Posts Tagged ‘police’


Race politics and police powers

July 27, 2009

The Gates arrest in Cambridge, Mass. last week re-introduced America to the ongoing problem of race and identity politics. Henry Louis Gates, a prominent black professor at Harvard, was arrested for disorderly conduct outside his home when a Cambridge police officer was dispatched to the house to investigate a possible break-in. Officer James Crowley determined that the home indeed belonged to Gates, but arrested Gates after he became loud and violent and refused to cooperate with a request to produce his identification.The incident report has been published on The Smoking Gun. Read it and draw your own conclusions.

President Obama’s reaction was to say that the Cambridge Police “acted stupidly” and used the arrest as an excuse to launch into a tirade about racism in America. There was no discussion of whether the officer acted within his Constitutional and legal boundaries, which is the question that everyone should be asking. Rather, Obama harped on how black and Latino men are only arrested because of the color of their skin.

Libertarians should be asking themselves what it means to have a president who claims to be “post-partisan” and “post-racial” but then argues every chance he gets that minorities should not be subject to the same rules that apply to everyone else. While this case plays into legitimate questions of the role police play in protecting Americans’ rights to life, liberty and property, bringing race into the debate mucks everything up and serves as a distraction from the real questions about police powers.

The fundamental issue here is the overwhelming politicization of the police functions of the state. When governments control police, politicians like Obama get to dictate how those police conduct their daily business, rather than the people whose rights the police are hired to protect in the first place.  How are race politics interfering with your rights to protection?

Obama and Gates should stop playing the race card, and should instead ask  how public (i.e. “government”) ownership and administration of protective services directly interferes with the ability of individuals to hold police accountable. Situations like this could be avoided in the future. That will require an introduction of free-market, non-state  solutions to Gates’ problem.

Murray Rothbard produced a chapter on free-market solutions to the problems of police powers and protective services in For a New Liberty. Check it out.