The shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have laid bare modern statism for the entire world to see. At its core, the state is not an instrument of dialogue. It does not retain power through mere persuasion. In disputes, it does not agree to disagree.
No, the state is a regional monopoly on violence, sustained by its territory’s largest arsenal. Were it not for the threat of violence, government decrees would be simple suggestions. Laws are laws and orders are orders because their promulgators ultimately rest their case on force.
Americans are getting tired of the abuse. Last Monday, Chicago activist Jessica Disu called for the abolition of police. Mychal Denzel Smith issued the same call last year. Classical liberals are sympathetic as well. Why shouldn’t they be? The American police force relies on taxation, that illiberal process whereby the state compels “contributions” to government agencies.
Police lack the confidence of many black communities in particular. More than 50 percent of African Americans say their community police do a “poor” or “fair” job, and upwards of 40 percent feel “more anxious than safe” with local officers around.
Were we in a freed market, African Americans (like all other Americans) would not have to subsidize America’s current police force or depend on it for protection. Without vacating their homes, they would hire whatever private protection agency they wanted, and if ever the US “government” harassed them, they would call upon their agency for the purposes of defense and negotiation.
This outcome may be distant, but meaningful steps can move us in the right direction. We can begin by fighting laws against free association. Protest the government’s war on drugs, intrusion into homeless communities, bans on loose cigarette sales, bans on sex work, fare evasion crackdowns, civil asset forfeiture, e-cigarette regulations, anti-panhandling ordinances, sit-lie ordinances, and the glut of other statutes that police use to accost nonviolent people. As laws disappear, so will opportunities for police brutality.
Second, continue policing the police by recording their public encounters. Neighbors may even take a cue from the Black Panthers by forming independent community associations to patrol policed streets. Although these processes will not strip the government of its monopoly power, hopefully they will discourage individual assaults on civilians.
Third, wean Americans off the police by using alternative methods of dispute resolution when possible. Experiment with private mediation services. Independent community associations may help here as well. Start by urging people involved in domestic discord, adolescent squabbles, and other low-level conflicts to call conciliators rather than 911. Explain that unarmed or lightly armed third parties can de-escalate conflicts that heavily armed police might otherwise escalate.
Remember that decentralized regulation is nothing new in America. For instance, the Republic of New Afrika pursued it in the 1960s and 1970s by moving to form a voluntary community with its own legal system on its own land in the “American” South. Striving for complete autonomy, RNA members intended ultimately to adjudicate every internal conflict—not just adolescent squabbles—without the interference of the American government.
If Americans today are similarly inclined to establish entirely independent systems of governance, supporters of free association should defend their right to try. If it was legitimate for beleaguered subjects to separate from Britain in the 18th century, then it is legitimate for beleaguered subjects to separate from the United States in the 21st century.
Finally, embrace nonaggression and respect as both ends and means. As we know, free societies thrive on an appreciation for human dignity. Everyday civility advances the cause of free societies by discrediting the myth that we need state police to keep the peace.