On March 13, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued a ruling that may provide a benefit for a small but not insignificant number of the people arrested for marijuana in the state. Brandi Jessica Russell had her 2011 conviction for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana overturned, and this precedent could be applied to other specific cases where the defendants had appeals in process when Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed in November 2012.
The victory will be small, since most people charged with drug possession plead out instead. But it’s progress. And in spite of some handwringing about the legal precedent set by retroactively applying a law by such dissenters as The Denver Posteditorial board, this is a good thing. As Tom Angell, the founder of the Marijuana Majority, told me by email, “The voters of Colorado … declared the war on marijuana a failure on Election Day 2012. It’s very good news that their sensible action at the ballot box will not only prevent more people from being arrested under senseless prohibition laws but will provide help to those who have been caught in the grips of those laws in years past.”
The rest over here
Last week, I was so ready to write a thoughtful, invariably inside libertarian baseball response to Jeffrey Tucker’s piece in the The Freeman. Or I was going to write about horrible police brutality for the various outlets who enjoy that sort of thing. But then my Montana-dwelling aunt called, and we discussed the imminent spring, and the greatness of the Coen Brothers — with me evangelizing about Ralph Stanley, and both of us agreeing that the Greenwich Village-style of folk was not the platonic ideal, being a little too earnest English balladish, and not high and lonesome enough.
And then of course politics faded from my soul, as it does. I subscribe to the Tucker and the Radley Balko school of politics (and, really, most of the Reason writers agree) which says that it is a vile thing, and the victory of libertarianism would mean an ability to ignore politics without feeling as if you were betraying your imprisoned and oppressed fellow man. I just wish I knew how to channel a career into dissecting how Ralph Stanley sounds, as opposed to how endlessly sick the prison state makes me.
I had a lovely birthday on the 8th. I had lovely people come to visit me and gather around. But before I went to my own party, my mom and I went to a church down in Pittsburgh that was doing their monthly shapenote singing sing.
Shapenote singing was a 19th century method of teaching folks who couldn’t read music how to do four-part harmony. There are some great modern and older recordings of it on the internet — One of my favorites, from the famous Harry Smith anthology of folk music, is below:
At its best, shapenote singing has am unpolished eerie quality that undermines and delightfully clashes with its stodgier sort of choral aspects. Instead of just beauty, it has roughness and resonance. Like the voice of Ralph Stanley (who grew up in a Primitive Baptist Church, which bar instruments) sometimes does, the strongest shapenote singers have this quality that can only remind me of bagpipes. It just has this huuuugh gut thing.
Mom, who used to play the saxophone and plays piano and guitar, knew enough music to be baffled. I didn’t know enough to know where to begin or how to follow, plus read, plus hear other people, plus hear myself.
In our post-O Brother Where Art Thou?, post-Mumford and Sons world, I was not surprised that the demographics of the singers were middle age nearing old age and younger, scruffier types. I was not the only singer with a pierced nose, for Christ’s sake.
There was someone who swore, and people who seemed devout Christians. The most powerful, ceiling plaster-endangering singer was a middle aged woman with long brown hair who came from God Only Knows, Alabama. She was all down home encouragement and June Carter sass.
Here’s a more recent kind of shapenote singing — less weird and ancient, more just loud:
Though the traditional text, The Sacred Harp, contains mostly songs about Jesus, and other folk I don’t know well, shapenote singing is so perfectly American and strange, and I think it’s wonderful. It is not mine, but I like to borrow it.
My birthday party had a cacophony of people I love very much talking too loudly in too small a space. It was fun, but the diminishing returns of socializing were lurking at its loudest points.
However, S.T. and J.K., musical friends from Richmond and Baltimore respectively, decided to crash and give me musical celebration. When they play together, they are called the Dirty Mallards. I drank my first moonshine in their presence one summer day in 107 degree Richmond weather. From them I learned that “Tommy” without clarification means Tommy Jarrell, the great North Carolina fiddler.
S.T. and J.K. are more libertarian than not. J.K. is more personally conservative, but he has recently attempted to go off the grid, internet-wise, and I have to assume the National Security Agency is a big reason. When I first met S.T. he seemed to have stepped out of the pages of Tony Horwitz’ Confederates in the Attic, for all that implies about his views. And that’s not all wrong, but it’s not everything about him. He’s a student of history — and some of his conclusions I might disagree on — but he’s incredibly well-read, as well a an instinctual, leave me alone libertarian. They are both good people who provided with with the best birthday present since my cousin T. got Jello Biafra to insult capitalism just for me.
