Martin Luther King’s holiday seems to be as good a day as any to talk about how we should respond to police barbarism.
It’s no secret that a lot of people with libertarian leanings aren’t happy with the way the United States seems to be turning into a police state. As a reminder of the degree to which our cops have become militarized, check out the Cop or Soldier quiz at Radley Balko’s place. I did pretty good, so see if you can beat me:
Some folks in the blogosphere have been saying that the emerging police state won’t be stopped until the cops start getting hurt. Some have even suggested that it may be time for a violent uprising. I can understand where they’re coming from — it looks pretty bad to me too — but then I know that some people in every generation have been certain that America was about to plunge into tyranny, and they’ve always been wrong. I think it’s safe to assume that with a longer perspective, we’d see that our current time isn’t so bad either.
(Then again, American freedom is going to end eventually. Nothing lasts forever. I sure hope that future generations will not look back on mine and ask, “Why didn’t they shoot them while they still had the chance?”)
Recently, some people on Twitter have been lauding this video, posted under the title “Police Brutality – Handled the Way It Should Be”:
In the video, you can see some idiot run onto the field, and then then a bunch of uniformed security guards or cops tackle him and pin him down. So far, so good. But then the cop/guard on the right apparently starts to jab him with a nightstick. At which point people in the stadium rush the field to attack the cops.
I can’t fault the sentiment. Although violence as a response to violence often isn’t the wisest approach, there’s certainly nothing morally wrong with using violence to stop violence. Resisting arrest is wrong. Defending yourself or others against police brutality is not.
Watch the video carefully. The cop/guard on the right jabs the guy on the ground a few times. The other cop/guard yells at him. Then the mob attacks, and it looks like the yelling cop takes a beating. As for the cop who was jabbing the guy on the ground…he abandoned his buddies to the crowd and got away without a scratch.
This, in a nutshell, is one of the problems with trying to defeat the police state by violence. It never seems to work out the way it’s supposed to. It’s too easy to hurt the innocent, and too hard to make sure only the guilty are punished. And the kinds of people who attack or kill cops are not the kinds of people you want on your side. Back around the Days of Rage, the Weathermen killed a cop, but they didn’t target a particularly bad one, just whoever was standing there when the bomb went off. The Symbionese Liberation Army claimed to be leaders of a black revolution, but they ended up killing a black school superintendent and a mother of four.
Fantasies of vengeance are commonplace and often make for entertaining fiction, but in real life, violent reprisals are rarely instigated by people who value freedom and respect human life. In the movies, we get a mysterious stranger in a Guy Fawkes mask who speaks eloquently of liberty, outwits the authorities, and strikes at the heart of a brutal state by blowing up empty buildings. In real life, we get Timothy McVeigh using a bomb in a truck to kill children.