kelly Ogle for example:

It use to be simple… when you come in contact with a police officer, you do what they say.

Unfortunately, an unrealistic distrust of police officers is being fostered by some protesters, even some public officials, which is disgraceful.

Just “do what they say” and everything will be just fine huh?

Don’t tell that to NY Jets RB Chris Johnson. Johnson was recently pulled over in Orlando, Florida for rolling through a stop sign. According to a source close to Johnson, the police asked permission to search his vehicle. Because Johnson didn’t feel like he “had anything to hide” or wanted to “be cooperative,” he foolishly waived his Fourth Amendment rights and allowed the police to search his vehicle.

What did “cooperating” with the police get him? A second degree misdemeanor charge for having his lawfully owned firearm improperly stored in the vehicle according to Florida law. There’s a good chance that Johnson didn’t know he was breaking the law. As we have heard ad nauseum, ignorance of the law is not a legal defense for breaking the law (unless of course, you happen to be a cop).

Just over a month ago, I offered what I believe to be more constructive advice than that the aforementioned badge worshiper. There is a way to be respectful of the police while firmly and intelligently asserting your rights. It seems that had Johnson followed advice similar to mine than that similar to Kelly Ogle’s, he would likely not have been arrested.

Beyond knowing your rights and knowing how to deal with the police, how is one to know if s/he is committing a crime at any given time? In a country in which the average person commits as many as three felonies every single day (to say nothing of any number of misdemeanors a day), there’s no good answer…at least not yet. There soon may be an “ap for that,” however; if this Kickstarter project called “Atlas” generates enough donations by January 31st (they have a long way to go).

Here’s their promotional video explaining the project:

Even if this project doesn’t quite get off the ground, its good to see that there are people out there thinking about how to mitigate the reality of the numerous criminal laws on the books. But until that day comes, understand that when you are stopped by the police, they stopped you because they have some suspicion that you are breaking a law that you may or may not be aware of. Don’t help them by waiving your rights (“just cooperating”) as Chris Johnson did. You can’t assert your rights if you don’t know what they are. Now that you have found these links (here, here, and here), there is no excuse for ignorance of these rights.

The Problem With Today’s ‘Conservatives': They’re Not Really Conservative

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When Republicans took control of the Congress in the 2014 elections, they did so without an agenda or alternative vision for the country. In spite of this, they hold their largest majority since before World War II.

It seems they achieved this, not because they laid out a clear alternative, but simply because the American people perceived Democrats and the left, as having failed to govern the country (or having done so poorly).

However, a couple of long-term problems for the Republican Party have developed since November’s elections. The first being that President Obama’s approval ratings have begun to rebound. The second, is that Republicans are fighting amongst themselves, again, instead of laying out any credible alternative agenda for the country. The Republican Party seems to be strongly divided between it’s “establishment” wing, and a more conservative Tea Party-aligned wing.

The biggest problem however, is that the Tea Party, and many of the self identified “conservatives” aren’t really conservatives at all. They’re really populists, ideologues, and radicals, that have abandoned traditional conservatism.

Ultimately, this is bad for the entirety of what could be called the “center-right”, because these people frankly make us look insane. When you try to build a movement purely on rhetoric and rabble rousing, without a solid foundation, history has shown that bad things happen.

During the French Revolution, there was a faction of revolutionaries called the Jacobins. The Jacobins were fiery populists, who aligned with the mobs on the streets of Paris, and eventually took over the revolutionary government, installing what came to be known as “The Reign of Terror“. Under the Jacobins, the revolutionary councils known as “committees of public safety”, targeted essentially anyone who disagreed with the Jacobins in the slightest, as “enemies of the people”. This demagoguery resulted in the deaths of thousands, in mob led mass executions.

Eventually, the French Revolution collapsed into near anarchy and was devoured, when in reaction to Jacobin misrule, Napoleon seized power in the Coup of 18 Brumaire.

An English member of Parliament, Edmund Burke, warned that the French Revolution would descend into tyranny. In his famous book “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke argued for gradual change; emphasizing the necessity of specific, concrete rights and liberties; and essentially that society could not be, or should not be, molded or reshaped by government, in the name of “reason.” It was an argument against central planning and utopianism before they became more developed political concepts. Burke’s work is regarded as one of the founding documents of Anglo-American conservatism. and even Freidrich Hayek was heavily influenced by Burke.

Fast forward to today’s American er…..”conservatives”. What generally poses for conservatism these days is the Tea Party movement. To be perfectly blunt, the Tea Party isn’t very conservative at all. The Tea Party are demagogues who seem to want to launch a revolution against the “establishment”. Except, the problem is, they’re not too sure what the “establishment” is. They’re populist radicals and reactionaries, who have no idea what conservatism is.

