Ferguson protests show serious problems with libertarian arguments
I have to admit that I’m intrigued by the fact that a few libertarian types—besides someone who has always been a consistent sort, like Radley Balko—are actually trying to sound consistent on the topic of the police overreach in Ferguson. Rand Paul was surprisingly bold on this front, decrying the militarization of the police and openly agreeing that black Americans are the main victims of this sort of police state bullshit. Granted, he quotes conservative sources that will 100% flip around and give all their support to an authoritarian police state the second there’s a Republican president, but that he even went there is interesting. He’s lucky to be, like Ted Cruz, one of the senators who took office after 9/11 and so doesn’t have an inconvenient record of swiftly agreeing to every intrusion on civil liberties that the Bush administration created and which libertarians like to pretend was invented by Obama.
Of course, the fact that things got much, much better the second Democratic leaders took control of the situation—particularly with Gov. Jay Nixon putting the highway police in charge—is also a problem for this kind of posturing. Therefore I mostly agree with Roy Edroso that the libertarian posturing is far more of an ass-covering maneuver than anything else. We are in an election season, of course, and scaring white conservatives about black people has been a reliable vote-getter for Republicans since Nixon. Fox News is already on that train. Rand Paul is there so that if liberals call them out for it, Republicans can say, “Nuh-uh, look, Rand Paul!” He has aspirations to be president, but I feel that someone who is being used so ruthlessly is not ever going to be given the chance to be the actual leader. And thank god, because outside of having a few correct opinions about the police state, he would be a nightmare.
Of course, the one thing that you can be certain of is that the whole “libertarian” schtick is going to come right back to the way that right wingers have made themselves a volunteer advertising company for the gun industry. Mollie Hemingway has a rather incomprehensible fit of save-the-gun-profits writing in response to all this:
So we have the right to revolt against despotic governments with a long train of abuses. The right to revolution assumes a means of revolution. And that means arms — the weapon kind, not the hugging kind. This is something that our media clearly don’t understand, much less agree with, but their beef is with self-government or logic more than the NRA.
It’s a telling use of “we”, because, as Roy points out, “as if any black person who showed up packing during Ferguson’s hot nights wouldn’t have had his head blown off. I wonder if Hemingway even remembers what her hero Ronald Reagan did about black folks with guns.” In fact,the Ferguson protests were a nice-and-neat demonstration of the power of non-violence. Conservatives were so eager to excuse the police crackdown on the protesters that they eagerly conflated the few people who looted with the entire protests, because they know—even if they pretend not to—that people who use violence when speaking out about the government end up failing themselves more often than not because they give the government reason to crack down with violence. But by doing the hands-up demonstrations, protesters made the cops look like fucking idiots. Much more effective than showing up with guns, getting shot, and having conservatives use that as justification for all sorts of horrible abuses.
In fact, events yesterday showed that, by far, the liberal arguments about policing beat the libertarian ones by a long shot. When the highway patrol came in under Gov. Nixon’s leadership, the liberal approach—to have police present in a serve-and-protect capacity—was working really well.
Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol walks along with the Ferguson march. Compare this to Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/Vtezu4MuHk
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) August 14, 2014
Of course, the Ferguson police fucked this all up with their little shitshow of pretending to be transparent but not actually being transparent—instead using the press conference to demonize Mike Brown as much as they can while still withholding the actual details of his death. But while that idiocy should, in theory, offend liberals and libertarians alike (while pleasing conservatives), I think the whole debacle continues to support the liberal vision of policing more than a libertarian one: One where police are there and available, but they see themselves as servants of the public who are held accountable, instead of the libertarian view that sees them as inherently authoritarian and therefore is only about putting limits on their power. (To be clear, both liberals and libertarians want strong limits on police power, but I think that should be in addition to systems to encourage police to see themselves as members of the community who are there to serve.) It’s a small difference, but I think a relevant one.