Now, my one association with Jeff Tucker is that he is endlessly optimistic about the non-state. Culture, markets, music, fast food, all of these do and will continue to bring freedom and choice to people. All of this is beautiful and chaotic instead of planned from above.
So when Tucker uses his “brutalist vs. humanitarian” libertarian metaphor in The Freeman essay, he almost pulls it off. The brutalists stripped down architecture to its cold, practical essence. Brutalist libertarians do the same with their liberty. They say, I have my freedom to be as awful as possible, you have yours, we need not encourage social goodness and kindness and need not discourage racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. within libertarianism. If it ain’t the state, who cares! Is that really what he thinks will happen in Libertopia? Is that what he thinks will happen without an implied litmus test? Does he think that defending pure liberty is implicitly saying we desire to live in small, mean tribal societies? If Tucker truly believes most, or even a lot of people would pick that, he is not the optimist I thought he was.
Though Tucker does not say as much, and his version of this question is better than any of the ones I have seen recently, the artificially of the two camps still gives me a moment’s pause. Are libertarian J.K. and S.T. and their politically incorrect jokes humanitarian or brutalist? How about my conservative-leaning libertarian father? My an-cap atheist friend who professes to hate feminism, who I recently saw defend the Duke porn star from another Facebook commenter who was calling her trash? My Christian an-cap friend with whom I disagree about gender roles and religion, and who has argued with me about that long into the morning?
Even in Tucker’s Libertopia, I would not surround myself only with the angels of tolerance who are always saying just the right things. So, I certainly don’t want to discount flawed creatures before we get to that free land. We live now in a world in which minorities of ALL stripes are put upon by the state: Religious weirdos, the peaceful, bunker-dwelling racists, the cultists, or for fuck’s sake, just the people who maybe don’t want to use college liberal terms to filter the world. I want them all in my tent as well. I want them if only because more people than any libertarian would wish think they are right-wingers — inherently suspicious, likely bad, for wanting less or no government at all.
Libertarianism and friendships both have a sort of Miller Test. Or, rather you “know it when you see it” — know the good people you want in your life, or in your fight for freedom. I can’t tell you who they are for you, and you can’t tell me either.
I think I know good people who are are not PC and who are also a net gain for liberty in the world. This is not to say that we can’t say, as individual libertarians, or as groups, say we prefer tolerance of gay people to not tolerance. This is only to say that the divisions between libertarians, like anywhere else, are rarely as purely simple as paleo vs. cosmo, conservative vs. liberal, or humanitarian vs. brutalist. Tucker is, again, incredibly deft and fair in his piece. He doesn’t seem to be trying to kick out anyone at all. But the two camps idea still didn’t seem real enough to justify it as an exercise. There is a danger in making people, even just libertarians, seem that A) or B).
I wanted to write a political response to Tucker’s piece. I was distracted by the pleasures of voluntary culture, and life, and music instead. Hopefully that’s still the point.
On Friday, the district attorney’s office in Humboldt County, Nevada, agreed to return the $50,000 that had been seized from Tan Nguyen during a traffic stop on September 23, 2013. Nguyen had never been charged with a crime, much less convicted of anything—Humboldt County sheriff’s deputy Lee Dove pulled him over for allegedly going three miles over the speed limit, then searched his car without permission (though the cops claim consent was given) and found what Nguyen said was gambling winnings. The 37-year-old California resident’s luck clearly ran out when he was stopped by Dove, however, and according to his lawsuit, Nguyen was given a choice—give up his money or try to get home without his vehicle.
This wasn’t an isolated incident or a mistake on behalf of the cops. In a photo that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department put on Facebook (and has since deleted), Dove posed proudly with a police dog and the $50,000 he had seized. The officer, who is also accused of taking $13,800 and a handgun from another driver in a similarly flimsy traffic-stop scenario, is presumably feeling less puffed-up now. On Friday, the local district attorney’s office promised that that driver, Nguyen, and another person who had $2,400 taken, would get their cash back, and that forfeiture policy would be reevaluated.
Is it good that the DA is checking on these stories? Sure. Are these Nevada horror stories particularly surprising? Not if you know the bizarre state of asset-forfeiture laws.
