Brian: So glad you can join us today to discuss this vital issue, Eric.
Eric: Hey, no problem. I’m glad I could make it.
Brian: OK, I know your background is in cars and motorcycles. How did you become interested in what we’ll call the “Liberty Movement?”
Eric: It follows naturally when you think about it. Cars are, after all, fundamentally about liberty. I say on my website that the freedom to drive is being systematically undermined by authoritarian control freaks dressed in red and blue. That’s how my former conservatism evolved into Libertarianism, this oddball idea that live – and let live – ought to be the basis for human interactions.
Being able to go when and where you like, on your own schedule, driving the kind of vehicle you want that meets your needs and budget. Unfortunately, that’s becoming less and less true these days, you know?
Brian: Yeah, like with every other aspect of our lives these days. Tell me, was there something specific that pushed you to that libertarian position?
Eric: Yes. The approval by the Supreme Court of dragnet-style “sobriety” checkpoints without even the pretense of individualized suspicion, which prior to this case had been a bedrock constitutional protection.
That is, police had to have a demonstrable, specific reason to suspect you’d either committed or were about to commit a crime before they could subject you to a criminal investigative procedure.
The Supreme Court “threw that in the woods,” as I like to say – and by doing so not only upended a basic constitutional protection, they also helped make it routine. Principles matter. This is how we got to the NSA and TSA and probably soon, many more – and much worse – things.
Brian: Exactly. The ratchet effect. Once they can do something, that power is used to do something else, then another. Once the government is granted a power it’ll never give it up.
Brian: So, what changes have you noticed most over the years? How have the police changed?
Well, since the new High Holy Day of Sept. 11 the country has become demonstrably meaner, in my opinion. Police, for example, are now almost indistinguishable from an occupying army – and it is no coincidence that many police are former troops calloused – even brutalized – by their experience overseas. Not all, but many.
And the cult of “officer safety” is out of control. On the one hand, we are encouraged to regard police as “heroes. But in my mind, a hero is a person who places his own life in harm’s way to protect others; who gives others the benefit of the doubt, even at risk to himself.
Yet cops are taught to regard the slightest failure to immediately comply with whatever they demand as a “threat” to their “safety” – and savage, disproportionate violence is often the immediate reaction.
Brian: Sorry to interrupt, but this is a huge problem. I’ve seen examples where police have killed 90 year-olds because they feel threatened by their friggin’ cane or something. And they’re killing harmless dogs every day because they feel threatened by a barking golden retriever. Man, if you’re frightened that easily get another job.
There was one case where two cops were reprimanded by their police chief for using traditional self-defense tactics to disarm some guy with a knife instead of shooting him. Sounds heroic to me, but the chief said it set a bad example to other cops because it threatened “officer safety.”
Eric: Amazing, right? We’ve all seen the depressing spectacle of, for example, Eric Garner in New York City, chokeholded to death. While Garner may have been large, he never physically threatened anyone and his “crime” was extremely petty.
But incidents like that are now all too common. They transcend race and economic class, too. To be blunt, we’re (civilians) are all “indigs” now – as the “troops” overseas refer to the native populace.
Brian: OK, we touched on this, but what are your thoughts on what many perceive as the increasing militarization of police?
Eric: It is not a matter of perception. It is a matter of fact. Police now routinely sport body armor, high-powered semiautomatic pistols and rifles, vs. the revolvers and shotguns of just 20 or so years ago, as well as armored vehicles and “assault” teams, which are increasingly used in over-the-top ways.
I’m talking about no-knock raids in the middle of the night to apprehend suspects who are often accused of non-violent offenses and who could be apprehended without such needless brutality.
But perhaps the most ominous – and obvious – sign of the police becoming something else… is the way they’ve been used to “lock down” entire communities, frog-marching innocent people out of their homes and cars at gunpoint. This sort of thing would have been inconceivably in the America I grew up in – which was the America of the ’70s and ’80s, not that long ago.
Brian: And we won’t even get into how many times SWAT teams have targeted the wrong houses, and how many innocent people have been killed or injured as a result. Do you agree that local law enforcement is becoming increasingly nationalized, especially due to fears of terrorism?
Eric: Again, this is not a matter of opinion but of fact. The Department of Homeland Security and the TSA are two specific examples of the federalization – um, the centralization – of law enforcement. Federal grants are also being used to wheedle local law enforcement into becoming more – I hate to use the word, but it’s apt – Gestapo or East German Stasi-like.
Brian: Yeah, well, as long as the feds are offering heavy weaponry and armored vehicles, strings are attached to them. That’s how it works. Listen, this is probably a dumb question, but can we count on the legal system to rescue us?
Eric: Uh, I think the facts speak for themselves. The Supreme Court habitually “constitutionalizes” acts and laws that are obviously at odds with the Bill of Rights, which was of course added to the Constitution specifically to prevent the kinds of abuses that are now, tragically, an everyday part of our lives.
The obvious example being the now-defunct prohibition against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. If it is “reasonable” to stop people and search people at random, without even attempting to claim that there is reason to suspect them of a crime, then words have no meaning and the Constitution can mean whatever the court says it means.
Which of course is exactly what has happened.
Brian: You know, I think “reasonable” is probably the most dangerous word in the law books. How do you define it, really?
Brian: Yeah, but the courts always seem to give the government the benefit of the doubt, don’t they? But I know of story where Palm Beach County, Fl. cops admitted to planting evidence on innocent people because they weren’t submissive. Who’ll guard the guardians?
Anyway, what role do you think asset forfeiture programs have played in the increased aggressiveness of police? Cops can just take your money now if they suspect you’re a drug dealer or something. They don’t need any proof. And YOU have to prove you’re innocent to get it back. That turns every concept of justice we have on its head, doesn’t it?
Eric: Well, there’s the profit motive – the harmful effects of which cannot be overemphasized. Cops have been given literal legal authority to simple take things – money and cars, for example.
This is not merely a rotten – arguably evil policy upending a moral principle of Western civilization going back at least to Magna Carta that a person shall not be deprived of his property without due process of law – but it turns the element supposedly charged with maintaining civilization into brigands, highway robbers. Literally.
And it’s the worst sort of highway robbery because the victims are legally powerless to protect themselves. If a random person attempts to rob you, for instance, the law still allows you to resist – even if that means simply attempting to escape. But if you attempt to escape an officially sanctioned robbery by a policeman- which is what these seizures are – you face felony charges.
Brian: Where are the Founding Fathers when you need them? Scotty beam me up! Listen, this is starting to come up a lot now – should police be required to record all encounters?
Eric: You know, I’d rather they be required to respect people’s rights! Also, that they be confined to pursuing actual criminals – that is, people who cause actual harm to other people or their property.
In a free society, the people’s choices – including their vices – ought not to be a matter for law enforcement, provided their choices and vices do not entail harm caused to other people or their property.
That said, what’s good for the goose is definitely good for the gander. But the most important thing is that citizens not in any way be molested or threatened for recording police.
Brian: Totally agree. Ok, I’m just going to take a second to grab some water.