Let us rationally try to trace to the source the actual reason for the too frequent use of excessive force by cops. At root, if we think about it, it's because of too damned many pennyante, pissant laws that congress critters, mendacious state legislators and others have put on their books. Let's fix ideas by examining the words below of Nick Gillespie, from a piece on The Daily Beast. This is to do with the cops coming down on Eric Garner:
"Clearly, something has gone horribly wrong when a man lies dead after being confronted for selling cigarettes to willing buyers."
Noting that it is totally irrelevant what Garner was charging for each "loosie" - whether 50 cents each or a buck. Doesn't matter! He had willing buyers, willing to pay what he was asking! And to Gillespies' further point, he didn't deserve to even have a police record for previous infractions because the law itself was an ass. The creation of dubious laws by lawmakers grafting for extra bucks (mucho extra bucks) who actually (in NY) socked on a $5.85 tax per pack of cigs was an outrage. This made them so expensive as to drive them underground which left those like Eric to take advantage of nonsense while making a few bucks on the side. But the Staten Island cops treated it like murder one coming down on him, or peddling smack to kids.
Look, I am no fan of cigs and if I had my way all would be outlawed for reasons I've given in earlier posts. They are not only a blight on the environment - when people toss butts away- but a continuing source of serious health problems.
However, if a person wants to shorten his or her life by puffing the damned things, let them - so long as it's not in my face or in my house. In this scheme of things, Garner should never had been pulled up for such a rinkydink "crime" and absolutely shouldn't have lost his life from an over the top cop takedown. I mean, good god, Garner wasn't selling coke or crank! It was freakin' LOOSE cigarettes - which are lawful entities, not prohibited under federal "controlled substance" laws.
But as Stephen Carter has noted in a recent Denver Post op-ed ('Law Puts Us All In Same Danger as Eric Garner', Dec. 6):
"The problem is actually broader. It's not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It's every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they're right"
Carter goes on to point out that better training "won't lead to perfection" but "fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence."
On this he is correct, and although I disagree with Libertarians on multiple issues, it is inevitable that there would be concordance on at least one or two. I mean, even a broken clock is right twice each day! It also stands to reason: the more laws on the books, especially those enforced to the letter- no matter how idiotic or trite - the greater the potential for police entry and violence.
This can range from the facial beating of a homeless elderly woman in LA - merely for walking across an expressway ("jaywalking") to the case of a 22 yr. old kid in Louisiana being jumped by cops (and facing 20 years) for possession of 1 oz. of marijuana - which would be legal here in Colorado. To the case of a wheel chair -bound father of two in Tampa, FL, whose home was violated by a SWAT team that dragged him out as his wife and kids became hysterical (this was featured on a 'Penn & Teller' Bullshit Episode dealing with the law). His "crime"? He had 90 days of prescription pain killer meds - prescribed by his physician for unabated pain from a previous road accident - while Florida's absurd law only allowed a 30-day supply. He was therefore convicted as a drug pusher!
Legal scholar Douglas Husak, in, 'Overcriminalization: The Limits of Criminal Law', observes that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes - fewer than half of which are found in the Federal Criminal Code. All the rest are scattered through other statutes Thus, even a citizen who wants to faithfully abide by the law - hence be a "lawful citizen" - is up against it. The reason? Because of this legal mish mash - or 'muck', take your pick of parlance - he has no way to ascertain what the actual laws are.
As Carter emphasizes, this "is a violation of the principle that the state cannot punish without due notice."
Yet the record shows the state does do this and uses the rubric that "ignorance of the law is no excuse". But this is nutso baloney. Obviously, if one doesn't know the law he cannot be guilty of intentionally violating it. If there is no intention, there is no crime! If I travel to Barbados, and am unaware of that nation's law that prohibits the wearing of camo pants - I cannot be held to account or brought up on charges if I show up in them. One has to be given a warning first, say upon one's arrival at Grantley Adams Airport.
This is basic common sense, but of course, as most Libertarians and anarchists will point out, in many cases the law pivots on precious little common sense - as in the case of going after those selling loosies like Garner was.
Husak also notes that in addition to the above cited federal legal morass, an astonishing 300,000 or more federal regulations which may be enforceable through criminal punishment at the discretion of the relevant administrative agency. Incredibly, no one knows the actual number and many citizens only learn when they come up against it - say on passing through customs - when they are caught bringing in some entity or other that is prohibited.
Husak himself estimates that more than 70 percent of American adults are guilty of committing a crime that could lead to imprisonment. On citing this, he then quotes the legal scholar William Stuntz to the effect we "are moving toward a world in which the laws on the books makes everyone a felon."
So maybe it's no surprise that cops look on the public suspiciously, as if everyone is a likely felon.
Added to this is the reckless law-making process cited by Husak which pinpoints a growing tendency of state legislatures- including congress- to toss in a criminal sanction at the end of countless bills to do with countless issues. Quoting Stephen Carter on this phenomenon:
"It is as though making an offense criminal shows how much we care about it."
The trouble is - in the words of Carter again:
"Well, maybe so. But making an offense criminal means the police will go armed to enforce it. "
But as in the case where numerous innocent people are scooped up in police dragnets, and some even imprisoned (or executed) based on false charges or mistaken identity, Husak notes the costs of facing criminal sanction are so high - often because criminal law can't sort out the law abiding from the non-law abiding. After all, if 70 percent of Americans may not even know they are lawbreakers, then how are you going to distinguish them from real lawbreakers.
Think now of how much less money and time would be squandered in prosecutions, incarcerations etc. if half or more of existing laws were removed from the book as useless. These would include picayune fare like having an ounce of MJ on one's person, or possessing a particular type of sex toy - which earns you slammer time in Virginia or Texas.
Think of how much less money (in lawsuits) police departments would have to shell out to widows and other family members for killing relatives viciously taken down "in the line of duty" for going after a ridiculous "crime" like selling loose cigarettes to willing buyers on street corners, or loitering. Think about that and then tell me you don't agree with Husak's take on over criminalization.
Carter himself is generous to the cops - at least the normal ones, not the hyper-aggressive macho men who subscribed to "take down" over "talk down" when confronting an unarmed civilian- when he writes:
"The criticism is of a political system that takes such bizarre delight in creating new crimes for the cops to enforce. It's unlikely the New York legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die violating it".
Indeed, but now one has: Eric Garner. And sadly he is now being cited in some blogs as "having a criminal record" for what? Well, violating the same stupid law several times earlier! But to me, Garner remains blameless because the law itself is absurd.
Maybe now, given the NY cops yen to protect each other to the hilt in grand jury testimony, the state legislature will use Garner's death to act and remove that idiotic loosie law.
They might also consider altering the format of the whole grand jury system, which has been shown to be at the mercy of the DA or prosecutor in any given case - deciding which evidence to present, which witnesses to allow, and which charges to let the grand jury decide. In the Garner case, as Chris Hayes has pointed out, the most likely charge by which to nail Pantaleo - reckless endangerment - was taken off the table. Allowed only the two most extreme charges, the jury punted.
Until states and the feds change the legal landscape to make laws more rational and open, we will be seeing more "Eric Garners" in our future and much more civil unrest. Call it the law of "inaction and reaction".