The tragic chaos in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of an unarmed teenager and massive protests has prompted a discussion police power and how far it should extend. For the anarchist, the answer is simple: police power shouldn’t exist.
“But what would you do with all the psychopaths and violent people?”
This is perhaps the most common question posed to anarchists. After all, most people view the state and its monopoly on force as the method by which society handles the psychopaths and violent people. To answer the question, we first have to analyze the current “solution”: The police.
The situation in Ferguson is an example of some of the most extreme, egregious measures taken by police as of late. But an understanding of the kind of culture statism promotes leads to the conclusion that Ferguson is merely a symptom of a growing disease that is sweeping the United States.
Statism normalizes the initiation of violence and the violation of people’s most basic human rights. Elections that serve millions of people’s property and civil liberties on a platter to the biggest special interest group makes the destruction of human rights commonplace. A military industrial complex that creates hate abroad and encourages racist, xenophobic nationalism at home makes literal bombings just a part of every day life. And worst of all, the militarization of police creates generations of obedient serfs who live in fear of strangers roaming the streets in dark colored outfits reminiscent of gangs with weapons that can blow you away in one unaccountable, shot … or worse.
The Ferguson police are crushing the right to free speech, imposing curfews and threatening protesters and journalists with violence. And I thought anarchy was chaos.
Why does this continue to happen? Simple. Because they have the most guns — because they have a monopoly.
Police are not efficient because they don’t rely on customers’ voluntary support. They aren’t held accountable because they face no serious threat of losing power. They are abusive because citizens have two choices: Obey or suffer the punishment. They are militarized because they don’t operate on the profit and loss mechanism of the freed market and have an endless trough of stolen taxpayer money to waste.
If the police monopoly was broken up, the police as we know them would no longer exist. Private defense agencies, communal associations, neighborhood watch groups and mutual aid societies would take the place of state “defense.” While they would serve the end of protecting citizens, like the police claim to do, these organizations would likely look far different from modern local police forces.
Police forces are insulated from competition, market feedback, the price mechanism and the profit-loss system. As monopolies, they come with incentives to overspend, overcharge, under-produce, and generally work in opposition to the consumers’ interests and in favor of their own.
But firms and organizations that spontaneously arise on a freed market out of voluntary exchange are subject to market forces every step of the way. They must serve the consumers’ interests – they must produce a worthwhile product at an affordable cost or be crushed by competition. Being in the business of defense, they must minimize costly, violent conflict and pursue cheaper, peaceful solutions or else be out-competed by other organizations that better serve their customer’s interests.
Since these organizations would be at constant risk of losing business to competition, unlike the police, their methods and tactics would be completely different. They would have to respect their customers’ rights if they ever want their business. The agencies that better protect rights would be the most profitable and the ones that violate peoples’ rights would be quickly pushed out of the market.
So what would we do with all the psychopaths and violent criminals? We wouldn’t give them a platform insulated from market competition that allows them to threaten, arrest, spy on, torture, aggress against, and control other people. Namely, we wouldn’t give them a police force.