The latest case in point, the silly and failed attempt to remove John Boehner as Speaker of the House, launched by Tea Party-aligned Congressmen, and egged on by various Washington D.C. and West Coast-based “grassroots” organizations who never miss an opportunity to fundraise over manufactured outrage.

The challenge to Speaker Boehner began when Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine announced he wasn’t going to vote for Boehner. He cited his opposition to the so-called Cromnibus which was passed in order to keep the government open, late last year. Bridenstine, like many conservatives, was opposed to the bill because it funded the Department of Homeland Security and President Obama’s immigration executive amnesty until February, and because it spent too much. Tea Party opportunists and other irrelevant backbenchers, saw an opportunity for self-promotion and self aggrandizement through the entertainment wing of the Tea Party (talk radio, bloggers who specialize in the daily “outrage”), and decided to “challenge” John Boehner.

Eventually, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Florida), threw their tin foil hats into the ring and challenged Boehner for the position of speaker. In a way, both men are a perfect microcosm of everything wrong with the Tea Party movement. Congressman Daniel Webster (R-Florida) also entered the race, but he’s generally an unremarkable backbencher (as well as one of the most liberal Republicans in congress).

A quick Google search would quickly tell you that these are not serious men, let alone serious alternatives to Speaker John Boehner. No one outside of Florida knows who Daniel Webster is, and sadly that probably makes him the most qualified out of the three. Ted Yoho’s big claim to fame is that he’s a birther who wants to find Obama’s secret Kenyan birth certificate in order to nullify Obamacare or something.

Finally, we have Louie Gohmert who is truly little more than a demagogue with no philosophical foundation. Gohmert once took to the floor of the U.S. House to warn about terrorist babies. Oh and Gohmert is also a birther. Gohmert has a long history of demagoguery both as a judge and a Congressman. There’s crazy and then there’s Louie Gohmert. 

Even those who dislike John Boehner (and there are many) would have to concede that, if they were honest, these three men were not qualified to be second in line for the office of President.

The problem, is that instead of presenting a coherent alternative to progressivism, the Tea Party and its allies have resorted to base demagoguery and reactionary populism. Further, they are imposing strict purity tests (the true mark of a Jacobin) to identify who they see as “the enemies of conservatism” and “Betrayers of the American People”. Only their ideas and positions are allowed, all must conform perfectly, there can be no dissent.

Take, for example, the case of Congresswoman Mia Love (R-Utah) a conservative rock star who voted for Boehner to continue as Speaker, and how she was vilified on social media:

There are many other examples like these on Twitter. Essentially, anyone who voted for the Speaker of the House, who oversaw at the very least a freeze in government spending; is being portrayed as some kind of a liberal, or worse, as having “betrayed the American people”.

The enlarged Federal state was not built in a day and it will not be dismantled in one election, especially when Democrats hold the White House. That’s not how I want things, but that how the world is. Conservatives are supposed to look at the world, understand and accept it for what it is, and understand that radical change rarely works out well.

In the meantime, we must seek to develop a credible, coherent, and comprehensive, alternative agenda for the country. We must get back to first principles and turn away from populism and demagoguery. We must rediscover traditional conservatism and combine that with some Milton FriedmanCharles Murray, and finally add some Hayek to the mix*.

Most importantly, conservatism is a philosophy, and a mindset, not an ideology. Gradual, incremental change, is always a better approach than radical change, because radicalism so often leads to failure at best; at worst, the guillotine or the Killing Fields.

While building a movement with popular appeal is important to the advancement of liberty, we must not let that become the sole focus. Winning without a solid philosophical and intellectual foundation, a principled moral focus, and a realistic view of the world, may ultimately lead to tyranny. That’s why the mindless populism and demagoguery of the Tea Party and the far right must be rejected.

*There are many great conservative/classical liberal thinkers and writers, but those three, along with Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, and Edmund Burke are the ones you should get started with.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

NYC Cop Rebellion Highlights Complicated Interplay Between Freedom and the Rule of Law

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Some laws are so egregious they ought morally be resisted, however destabilizing such resistance might be. Only the most mindlessly authoritarian would disagree.

The hard part is knowing where to draw the lines.

