Handicapped or Above the Law?

Coercive monopolies are bad. I doubt there is anyone on the planet left or right who would dare disagree with this abstract statement who doesn’t directly benefit from monopolistic government policies. Monopolies virtually always fail the consumer as they do not need to be flexible, innovative, efficient, provide good quality of service, or eliminate corruption from their ranks to stay in business. Without the cleansing forces of competition to be just and effective, firms of all kinds operate from within a disgustingly perverse incentive structure.

I ran headlong into the monopolists and their incentive structure this weekend, on the occasion of my speaking at the Drexel University Student Liberty Front’s summer retreat in Philadelphia. In the early afternoon, our friend Michael Gurrieri stepped outside to smoke a rolled tobacco cigarette. He didn’t smoke it all, so he extinguished the flame and pocketed the remains for later. As he did so, the Philadelphia police were crossing the street to accost him and determine if he was smoking the wrong variety of leafy growth.

They demanded that Mike reveal the cigarette, which he refused on privacy grounds. As a result he was assaulted, thrown against the wall, and told to put his hands behind his back or the officer would “break his fucking arms.” Handcuffed, Mike asked to speak to the officer’s superior before proceeding. Two other officers arrived. At this point I was summoned from out of Darian Worden’s presentation on Practical Anarchy to observe the situation. I came out of the building in the presence of Stacy Litz, the event organizer, with my camera at the ready to begin recording. I was immediately approached by an aggressive and plump law enforcement official who bellowed at me that I was interfering with a police investigation and needed to move and put my camera away. I stated that he was a public officer in public who had no reasonable expectation of privacy and inquired if he was making legal order. He asked me if I was willing to bet that what I was doing was legal and removed his handcuffs. He approached me from the side and alerted me that if I didn’t put the camera away he would make it “his personal property” and take me down to the station. I backed up a little bit and pulled my camera up once more, at which point his temper broke and he erupted that he would “[expletive] me up and take me to [expletive] jail” if I didn’t comply with his order.

I later found out that he was bluffing. Pennsylvania does not have prohibitions against recording interactions with police officers. It didn’t matter though. I was then filled with adrenaline and more than a little intimidated. This well-armed man I didn’t know who was ostensibly there to keep the community safe was worried that I might create an accurate record of the actions of all parties. He was so opposed to my recording him and his cohorts that he threatened the brutalize me, abduct me, and then throw me in a cage.

If my friend had thereafter acted wrongly, then my video would have reflected his behavior and vindicated police retaliation, if not morally than at least in the eyes of the public. If the police had performed in an unprofessional or excessive way then the aggressors would be the subject of scrutiny. If they were going to continue in a just manner, wouldn’t they want their conduct a matter of public record to make sure that any subsequent use of force against the ‘perp’ was legitimate in case he later claimed otherwise? Their aversion to being recording clearly indicates their intentions to act maliciously against their victims and remain unaccountable for their transgressions.

Sadly, I didn’t know Philadelphia or Pennsylvania law well enough at that moment, so I wasn’t about to risk a bloodied body, obliterated or confiscated property, and a protracted legal endeavor for what very well might turn into another bogus and expensive wiretapping case for yet another liberty activist. Luckily, the ordeal ended soon, with Mike being released by his captors after a ‘good cop’ detailed him a twenty minute justification of the assault they had just committed.

Supposedly, when they saw Mike put the cigarette in his pocket they didn’t know if he had a gun (smokers are usually armed, apparently) so they needed to make sure that everyone in the community was safe. Well, except for Mike. Consciences of the cops salved, we returned to our conference and collectively decompressed from the absurdity we had just experienced.

This is a clear anecdotal example for minarchists of why having a monopoly on the most crucial services of justice and defense systems should be subject to market forces. The thugs we encountered that day in Philly could never behave so poorly in a world where the people who paid their bills could begin purchasing rights-protection services from other less abusive providers. Even with moral outrage removed from the mind of the consumer and only economic effects taken into account, firms that recklessly aggressed against innocent people would have to charge more due to their increased liability and legal exposure, and would thus continually lose market share until they ceased to exist.

Without coercive monopolistic control of this market sector, police officers may even actively seek to record their own behavior for public record, both to assure their own firm of their continued reliability and professionalism as well as to disprove any false accusations of illegitimate behavior from competitors.

We weren’t done with the monopolists that day just yet, however.

Later that night, when our reflections on the excitement of the day had nearly petered out, we went to the closing social to have a few drinks and bring the event to a conclusion. A group wanted to have a smoke, so some of us followed them outside to keep them company, spotting a few grazing cops on our way out. In front of the restaurant was a handicapped parking space occupied by, you guessed it, a squad car. Seeking some small token of justice from his assault at the hands of the blue shirt gang that morning, Mike took the initiative and told the proprietors of the restaurant that there was someone parked in the handicapped spot who did not have the appropriate credentials. They came and checked it out, then disappeared inside to presumably alert the kindly officers that they needed to follow the laws they were supposed to be enforcing.

The lawbreakers came outside and meandered up to us to inquire as to why we couldn’t have just asked them personally to move it. Mike calmly retorted that he was being righteous and following the law, to which the cop replied that he was actually “being retarded.” As he walked away, we asked him if he was handicapped or above the law. He grumbled, possibly affirming that he was both.

Police abuse of handicapped spot in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Police abuse of handicapped spot in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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