The rest here
Knowing what 9/11 did to America, it would be easy to assume that an overeager desire to prevent another such tragedy is why our cops look and act more and more like the military these days.
Yet the drug war — first “declared” by Richard Nixon, then militarized by Ronald Reagan — and various laws that came out of the tough on drugs and crime panics of the ‘80s is why every small town seems to have a SWAT team today. Officer Friendly has been taken over by RoboCop.
Though the push-back against the drug war has begun at long last, thanks to successful legislation efforts in Colorado and Washington state, most legislators have yet to stare down the new face of the police themselves.
One rare exception is Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). On March 10, he co-authored a USA Today editorial in which he announced his plan to introduce legislation which would hinder the Pentagon’s 1033 program that allows police departments to acquire surplus military equipment.
But how much success will legislation have when it aims to restrict willing recipients from receiving tech that might just be destroyed? Not as much as it should.
Since 9/11, cops have been given more powers and privileges for fighting terrorism. The New York Police Department (NYPD) now performs a great deal of CIA-ish surveillance in the name of preventing another attack. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg even described the NYPD as his “private army.”
The rest here
Last Tuesday, during a hearing on legislation that would permit the use of recreational marijuana in Maryland, Annapolis police chief Michael Pristoop testified against the bill, in the process claiming that 37 people had overdosed on marijuana the day that pot became legal in Colorado. Pristoop was apparently getting his information from the Daily Currant, a notoriously shitty, unfunny “satire” website that put up a joke piece that “reported” that those people had died back in January.
State senator Jamie Raskin, the Democrat who sponsored the bill, immediately corrected Pristoop and told him that the Daily Currant is a comedy site. Pristoop said he would check on the error, but he was “holding on to information I was provided.” The next day Pristoop acknowledged he was wrong but said the general objection to legalization still stands. In other words, his opinion was based on lies, but he wasn’t changing it.
Now, Pristoop’s job requires that he enforce the drug laws, which in theory means that he should be more educated than the general public about what individual drugs can and can’t do. What’s disturbing is that he believed such a baseless story on faith—believed it enough to bring it up in a fancy hearing!—even though YOU CAN’T OVERDOSE ON MARIJUANA.
The rest of the Bad Cop Blotter over here
On Valentine’s Day, two police officers in Euharlee, Georgia, showed up at the home of 17-year-old Christopher Roupe to serve a probation-violation warrant on his father. According to a lawyer representing Roupe’s family, immediately after the teenager opened the door, an unnamed female officer shot him fatally in the chest. The officer, who’s now on paid administrative leave, told the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is now handling the investigation, that Roupe pointed a gun at her. But it’s not at all clear that’s what happened. Neighbor Richard Yates, who was interviewed by local-news station WSBTV, thought that Roupe was actually holding a BB gun and “playing a game” with another kid. (Yates also said he saw the female officer crying after the incident.) Tia Howard, another neighbor, told WSBTV that “they said” the boy had a Wii controller when he was shot.
When I called him to ask about the incident, Euharlee police chief Terry J. Harget told me he had no comment or official statement except what had been given to TV stations last week. Harget added that he hoped the truth would come out and that the considered the event a tragedy, which it certainly is.
It’s not an isolated tragedy, though. Police mistake various harmless items—Wii remotes, combs,wallets, pagers—for guns all the time. Frequently, you’ll hear that a suspect was “reaching for his waistband,” a common excuse/cliché in police shootings that often makes the officers more justified in letting one fly than they were. And it’s not just confrontations with suspected criminals that end in gunfire—sometimes the police simply spot a teenager with a toy firearm, or a manholding a hose nozzle, or a homeless man with a stick, and open fire.
The rest of the Bad Cop Blotter here
Below is a guest post by Cory Massimino, a blogger for Students for Liberty. Prison abolitionism is an intriguing idea, one that interests me but I have yet to explore in depth. Unafraid, Massimino goes there and argues that prisons — even for the violent individuals who may “deserve it” — have no place in the ideal libertarian society.
Let us know how you feel in the comments.
The prison system as we know it is commonly regarded as disgusting, brutal, unethical, and the antithesis to anything and everything libertarians stand for. America’s prisons are funded with money expropriated from tax payers, awarded to politically connected prison contractors, to cage human beings largely charged with only harming themselves. Every step of the way, the modern prison system is structured in such a way that benefits politicians, police unions, and prison contractors, at the expense of tax payers, minorities, harmless drug users, and others guilty of the state-created fairy tale known as “victimless crimes.”
What would an ideal prison system look like? Libertarians and others with a yearning for justice suspect it would be a much smaller institution, in place only to put away those in society that are truly guilty of wrong doing, such as murders, thieves, and rapists. They don’t want it to be abused by politicians, unions, and crony capitalists. They want it to be a truly blind system, that doesn’t disproportionately put away minorities and provides true justice. While I share these admirable goals, I believe the prison system should not only be shrunken, but abolished all together on both ethical and pragmatic grounds.
Libertarians are dedicated to the idea of non-aggression. We believe the initiation of force is wrong, and the only time aggression is justified is in self-defense. While this is the core of libertarian ethics, it is not the whole story.
Suppose I just don’t like your face and decide to step on your toe. I have aggressed against you and violated your rights. Since you are now justified in retaliating, would it be ethically allowed for you to shoot me? You are allowed to retaliate, but that doesn’t mean any and all actions you take are justified. While you would not exactly be initiating force against me, your act of retaliation (shooting me) is not proportional to my use of force (stepping on your toe), and is, therefore, not ethically allowed. While we must refrain from initiating force, we must also refrain from using a disproportionate amount of retaliatory force. If you shot me for stepping on your toe, you would be acting disproportionately, and that counts as aggression.
It follows then, that libertarians are dedicated to a strict use of the term “self-defense.” We can act aggressive insofar as that aggression is needed to defend ourselves or make ourselves whole. For example, if you stole my cell phone, I can capture you and force you to give my cell phone back. If you had lost or destroyed my cell phone before I captured you, you would be ethically required to make me whole to the best of your ability; to pay restitution. Depending on certain cultural and legal norms, you would have to buy me a new cell phone, or give me the monetary equivalent of my cell phone, or any other similar actions.
This has certain implications for the use of punishment in society. In fact, it means coercion for the sake of punishment is morally unjustified, since punishing someone for the sake of punishment goes beyond acting out of mere self-defense. While we may have inclinations to act out of revenge or payback, we can’t justify coercion in the name of solely inflicting suffering because that would be a disproportionate use of force. The only justification for the continuous restraining of people, like a prison does, would be in the case of people who just won’t stop committing crimes; repeat offenders. A society based on restitution and making the victim whole, rather than punishment is the realization of non-aggression and proportionality.
What do we make of the pragmatic objections to a restitution-based, prison-free justice system? The most common objection is what do we do with criminals? We must acknowledge that in a free society, the amount of “criminals” would be dramatically less than it is now. The prison system cages millions of non-violent drug offenders that would be free to do what they wish to their own body in a free society.
Okay, but what about the current prisoners who did commit a real crime, such as murder, rape or theft? What do we do with them? No doubt, people who commit these crimes, under most circumstances, are despicable, wretched individuals. But we must acknowledge that many crimes are done in the heat of the moment to people the perpetrator personally knows. Committing a single crime is not, in itself, a sign that you will commit another one or that you are an ongoing threat. Simple restitution seems appropriate in the cases where people are not expected to be repeat offenders.
Alright, what, then, do we do with true criminals — the murderers, the rapists, the thieves, that are repeat offenders? I strongly suspect that private companies, instead of spending money to build large buildings to house this small number of repeat offenders, would find it profitable to use a system similar to that of house arrest. It would be more efficient to use technology and guards on call to restrain people to their homes than to transport them all to a single, large location.
Furthermore, restitution would act as a deterrent for committing criminal acts and some kind of insurance scheme described by economist Robert Murphy in Chaos Theory, which would be used to determine and know people’s criminal history, could create incentives to remain peaceful through charging higher or lower premiums.
Libertarians ought not only object to the modern, crony infested prison system that commits heinous crimes on a daily basis, but also support the abolition of prisons all together. Taken to its logical conclusions, the non-aggression principle and the principle of proportionality require the end to all prisons and pragmatic considerations only reinforce our case against them. Prisons have no place in a free society.
Who will build the prisons in Libertopia? No one.
Cory Massimino studies economics at Seminole State University and blogs for Students For Liberty. He spends his time ranting about the government and educating people on basic economics. Follow him on Twitter
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