Why A Curfew In Ferguson Is The Wrong Choice

Governor Jay Nixon has instituted a state of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri, and enacted a curfew between the hours of 12 and 5 am. This is completely unacceptable, and a furthering of the brutality which we have already seen since Mike Brown was killed last week. Recognizing that there has been looting, rioting and vandalism, these crimes are specific to those that have committed them, and if the state wants to punish them, they should not punish others as well. Not only this, but they have no right to constrain persons to specific locations without first getting a conviction.

If Governor Nixon is intent on punishing the looters, the vandals, and the rioters, so be it, but only through the appropriate means of due process of law. Innocence until proof of guilt is still a fundamental right, and that doesn’t change just because Governor Nixon and his subordinates have woefully and abusively mishandled this situation from the beginning. The rights of the people in Ferguson (both those who have committed crimes during the protests and those who have not) don’t cease to be because it’s a certain time of the day, nor because the situation is difficult for the state to handle. In the entire course of human ethics, ends have never been a justification for means, and that hasn’t changed over the course of this week.

Morality is not about producing the “best” result, it’s about doing the right thing. Using and initiating unlawful force isn’t okay in the interest in preventing other unlawful force, and that doesn’t change because the governor of some state signed a slip of paper. Enforcing a curfew under threat of violence, kidnapping, or fine is a claim to own the persons placed under the curfew, which the state has no right to. Just like any person anywhere else, the people in Ferguson have a right to their own persons and property, and have a right before the state to dispose of these things however they wish, at whatever hour they wish to. If Governor Nixon is interested in resolving the mess which his administration has both caused and made worse through their brutality, he’s welcome to do so, but not through further aggression.

Ferguson Shouldn’t Be About Race

A protestor throws a lit can of tear gas back at police in Ferguson, Missouri.

 To call the situation in Ferguson, Missouri over the last few days serious would be a gross understatement. There’s a lot going on, a good deal of misinformation, and an abundance of race related discussion. However, race should not be the issue here. The level of melanin in the skin of the victims or aggressors isn’t really all that relevant when it comes down to it. The real issue at hand is the use of force and the way in which the state aggressively expands its powers and takes away individual rights in the face of a potential crisis.

What do we know so far about this situation? First, we know that Mike Brown is dead at the hands of a member of the Ferguson, MO police department, shot and killed on Saturday. Whether the officer used lethal force justly or not is something we don’t know and won’t know for a while.

Second, we know that some of the residents of the town went out looting and rioting on Sunday, causing unnecessary damage to the property of persons who had nothing to do with the killing. We know that this is wrong.

Third, we know since then that there have been huge militarized police forces in the town. We know that these forces have refused people the right to peaceably assemble on a number of occasions. We know that they have repeatedly used tear gas on non-violent protestors, sometimes on people in their own yards. We know that they have used rubber bullets on other non-violent groups. We know that an LRAD sound cannon was used on a group of non-violent protestors. We know that the airspace has been restricted. Plain and simple, this is a de facto institution of martial law, accompanied by extreme and unnecessary violence to maintain it. We know that the police in the town have arrested members of the press, and fired tear gas on camera crews before dismantling their equipment.

This is not about race, it is about excessive and illegitimate use of force. No person who has not committed acts of aggression should be faced with any force, but this is what routinely happens.  No person should have their right to free speech limited by the state, members of the professional media or otherwise. No person should have tear gas fired at them in their own backyard (or anywhere else for that matter) when they have committed no violent crime.

This problem isn’t about race, it’s about the clear and present fact that the American state is completely out of control. The crisis in Ferguson not a glimpse into a potentially horrific future, it’s a current picture of state brutality and lawlessness. This is what happens when there is a monopoly on the legal use of force. If you give a group the right to use force to get what they want, turns out they’ll make use of it, even in situations in which they ought not to. After all, they’re human too, and just as subject to faults as the rest of mankind. It is clear that the tendencies of the organizers are not always good, nor are they often good. The situation in Ferguson may be deescalated soon, and we should certainly hope it is. Even so, we shouldn’t be quick to forget it. The police brutality in Ferguson is not about race, it’s about yet another abuse of power, and it has to stop. 

Are Libertarians Wrong About Drugs?

Libertarians are wrong about drugs. According to the author of the article linked here, there is ample evidence that drug use not only leads to the harm of the user, but can also to the harm of others. In case you haven’t picked up on it already, this is known as the slippery slope fallacy. Aside from that, it seems that Mr. Walters is gravely concerned that the legalization (or, as libertarians actually want, decriminalization) of drug use will lend more power to the cartels, which is the complete opposite of what has happened with the recent legalizations in Colorado and Washington, as well as medicinal legalizations elsewhere. Mr. Walters goes on to explain the regulated, licensed dispensary models in other places with legalized drug use, and the horrors found therein. Coincidentally, Walters completely fails to engage with the fact that these situations are ones in which the state continues to regulate which substances people consume, and even distributes the substances itself. He is right in asserting that this makes the addicts which come to these clinics wards of the state, kept on a tight leash; However, what Mr. Walters provides as a description of the horrors of drug legalization is about as far from the libertarian argument for the decriminalization of drugs (or the use of any other substance) as possible.

The question is not which drugs should be legal or illegal, which drugs are harmful or helpful, or the political ramifications of putting to rest a war on drugs that leads to the imprisonment of millions of people for non-violent drug related crimes year after year. The question is what the legitimate functions of the state are. The answer to that question is that the only legitimate function of the state is to “use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.” (Ayn Rand, Man’s Rights). For an individual to consume any substance, regardless of the harm it may cause him, and regardless of the statistical correlations between ingesting that substance (be it alcohol, marijuana, meth, etc.) and certain immoral or aggressive behaviors (correlation is not causation) is not an act of aggression against another, and thus the state has no right to punish him for it, nor otherwise interfere with his efforts to do so.

Mr. Walters presents an excellent case for why state controlled legalization of certain substances is a bad idea, but he flops in his attempts to tie that failure with the libertarian moral arguments regarding what the state may and may not legislate. The answer to the drug war (ethically and pragmatically) is decriminalization, not legalization. It’s time for Mr. Walters and other statists to stop beating up on strawmen and engage with the actual content of the libertarian argument.

Debt To Society?

There is no such thing as a debt to society. If there were such a thing as a “debt to society” it wouldn’t be payable by sending time in prison. Society cannot be wronged, it cannot be taken from or be owed, it cannot give or owe anything to anyone,  because society is not a being in and of itself. Society is simply a term used to describe the mutual cooperation of individual men, in interpersonal relationships, not some special being floating independently off in the noumenal realm which we can’t properly define or understand. Crimes are committed by persons against other persons and their property. As such, restitution for crimes should be paid by the criminal to the same person(s) they harm, and their property rightfully restored. To understand what a crime is, please consult the following chart: CrimeCommittedFlowChart

If we actually understood and followed this formula, imagine all the resources we would save instead of dumping them into a useless prison system. Imagine how many people who have committed victimless “crimes” would have their freedom restored, and how many others would have their loved ones brought back to them. There is no need to prosecute “crimes against society” and no need for people who have not harmed another person or their property to ever “pay their debt to society”. Stop prosecuting those who have not committed crimes against another person, and you will have a more free, happy, and just system. For those who have actually committed a crime against a person or their property, they should repay the loss to those who they wronged, and they cannot do that by being locked in a cage, or having the additional weight of a “debt to society” added to their load.