New York City cops are in rebellion, taking a de facto hiatus from policing victimless “crimes.” Whether this is an “important step” toward improved safety and constitutional policing, or a dire threat to the rule of law, seems all a matter of perspective. Cops being as diverse as humans generally, their motivations presumably range from “[a]cting like a bunch of high-school jocks protesting a ban on keg parties” all the way to heartfelt questions about the legitimacy of a system that leaves a man dead for the “crime” of selling loose cigarettes.

Either way, the reduced issuance of petty crime summonses and parking violations will starve the city of revenue, while endangering no one. This strategy, of hurting the mayor’s budget without turning a blind eye to real crime, exposes an unpleasant truth about modern policing: that cops are sent out armed with guns to risk their lives ginning up revenues needed to cover budget shortfalls.

Let that sink in.

I understand the importance of the rule of law. But morality dictates consideration of a system that encourages forceful interaction over such trivialities as selling loose cigarettes, and for the purpose of insulating politicians from the consequences of overspending.

The rule of law is but a means to an end, not an end in itself.

A provocative law review article entitled “The Myth of the Rule of Law” asks the reader to consider the following:

“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; . . . .”

On the basis of your personal understanding of this sentence’s meaning (not your knowledge of constitutional law), please indicate whether you believe the following sentences to be true or false.

_____ 1) In time of war, a federal statute may be passed prohibiting citizens from revealing military secrets to the enemy.

_____ 2) The President may issue an executive order prohibiting public criticism of his administration.

_____ 3) Congress may pass a law prohibiting museums from exhibiting photographs and paintings depicting homosexual activity.

_____ 4) A federal statute may be passed prohibiting a citizen from falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

_____ 5) Congress may pass a law prohibiting dancing to rock and roll music.

_____ 6) The Internal Revenue Service may issue a regulation prohibiting the publication of a book explaining how to cheat on your taxes and get away with it.

_____ 7) Congress may pass a statute prohibiting flag burning.

After exploring ways in which seemingly clear rules of law are malleable to reach different ends, based on the perspective of those with the power to apply them, the piece returns to those initial questions:

If your response to question one was “True,” you chose to interpret the word “no” as used in the First Amendment to mean “some.”

If your response to question two was “False,” you chose to interpret the word “Congress” to refer to the President of the United States and the word “law” to refer to an executive order.

If your response to question three was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to the exhibition of photographs and paintings.

If your response to question four was “True,” you have underscored your belief that the word “no” really means “some.”

If your response to question five was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to dancing to rock and roll music.

If your response to question six was “False,” you chose to interpret the word “Congress” to refer to the Internal Revenue Service and the word “law” to refer to an IRS regulation.

If your response to question seven was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to the act of burning a flag.

Why did you do this? Were your responses based on the “plain meaning” of the words or on certain normative beliefs you hold about the extent to which the federal government should be allowed to interfere with citizens’ expressive activities?

My own answer would have been that the First Amendment neither permits nor prohibits anything. The First Amendment is nothing more than words on paper, incapable of doing anything. It is only our collective willingness to enforce, expand or modify it that has any function; that sufficient numbers of us agree, consciously or not, to permit the exercise of collective force to do one or the other; and that sufficient numbers more passively do not resist.

We are unavoidably a nation of both laws and men, and needed change comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes because democratically elected representatives vote for it. Sometimes it comes because one person stops allowing her complicity to lend legitimacy to a bad law.

It bears remembering that enforcing the rule of law was what five New York City officers were doing when they placed Eric Garner in a grapple hold for the “crime” of selling loose cigarettes. As Professor Stephen L. Carter eloquently wrote:

It’s unlikely that the New York legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they’re so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants.

*    *     *

Of course, activists on the right and the left tend to believe that all of their causes are of great importance. Whatever they want to ban or require, they seem unalterably persuaded that the use of state power is appropriate.

That’s too bad. Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. There are many painful lessons to be drawn from the Garner tragedy, but one of them, sadly, is… : Don’t ever fight to make something illegal unless you’re willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way.

Some of the loudest complaints about police misconduct are from the same people who demand a leviathan government exercising control over vast areas of our lives. Such control must of necessity be exercised in the form of laws, laws that must be enforced at the point of a gun.

We all draw lines somewhere, between the laws we think ought be enforced, however misguided they might be, for the sake of preserving the legitimacy of the system; laws so egregious and vile in nature, that they must morally be resisted; and those that fall somewhere between, the close calls and grey area where good faith disagreement can be tolerated. The criteria we use, the lines we draw, are inherently subjective.

We should not ask cops to enforce laws that we are unwilling to have them kill to enforce. We should not risk lives enforcing prohibitions against victimless crimes.

If a rebellion by New York City cops is how this change comes—I can live with that.

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