A few weeks ago, the Libertarian Institute republished a fantastic article by Matt Agorist.
Where he makes a very salient observation:
Even when there are videos of blatant displays of government violence being inflicted on citizens over the enforcement of victimless crimes, most of America reacts with callousness and statements like, “if you don’t break the law, you have nothing to worry about. As the following video illustrates, until this mentality shifts, police in America will continue to use violence against citizens who cause no harm…
The video in question shows several callous and unprovoked attacks including one teen with his hands up, who is told by police to take off his backpack. While fully-complying with that order, he is tasered.
Another teen who refused to show his ID is tackled, hog tied, and received several strong blows to his ribs from an officer’s knee. All while being told “stop resisting” in footage that clearly proves he was not resisting.
Both teens were arrested despite the fact that public vaping is not an arrestable offense. And under Maryland’s “Stop and Identify” statute (Md. Criminal Code §4-206) he was under no obligation whatsoever to produce an ID on demand, even during an investigative detention. Ocean City’s finest didn’t let a few minor details like public vaping and failure to ID not being arrestable offenses get in the way of their right to arrest, hog-tie, and brutalize these young black men.
Matt’s article gave a great overview of the kind of ignorance that needs to change among “law and order” conservatives if we ever hope to make police brutality unacceptable. But there is another group whose ignorance is, I would argue, an even greater problem to be overcome if we want police brutality to stop. That being the attitude of moralizing “Karens” who see themselves as paragons of virtue and morality, who take it upon themselves to demand public vaping laws be passed without thinking through the consequences of their actions. Like the busybodies who advocate public vaping be made an issue that is dealt with by guys with guns who are authorized to enforce the law with violence; who somehow become incredulous when public vaping laws are enforced with violence.
This brings us to a group called: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Who, following this incident issued a public statement of condemnation on Twitter, what they called their “disturbing statement” (a title that was even more correct than they realized). It reads;
We are horrified and outraged by the incident of police violence against Black teenagers in Ocean City, MD, this weekend. There is absolutely no place for violence and abuse in enforcing tobacco laws. The purpose of such laws is to keep people safe and healthy. Our communities cannot be safe and healthy when police choose to enforce these laws with violence, often disproportionately against black and brown people. There must be a full investigation of this incident and accountability for the use of force against these young people.
There is a lot to unpack there.
First, this had absolutely nothing to do with enforcing tobacco laws. This may seem like a petty complaint, but the fact is that this kind of sleight of hand regarding definitions, in the hands of untrustworthy politicians (also known as politicians) and public interest groups who know how to exploit it can be a very big deal. The best example is the way the term “assault weapon” was created by the Violence Policy Center (VPC), who took advantage of the 1986 NFA amendment that banned the sale of Assault Rifles. So, in a 1988 white paper by VPC Director Josh Sugarman called “Assault Weapons In America,” he wrote;
That this new term, Assault Weapon, should be applied to common semi-automatic sporting rifles (like AR-15’s) to exploit the public’s ignorance about guns and gun laws, so they would conflate these common sporting rifles with actual military-style rifles, such as the similar looking, but functionally different M-16.
This small rebranding has, ever since, made the entire gun control debate little more than a fight between those who swallowed his lies and those who still know better.
I say that to say this: Maryland tobacco laws define “smoking” as: To use or carry any lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, or other tobacco product of any kind (Article, 2-106(b)(4) and 5-312, Annotated Code of Maryland)
Why does this matter? Because, despite the fact people should be able to smoke outside, in public, anywhere they damn well please, one can at least make the largely mythical, but commonly used argument that second-hand smoking outdoors may possibly be some kind of health risk to those in the immediate vicinity. No one has ever presented any argument or conducted any study that gives any indication that public, outdoor vaping could possibly have any deleterious effects on anyone in any way that could possibly be used to justify a ban under the pretense of “second-hand vaping.” Speaking about this incident as an enforcement of “tobacco use” laws is slippery double-speak meant to conflate the entire issue and should be called out as such. But I digress…
It’s all well and good for them to demand a full investigation and total accountability for this use of force. But that suggests they really haven’t ever fully thought through what that means.
When police act immorally, in a manner outside the bounds of the law, the police are at fault.
When the police act immorally because they are enforcing the law, the police are at fault, as are the lawmakers, activists, and public interest groups who played a role in that law’s passage.
Government is a one-trick pony. The only tools it has at its disposal are coercion. To expect anything other than coercion is inexplicable.
Perhaps these problems aren’t getting any better because police brutality and trampling of our civil liberties is merely the effect of a greater cause. Like legislators and public advocacy groups who pass laws that can only be enforced with violence, yet become incredulous when the violence they voted for is put into action. This will not stop being a problem as long as those proposing and passing legislation continue to miss the forest for the trees. If the government has a monopoly on the use of violence and this is their only mechanism of enforcement, you should not be surprised when the laws you petitioned for are enforced with violence, why would you expect change because you gave some mild rebuke on social media?
If you want to know just how much respect police have for a private citizen publicly asserting their rights and grievances, you need only watch the video that is at the center of this controversy. And when you see officers of the government flagrantly abusing the power they currently have, how does it make sense to call for a government-lead investigation, special councils and more money for increased training and oversight. You are handing greater control and an even blinder trust to the very people who just proved they cannot be trusted with the very thing you are giving.
In fact, MD government released to the press later that day a statement to justify and condone their officer’s use of violence as entirely appropriate. The solution to an over-extended, over-reaching government cannot possibly be more government.
If legislators do want to make a difference they could consider laws overruling cases such as:
- Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982)
- Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335 (1986)
- Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987)
All of these decisions helped create qualified immunity, a loophole police invariably count on every time people who have been wronged by the police, as the men in this incident were by Maryland Police Officers. You can have all the investigations and special counsel reviews of this behaviors you like and it will not matter when the law not only authorizes them to use violence for something as trivial as public vaping, but guarantees there will be no consequences.
But what officials in Ocean City, as well as all the activists who push to get these kinds of laws passed, appear to miss is that such a scene would not have been possible at all had it not been for the terrible law they put in place. Legislators need to confront the fact that any law on the books has to be enforced with armed agents of the state. As it stands, the state’s purview has grown to encompass stamping out victimless offenses with government sanctioned violence. Like drug use, prostitution, and one of the newest moral panics: vaping. Lawmakers may disagree with those personal choices—some of which may be deleterious to the health of the individual— But perhaps the problem is, we are making this issue a lot more complicated than it possibly needs to be.
If I may suggest a simple standard of conduct for activists and lawmakers, (Bearing in mind that whatever law you are passing will always be carried out by guys with guns) it is not acceptable to submit or pass any legislation—especially when the desired result equates to legislating morality—that sends guys with guns to stop people from engaging in an activity you yourself would not use a gun to stop. Ask yourself, “would I be willing to use a gun to stop someone from vaping outside, in public?”
If your answer to that question is “no” would it not stand to reason that advocating for legislation that sends other people with guns to stop people from vaping in public makes you every bit as culpable for the inevitable violence?
I would humbly submit that those sending the police to do their dirty work as just as culpable as if they were the ones with batons-in-hand.