In the winter of 2010, I became heavily involved in grassroots protesting. Looking back, it’s something I deeply regret — not because I regret standing up against policies that I disagreed with, but because I fell in with bad crowds; people who have been in and out of court for years and who I no longer have any contact with (fortunately). I think many libertarians go through an anarcho phase in their teens, and I was no exception. As a man in my mid-twenties now, I look back at my grassroots activist days with general shame — again, not because of the principles I held, but because of who I had links with. If I could go back in time, I’d perform a single act: smacking my seventeen year old self in the back of the head and putting him straight (not just on the activist issue, but a heap of other things too). Though I never engaged in smashing up buildings or attacking police officers myself, I witnessed it too many times, so many that I cannot count them; enough times to feel a deep sense of remorse and a share of the blame, regardless of my technically legal innocence — I should have made a stand against my activist cohorts, but I never did. I just scurried off, believing it was better to keep out of it (I’m glad to say that most of the violent perpetrators were almost always arrested from what I remember).
As a result, I found my attitudes towards the police change drastically as I grew up a bit. I went from seeing them as an ‘enemy’ (whatever the hell my younger self thought that meant) to seeing them as human beings, which ought to be the default position of everybody. Then, as I recalled the horrid things I’d witnessed police endure at protests, from having horse shit thrown at them to being glassed by masked idiots who should be in prison for violent crimes, I found myself becoming somewhat sympathetic to the police — yes, it’s true that the police are not perfect as an institution, but show me an institution that is perfect. Are there not abusive doctors or care workers? Violent teachers? Corrupt politicians? Of course there are — but they do not represent their industries, they are representatives of themselves. There are also caring doctors, passionate teachers and politicians with ideological backbones — who are also representatives of themselves, not their jobs.
So I began talking to police at protests and asking them how they felt about the issues. I was stupidly surprised to find that many actually agreed with the positions of us activists — the recurring answer I got was, ‘I have kids, of course I care about society and what the government does, I agree with you, but my job is to make sure violence doesn’t break out and that there’s no destruction of property’. I remember the heavy feeling in my stomach each time; a realisation that the people my so-called activist “friends” were demonising as sub-human enemies were with us, not against us. They wanted our protest to succeed, most of the time. They wanted our voices to be heard. And here we were, treating them like enemies.
This isn’t to say I haven’t seen police officers be needlessly violent — I’ve seen that a fair few times too. I was given a bit of a roughing up once (nothing too serious, it ended in giggles and the cop let me go for ‘being a bit of fun’). But those bad experiences with cops have always been in the same scenario, every single time. Anarchists dressed in black storm a street, and riot police come out to play. Arms are snapped, heads are cracked and from time to time, people leave on stretchers — but for every protester I’ve seen hurt, I’ve seen a cop hurt too. I don’t buy the ‘cops are violent’ line any more than I buy the ‘protestors are violent’ line. Some individuals are violent, whether dressed in black balaclavas, a uniform or neither.
But to the point — when we (I’m specifically addressing libertarians here) become anti-police, we lean out of libertarianism and in to anarchism. We need to be clear: libertarians are not anarchists. We can criticise the police force when we need to (the job of a libertarian is to question authority), we can make arguments for rolling back police powers and we can still keep our conservative-leaning small-state values, but we must never, ever sink to the depths of dehumanising others, especially when those others in question are people who lock up people such as rapists, nonces (a British term for child abusers, just in case I have any American readers), murderers and robbers. We as libertarians understand the need for a police force — opinions on the extent and how such an institution should be handled will differ slightly from libertarian to libertarian, but I think we can all agree that none of us are arguing for a Mad Max-style, lawless society. We can then accept that we need cops.
What makes the regressive left so insidious (excluding their fascistic and totalitarian ideas) is their frivilous attitude towards violence — every time they decide to get pissed off, things get burnt, windows are smashed and in the US, sometimes cops are actually shot. We cannot share this rhetoric with these terrorists (that’s what they are — you shoot a cop at a protest, you’re a terrorist), and every so often a libertarian voice will come close to doing just that. We must reject it if we wish to stop ourselves from becoming a bizarre fringe groups of crazies and extremists. Again (I really want to push this point), we can still be critical of police powers. Of course we can, and we bloody well should be. But we are not extremists and we should take measures to distance ourselves from loud but isolated voices in our community that push ill-bred views about other human beings who happen to wear a uniform.
And for those who still cling on to the daft ‘all cops are bullies and fascists’ line of thought, I want you to do something — something I did. Have lunch with a cop. Enjoy the meal and have a chat. Then tell yourself that the person you just connected with isn’t a human being.
Via – Dean Moore