Over the past three years since Michael Brown was shot by an officer in the line of duty leading to the formation of the organization “Black Lives Matter” and the hashtag #BLM, a constant refrain has been “So he should have been killed, JUST for doing THAT?”
What it is that was done does not seem to matter- the rhetoric is always the same. Did Michael Brown deserve to be killed for robbing a convenience store?
Did Alton Sterling deserve to be killed for selling bootleg CDs?
Did Eric Garner deserve to be killed for selling “loosie” cigarettes?
Did Freddie Grey deserve to be killed for possessing a switchblade?
Did Tamir Rice deserve to be killed for brandishing a toy gun?
The actual specifics of the case are after a sense, the details that matter are a police stop whether on foot or in a vehicle that is escalated by a threat, real or perceived, to the officer’s life or the lives of by standers, prompting the officers to discharge weapons and leaving the suspect dead.
I won’t discuss the specifics about any of the cases. Whether this or that individual law enforcement officer was right or wrong to discharge their weapon given the particulars of the circumstance again, does not matter in the grand scheme.
Of course each case should be treated individually, and the full effects of the law applied to the officers who are found to have committed misconduct, whether murder or manslaughter or simply negligent misconduct through the same process of innocent until proven guilty and punished as appropriate to the crimes which they are found to have committed.
Of course there are changes to Police force engagement rules that we can and should have discussions about.
But we need to also be very clear about the simple fact of what a law means.
The maximum penalty for breaking any law is death.
Any time we initiate a police to citizen interaction, death is a potential result. This potential exists regardless of what the law is, what the legal system imposed penalties are, what the police officer’s standing procedures and training tell them to do, how well we’ve trained the citizenry to respond to police interaction, we introduce a rick that the suspect will be killed.
So, if you are wondering what the potential penalties for a particular crime are- you might simply recall that no matter what google or a lawyer may tell you, death is a possibility.
The penalty for tax evasion? Death.
The penalty for any of the ridiculous statutes listed here? Death.
The penalty for a tail light violation? Death.
The penalty for dancing in the street? Death.
The stories could go on and on. On the scale of infinity, eventually it is inevitable than any law for which a person may be pulled over, or a warrant issued for arrest will result in a citizen (potentially innocent) being slain.
In light of the myriad of potential situations which can results in death after a police/citizen interaction goes wrong, what can we do to protect innocent lives?
One solution which is given far too little consideration during the discussion is to repeal the laws which are unnecessary, onerous, and potentially illegitimate laws.
We could reduce the deaths that occur for people who are selling loosey cigarettes by removing the law which prohibits selling loosey cigarettes.
We could reduce the deaths that occur at speeding stops and tail light stops by removing the power of police to pull cars over for such offenses.
We could reduce the deaths for the possession of switch blades (or fire arms) by removing laws which make possession of these items illegal.
We could reduce the deaths from tax evasion by ending taxation, which is theft.
Obviously, laws which prohibit brandishing of weapons, assault, attempted murder, and other such crimes with clear victims who require protection, but on many, many other laws which exist on the books, either enforced or unenforced about which we are not having any discussions on a national level.
In recent years there’s been a national push for the decriminalization or legalization of only three acts or products- gay marriage (which was settled with the Obergefall case), Marijuana (which exists in a quasi-legal state that is both unsustainable and unwise), and Illegal immigration (which is a political football, with arguments on all sides which are intentionally obtuse in order to drive voters through fear).
How many other laws exist which deserve to be challenged on either the Federal or the state levels?
How many of those could we derive a broad consensus on, since these are issues which people tend to care about less fervently since they are less tied to self identification and culture war?
I’d argue that if diligent conversation was had about the need to reduce laws on a broad, rather than narrow scope we might make some actual progress towards a less authoritarian state.