Liberal and Libertarian Conceptions of Policing: Response to Armanda Marcotte

Armanda Marcotte recently wrote about the supposed refutation of libertarian arguments represented by the Ferguson protests. She acts surprised that a “few libertarian types,” other than Radley Balko, are attempting to sound consistent on police power in Ferguson, as if most libertarians had previously been endorsing this kind of policing response.

She also goes on to accuse libertarians of thinking that civil liberties violations allegedly created by Bush are actually the invention of Obama. A baseless charge for which I am aware of no evidence. As if that weren’t bad enough, she postulates that libertarians are just “ass covering”. A notion implying that they aren’t really seriously opposed to this stuff.

All that aside, the meat of the piece revolves around a contrast between the liberal and libertarian conceptions of policing. Her central piece of empirical evidence for the liberal conception is what happened when Liberal Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, got involved. She specifically mentions him putting the head of highway police, Ron Johnson, in charge, and his marching with the protesters.

The central problem with this line of reasoning is that Jay Nixon recently declared a state of emergency along with a curfew in Ferguson, Missouri. He also recently sent in the National Guard. There are also police abuses still occurring such as the threatening of reporter, Chris Hayes. Ron Johnson broke a promise to not enforce the curfew with military style trucks and tear gas. He also ordered the arrest of journalists. It appears that the old approach is still in effect.

Another major part of her thesis is that non-violence has proven itself more effective than violence. This is ironically combined with mentioning that Ronald Reagan cracked down on blacks carrying guns in the form of the Black Panthers. Not to mention that there is no unifying libertarian view on the use of violence against government as a form of protest. We can grant truth to her argument without believing it’s refuted libertarianism.

The final part of her piece worth addressing pertains to her queer view that libertarians view police as inherently authoritarian. This implicitly means all libertarians believe this. The fact is that some libertarians do oppose all police while others want to have private policing. Not all libertarians even think government police are inherently authoritarian. There are minarchists who support them.

That having been said, her liberal conception of government police as serving in an accountable “serve and protect” function ignores a number of factors. The factor of officer friendly belonging to a monopolistic organization. This means people can’t escape abuse easily. Another issue is that the government police may only be officer friendly for respectable members of the community who aren’t violating any unjust laws deemed socially necessary.

The final problem with her analysis is that all government relies on the initiation of force to survive. Officer friendly will eventually have to be unfriendly to anyone seeking the services of a non-government protective association. In the context of most governments, they also have to eventually be unfriendly to those evading compulsory taxation. Her goal of police who genuinely serve communities is better realized in left-wing market anarchy. One way to go about creating rights protection outside of government is to encourage things like non-government sanctioned neighborhood watch and jury nullification. Both of which can serve to protect rights without the state. The first by deterring violent crime through citizen watch and the second by freeing people unjustly headed for imprisonment. Please get started on this vital task today!

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory