On the afternoon of Saturday, December 20, 2014, a man traveled from Baltimore to Brooklyn, where he shot dead two police officers. My condolences went out to the families of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
Some of the mixed responses I saw to this double homicide sickened me almost as much as the news itself. Many of you reading this were sickened by the news of the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, as was the shooter in Brooklyn, Ismaaiyl Brinsley.
Given police speculation that Brinsley had committed another homicide back in Baltimore, planned for killing police, and that he killed himself after the incident, I concluded the shooter was crazy and disturbed similar to the Columbine shooters.
This murderous violence, motivated partly by politics and partly by insanity, only prolonged the stalemated gun control debate. It will also continue the discussion on civil liberties and the militarization of police in America.
Many in the liberty movement not only oppose the State institution of the police, or the State’s monopoly on security (which is reasonable). They actually take it farther and hate the police, as a group and as individuals. I had the misfortune of arguing with a handful of people who were actually glad these officers were ambushed and murdered.
If you’re one of these people who celebrated their deaths, and who celebrates the deaths of police officers, I’m ashamed of you.
This is horrible. Furthermore, the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner expressed outraged by these killings, and their outrage was more than justifiable. After all, the families didn’t lose their sons violently so that their memory could be used to justify more violence and death. It’s one hell of a slippery slope.
By no means should libertarians, who value the right to life and individual self-determination more than any other ideological group, celebrate the murder of any human beings. That’s exactly what this ambush was. It wasn’t a rebel military operation, nor was it any kind of revolutionary action, despite being partly motivated by politics. The shooter was mentally unbalanced.
I remind you all that libertarians view people first and foremost as individuals. This means one mentally unbalanced individual was angry that specific uniformed individuals killed another individual in Staten Island, New York. He was further angered that yet another uniformed individual killed another individual in Ferguson, Missouri. Therefore, he as an individual chose to murder yet other individuals in the Bronx who wore uniforms, but had nothing to do with the other slayings. At all.
It was as if these killings were supposed to “even the score” between civilians and police. In the end, all it did was raise the overall body count, leaving police and civilians equally appalled.
Mint Press News claimed in May 2016 that 8,882 U.S. civilians have been killed by police since 9/11. We have no way of knowing at this time which “civilians” were unarmed and oppressed, and which were actually violent creeps caught in the act, who happened to be legally innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Libertarian evangelist Eric July claims that approximately 80% of police shootings in 2015 involved the suspect actively committing an act of violence. Whether all or most of those violent acts merited deadly force is unknown, but both statistic are staggering.
However, violence in America is NOT one-sided.
2016 saw 84 police officers die from assault, vehicular assault, gunshot wounds, and other hostile actions (Officer Down Memorial Page counts the death toll for 2016 at 113 including non-hostile deaths). The National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund reports 51,548 attacks against law enforcement, over 14,000 of which resulted in injury.
Over a thousand American police officers have been killed by hostile actions since the day after 9/11—the toll rises if we count the terrorist attacks and slow death from 9/11-related illness. Worse yet, over 15,600 homicides took place in America in 2015 alone.
I don’t deny America has a problem with militarized police. I also acknowledge the issues raised by the gun control debate—I think we need psycho control, not gun control, but I haven’t ignored the opposition’s arguments.
I also take heat on a regular basis from within the libertarian movement because I don’t jump on the Let’s-Hate-Cops bandwagon. I was raised by two police officers (both of whom respect civil rights, have opposed institutional corruption within their police department, and voted for Ron Paul in 2012 and Gary Johnson in 2016). I still see cops—civilians as well—as individuals before I see them as members of a group. I also see that 90% of all homicides committed in America were not committed by police.
This points out a sickening new angle to the problem of violence in America: Poorly trained/indoctrinated cops kill civilians, other civilians kill cops, and while Americans are ranting and debating this issue, civilian criminals kill 15,600 other civilians without America batting an eye.
Folks, going to war against the police will not help save civilians, nor will it secure our civil liberties. This will only raise the body count and justify the paranoia of trigger-happy police officers while the State cracks down on freedom.
Rather than adopt the insane crusade of encouraging Christopher Dorner-style campaigns against the police, we in the liberty movement need to be shining examples of humility, respect for the sanctity of life, and respectful towards the fallen and their mourning families.
We have a lot of work to do in reforming policing in America. Better yet, we have the doubly difficult task of not only suggesting reforms, but also innovative ways to minimize the State’s monopoly on security and transfer part of that burden to citizen volunteers and private industry. However, to change people’s thinking and get them to think the way we do, we have to display strong character.
The opposition will only take time to listen to us if they respect us, and most people’s respect is earned, not given. This means that we command respect not only through being fluent in our talking points and arguments, but we earn respect by showing nothing but respect for those who disagree with us.
Being kind and respectful begins with the way we approach the dead. I’m very sorry that the two NYPD officers were murdered, as I’m sorry that over a hundred more police officers have been murdered since.
As a human being with compassion, my heart is heavy to know that children are going to grow up without fathers. The same goes for the children of people killed by police. The same also goes for the children of the 15,000+ people who were killed by fellow civilians in 2015.
In the meantime, let’s not advocate violence against the police, or against the state, or against anyone. We need to formulate liberty-based solutions for public safety. Violence as self-defense is acceptable, but ex-post facto retaliation borders on violating the non-aggression principle. Furthermore, a war against the government is something to be avoided. I’d rather bring libertarian change through fifty years of activism and reform rather than 50 days of civil war.
Everyone will lose that war.
# # #
Sheriff SWAT photo by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Ferguson Hug photo courtesy of CBS News and used in accordance with Fair Use laws. An erlier version of this editorial was published by Zach Foster.