Posts filed under Prostitution

Law and Orders #8: Memphis cop Bridges McRae “exceeds expectations” by punching Duanna Johnson repeatedly in the face with handcuffs over his knuckles for failing to stand up on command in the booking area at 201 Poplar

(Via Thus Spoke Belinsky 2008-06-20.)

Trigger warning. The following videos of local news stories include graphic footage of extreme physical violence by a male police officer against a woman in his custody.

Cops are here to protect us by arresting a black trans woman on charges of possibly being willing to engage in consensual sex acts that violated nobody’s rights, then throwing her in a booking area as a lead-up to locking her in a cage, then using transphobic and homophobic slurs when ordering her to get up in order to be fingerprinted for having allegedly committed this non-crime, and then, should she refuse to get up in response to that kind of language, and instead go on sitting in her chair, threatening nobody, cops are here to protect the hell of of her by getting up in her face, wrapping a pair of handcuffs around their knuckles and bashing her head in with them over and over again, while sheriff’s deputies stand around and do nothing, and while a fellow cop runs up to hold her down in her chair — stopping eventually to pepper spray her, handcuff her behind her back, and then leave her lying helpless on the floor.

Please note that, according to Memphis Police Officer Bridges McRae, refusing to immediately follow a police officer’s bellowed command over a minor matter of paperwork is a crime which can rightfully be punished by a vicious gang beat-down. And according to the rest of the Gangsters in Blue on the scene, it’s a situation which calls for standing aside, or actively rushing to the aid of, their gang brother — and to hell with the suspect woman being assaulted.

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) — Video obtained by Action News 5 shows a Memphis police officer beating a suspect at 201 Poplar in an apparent case of police brutality.

The video, recorded February 12th, shows Duanna Johnson in the booking area at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center after an arrest for prostitution. The tape clearly shows a Memphis police officer walk over to Johnson — a transsexual — and hit her in the face several times.

Actually he was trying to get me to come over to where he was, and I responded by telling him that wasn’t my name — that my mother didn’t name me a faggot or a he-she, so he got upset and approached me. And that’s when it started, Johnson said.

Johnson said the officer was attempting to call her over to be fingerprinted. She said she chose not respond to the derogatory name the officer called her.

He said, I’m telling you, I’m giving you one more chance to get up. So I’m looking at him, and he started putting his gloves on, and seen him take out a pair of handcuffs, Johnson said.

The officer hit Johnson several times with the handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles. In the video, you can see the flash of the metal. The tape shows another officer holding Johnson’s shoulders as she tries to protect herself.

After taking several blows, Johnson stands up and swings back.

I was afraid. I had had enough. Like I said, I thought the other officers that were witnessing this would at least try to stop him, Johnson said. I mean, he hit me so hard. Like the third time he hit me, it split my skull and I had blood coming out. So I jumped up, Johnson said.

But then she sat back down, and the officer her in the face again. Then he maced her. On the tape, other people in the room are seen turning away and fanning their hands because of the smell.

. . . On the tape, Duanna is eventually handcuffed and left on the floor. A nurse comes in, and goes directly to the officer.

I couldn’t breathe, and they just made me lay there, Johnson said. Nobody checked to see if I was okay. My eyes were burning. My skin was burning. I was scared to death. Even the nurse came in and she just ignored me, and I begged her to help me.

— WMC-TV (2008-06-18): Video shows police beating at 201 Poplar

Officer Bridges McRae, Gangster in Blue

James Swain, Gangster in Blue

After this brutal gang assault committed in full view of a security camera and several witnesses, McRae had the audacity to file a charge of assault against Duanna Johnson. And then to file an internal affairs complaint against the detective in the booking area for standing by and doing nothing, instead of joining in on the beating.

This happened back on February 12th. At the time that it happened, the D.A. dropped all charges against Johnson. The rookie cop who held Johnson back in her chair during the beating, James Swain, lost his job. On the other hand, Bridges McRae, the thug who was actually bashing the poor woman’s head in, was given a paid vacation from street duty (at a $49,000 / year salary) for four months, pending an administrative disciplinary hearing, which he repeatedly delayed using sick leave and other excuses, after which he finally lost his own job. Neither of these brutal and dangerous thugs has yet faced any criminal charges for this videotaped assault.

Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Pigs has provided McRae with a lawyer, who is helping him appeal the decision to fire him from the police force. The lawyer wants you to realize that the mere evidence of your senses is no reason not to give a violent cop the benefit of the doubt:

McRae is the officer seen in the video repeatedly hitting Duanna Johnson in the booking area at 201 Poplar. McRea had arrested her for prostitution, but the charges were later dropped.

In the video, you can see McRae hitting Johnson with what appears to be handcuffs. Memphis Police Association attorney Ted Hansom, representing McRea, said Thursday that handcuffs were not used as a weapon by the officer.

Once it starts, the handcuffs were out to handcuff that person, Hansom said. You don’t have time to say let me put these down and then we will resume this.

Hansom said the video shows a different story when it is slowed down. . . . Hansom said the video is not the whole story, and it will be his job to explain it all.

. . . The video shows McRae hitting Johnson in the face. She was also pepper sprayed. But it also shows Johnson hitting McRae at least once.

Hansom points out that there is no audio on the video so you do not know what is being said.

He also said McRae had reason to believe the 6 Feet 5 inch Johnson was a threat. Hansom said he has studied the video.

I saw some actions on the complaining party. So if they are coupled with statements or prior conduct or dealing with this person and knowing the size of that person might put you in apprehension of what’s going to happen, Hansom said.

— WMC-TV (2008-06-19): McRae’s attorney says video is not the whole story

Along the way this class act demonstrates his sensitive awareness of issues surrounding police brutality in some communities:

The way he is being depicted with just this video tape. It doesn’t tell the story. It’s the Rodney King approach [sic!]. Lets look at a few minutes of video and make our decisions. It’s not that simple, Hansom said.

— WMC-TV (2008-06-19): McRae’s attorney says video is not the whole story

And informs us that merely refusing to refuse an order to stand up, while you are in a secure area, is apparently enough to count as a threat to the safety of a heavily armed cop surrounded by other cops:

Hansom said the video shows a different story when it is slowed down. He said it is clear Duanna Johnson could easily have been considered a threat, because she was in a secure area and was refusing orders from Bridges.

— WMC-TV (2008-06-19): McRae’s attorney says video is not the whole story

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, which runs in the jail in which McRae beat the hell out of Duanna Johnson, is mainly concerned to deny any responsibility (because their flunkies stood by and did nothing but watch in the course of this brutal beating), and to launch a criminal investigation into who finally made this tape, which should have been public knowledge four months ago, available to the newsmedia.

I know, I know. In any big police department there are A Few More Bad Apples, and every now and again there is just going to be Yet Another Isolated Incident. Sometimes life is like that. Terrible things like this just happen. Sometimes there are no red flags, no real warning signs.

McRae was fired after an administrative hearing for beating a transgendered woman he arrested Feb. 12 for prostitution. The video, which didn’t record sound, showed the officer repeatedly hitting Duanna Johnson in the intake area of the Shelby County Jail at 201 Poplar. Johnson said McRae made derogatory remarks. McRae is shown hitting Johnson and then using pepper spray.

McRae’s personnel file showed only three reprimands for minor offenses during his nearly four years on the force. His latest evaluation said he exceeds expectations.

— Memphis Commercial Appeal (2008-06-27): Officer fired over beating had accusers

Here are some of the ways he exceeded expectations.

Who would have ever thought that Bridges McRae might do something like this to a black trans woman in prostitution?

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting tidbit about Memphis police department procedure:

Police Director Larry Godwin said if an officer receives multiple complaints, the department may move the officer to another precinct to see if the complaints continue.

— Memphis Commercial Appeal (2008-06-27): Officer fired over beating had accusers

When Catholic bishops engage in this kind of practice with priests accused of child sexual assault, it’s called a conspiracy and a massive cover-up. When the boss cops do it, it is treated as if it were a perfectly mundane bit of bureaucratic detail, as just so much business as usual.

