Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Akai Gurley. These are just the latest in a line of minorities who have been killed by the police in excessive force cases where no scrutiny was even applied to the cops. While protests arise in the memory of these fallen human beings, I find myself asking a question in their names more abstract at first glance — particularly of the liberal contingent of our alleged “representative” system of government.
There has been from some corners of mainstream liberal opinion justified anger at the disproportionate behavior of the police towards minority populations. However, even this has been couched in terms assuming an overall legitimacy of the system that the victims live within. Consider the view expressed at Salon.com by Elias Isquith, in reaction to Rand Paul pointing out that the excuse used by the NYPD for the harassment and subsequent murder of Eric Garner was enforcement of cigarette taxes: he called this an example of “political narcissism,” unthinking attribution of anything that occurs as vindication of preexisting ideology.
I am not one to deny that such things occur, but to dismiss questions of which laws are enforced in the context of law enforcement — by deadly force, in this case — strikes me as absurd: if indeed the reason that Eric Garner was harassed and subsequently murdered was because of suspicion of circumventing New York City tobacco taxes, then how is that not a valid factor in his death? It is like dismissing the Georgia flashbang grenade maiming of 2 year old “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh — oddly enough, also covered at Salon — in a raid triggered by an alleged petty methamphetamine deal by a relative with “well, The Law is The Law.” Why is the law The Law though? Do outcomes not matter? Is the law a means to its own end of self perpetuation?
An implied reasoning is carried behind the respective mainstream ideologies of US politics, and has been from the beginning. The reasoning has been that there is, within a “representative” government, a range of responsibilities for those granted power of a force monopoly, as well as limits to what indeed can or should be done with such. There is within this an implication: If the responsibilities are unfulfilled, or the limits violated, that legitimacy of the granted force monopoly is void. In other words, the ideologies proposed within the respective wings of defense of “representative” government contain a claimed failsafe that if triggered would see revocation of authority — that is, anarchy — as better than continued recognition. This is to say that eventually everyone is an anarchist, it’s just a matter of when.
Consider the recent circumstances that have led to the administration and justification of deadly force by the State and its officers: Suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, jaywalking, buying pain medication without a prescription (Rumain Brisbon, in Phoenix), even merely existing in the toy section of a Wal-Mart with a toy gun in the case of John Crawford (in an open carry state, nonetheless).
Frankly, any ideology that can dismiss the laws that led to such harsh enforcement has no standing to even bother criticizing the enforcement itself in my opinion — when you state that an act is to be met with force, or allow some to be seen as threats for other than logical reasons, you essentially court violence for your preference — period.
To simultaneously defend taxation as a behavior modifier while decrying the result of its enforcement is hypocrisy. If you claim tobacco taxation as a justified use of force to maintain, the blood of Eric Garner is on your hands, like it or not. You can feel as bad as you wish, it doesn’t bring the Garner family back their father and husband. Government is a hammer, and it landed where it did.
If the anguish and outrage prompted by the murders committed by the enforcers of the State are to mean anything, they suggest something that is today seen as a bridge too far for those anointed as acceptable within the political sphere.
That suggestion is of the bankruptcy of the Government Is Us myth, leaving the reality that we are faced with an Us versus Them scenario, and we are, to the state, The Enemy. If now is not the time for a liberty or death moment, then when?