George Floyd Murder – Hot Takes and Cold Takes – Opting Out

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Most “hot takes” on the George Floyd murder and the subsequent reaction will be taking a predictable side on one particular narrative – whether it’s the straightforward support of the Black Lives Matter protestors, including the rioters, or it’s the right-wing pro-cop side. Where’s the thinking for ourselves?

I have a reflexive opposition to anything that involves James Corden giving impassioned speeches to camera. It was a struggle beyond struggles to get through two minutes of that video in support of the protestors, referencing generations of oppression and why white people need to vocally support their black brothers and sisters.

That’s even though I agree with most of what he was saying. The problem is the framing, that’s platitudinous, and frankly the fact that it’s coming from him. Talk show hosts in general are doorknobs, culturally speaking, precisely embodying the stale corporate press and pre-approved tastes and opinions. It’s difficult to take seriously.

It’s also foolish to ignore the fact that some of what the rioters are doing is unacceptable. Vandalizing property is not costless – the least harm it does is increases everyone’s insurance premiums, at worst it puts innocent people in danger.

On the other side we have the take that can best be described as right-wing, and could have been predicted word-for-word:

“He shouldn’t have resisted arrest. He had a history of criminal activity. You have no idea how hard it is for cops. You should see the black-on-black crime numbers!”

This is the standard dim cop-lover view. There’s no example they could imagine that would lead them to condemn a cop.

Here’s the proper take:

I understand where people are coming from when they argue that this issue of police brutality should not be made about race. Police brutality affects everyone, and the statistics are ambiguous as to who gets the shorter end of the stick when it comes to coppers doing someone in.

However, I think it’s tone deaf and counterproductive to ignore the race issue completely. Partly from a pure opportunist’s point of view, it’s a prime moment to do some real anti-cop evangelizing when public opinion is this low. Even if it’s not quite as simple as Black Lives Matter portrays, there’s good reason to ride this wave.

You can do it whilst being principled too. As Bruce Benson points out in The Enterprise of Law, anti-competitive systems encourage perverse incentives. If a cop’s first responsibility is not to his customer, i.e., his livelihood is not dependent on market competition, his main motivations will be something more sinister. That could be pure power, or it could be racism. Either way, it’s a moral hazard.

The racist cop stereotype has been too enduring to merely be the product of media spin. People of color genuinely feel they are actively targeted or discriminated against. Why not speak to these people? Actually’ing them with stats about black-on-black crime is just being obtuse, and at odds with the goal of turning them to sound libertarian thinking on this topic.

On the other hand, it is worth pointing out that if the system changed so that the races were being brutalized equally badly, it would still be unjust. The fundamental problem with the system is that there exists a class that operates by different legal rules than the rest of us. They are legally permitted to do things that we would go to prison for. If anything, Black Lives Matter are understating the severity of the problem.

Under the auspices of protecting public safety, cops persecute, thieve, attack and sometimes kill us. In many cases crimes have been committed, but the response is disproportionate (possibly in the case of George Floyd). In many, crimes have been committed, but they should not be crimes at all (Eric Garner was suspected of selling single untaxed cigarettes, and there is nothing wrong with this). In many cases, there have been no crimes committed at all.

Then when they are caught out being the unambiguous thugs they are, they get a slap on the wrist, so to speak. Suspensions with pay. If they are charged, the sentences are pitiful compared with what a civilian would get for the same crime. 

If you’re a true believer in equality, then you’re in favor of dismantling this system where one class of people have a different, greater set of rights and privileges than the rest: the political class and all it represents.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.

1 COMMENT

  1. Op-eds like this always leave me with asking how authors can make such sweeping and overly generalized statements about one group (police) but then decry sweeping statements against whole other groups. Thousands of police agencies exist under countless federal, state, and local laws. A multitude of populations and local problems. Vastly different. Yet, all police agencies are guilty of brutality? All are guilty of corruption and robbery and murder? Can the author provide actual facts as opposed to speculation on these sweeping condemnations of all these agencies? As a libertarian, you can vehemently opposed to Big Government and tyranny and be intelligent enough to see the nuanced situation of putting humans serving as law enforcement in the terrible positions of dealing with all of society’s trash. Gangbangers, child rapists, crackheads, violent psychopaths…the list goes on and on. I see LEOs as being under MORE scrutiny than any other profession. The reason why they are viewed differently legally by a jury is that they often are facing these untenable situations in defense of society…in defense of OTHERS. I am sure Joe the Cop has no personal desire to fight the naked drooling meth addict robbing the old lady. It is time for Libertarians to evolve their views on modern law enforcement. Expect high standards, insist on small Government (OR be ready to pay for a big one!) and respect their sacrifice. And stop being so juvenile as calling everyone who dissents “boot-lickers”. You can’t say that you appreciate individualism and dissent and then name call everyone who speaks up.

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