The comments on the local Memphis newspaper stories are actually more encouraging to me than I expected them to be. I’m heartened to see as many people as I do with the empathy and the courage necessary to speak out about this kind of outrage in public, and to call out the Mephis Police Department as an institution. But there is also the usual sado-fascist howling that you would expect, and the usual efforts to use absolutely any prejudice available against the victim of violence in order to smear her, ridicule her, and exonerate the cops for absolutely anything they might do to her. If you needed any more convincing on this point, take this as evidence that, even if it is on tape, even if it is in a public place in front of a crowd of witnesses, if you fall under one or more demographically suspect categories, there is absolutely nothing a cop could do to you that would be so low, so vile, so obviously over-the-top, or so brutal that cop couldn’t still count on hordes of Law-‘n’-Order creeps to befoul every public forum with victim-smearing and fabricated excuses on his behalf. He can fully expect that no matter what he might do, in full view of other police officers and a camera, still other officers will either stand by and do nothing, or come running to his aid, and that unless the tape reaches the media, he will almost certainly never face any personal consequences whatsoever for doing it. If he had walked up and shot her in the face I wouldn’t expect anything more to happen to him than what has happened to him so far. The Gangsters in Blue get each other’s backs, and it’s likely that nothing would ever have happened to him at all, beyond yet another unfounded complaint being recorded in his closed IA file, except for the fact that somebody bravely defied the law to get this tape out to the newsmedia.

The truth is, when every fucking week brings another story of a Few More Bad Apples causing Yet Another Isolated Incident, and the police themselves almost invariably doing everything in its power to ignore, cover up, excuse, or minimize the violence, even in defiance of the evidence of the senses and no matter how obviously harmless or helpless the victim may be, it beggars belief to keep on claiming that there is no systemic problem here, that cops ought to be given every benefit of the doubt, or blanket condemnations of policing in major American cities are somehow a sign of hastiness or unfair prejudice against good cops. The plain fact is that what we have here is one of two things: either a professionalized system of violent control which tacitly permits and encourages cops to exercise this kind of rampant, repeated, intense, and unrepentant abuse against powerless people—or else a system which has clearly demonstrated that it can do nothing effectual to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.

See also:

Rapists on patrol (#2)

Rapist on patrol: Officer David Alex Park

(Story via smally.)

Last month, in Irvine, California, Officer David Alex Park, stalker and rapist, was acquitted by a jury of eleven men and one woman. He was acquitted, not because he is anything other than a stalker and a rapist—which he as much as admitted in open court, and which was proven well enough anyway by phone records, license plate requests, and DNA evidence. He was acquitted because he is a cop, and the woman that he harassed and sexually extorted danced at a strip club, and so the jury concluded that she made him do it, and besides, if she strips for a living, she must have been asking for it anyway.

You might think that I am exaggerating the defense’s position for polemical effect. No, I’m not. Here’s defense attorney Jim Stokke: She got what she wanted, … She’s an overtly sexual person. And in cross-examination of Lucy, the survivor: You do the dancing to get men to do what you what them to do, … And the same thing happened out there on that highway [in Laguna Beach]. You wanted [Park] to take some sex!

Back in the real world, outside of Jim Stokke’s and Officer David Alex Park’s pornographic power-trip succubus fantasies, what actually happened is that a professional cop, while armed and on patrol, used the extensive arbitrary powers that the law grants to police in order to get personal records on several different women at the strip club, picked out the one he liked the best, followed her, waited for the first excuse to use his legally-backed coercive power against her, used the power of his badge and gun to force her to pull over, used that same power to bring her under his custody and keep her there against her will, threatened her with arrest and jail, and then forced her into sex against her will. He didn’t give a damn about what she wanted because she’s just a woman, and an overtly sexual one at that. And he could force what he wanted on her because he’s a cop—so he has the power to restrain and threaten her—and she’s a stripper—so he had every reason to believe that a jury would give him every possible (and some impossible) benefit of the doubt, while they treated her bodily integrity and her consent as worth less than nothing, and blamed her for anything that happened to her, anyway. As, in fact, they did.

As I said about a case with several male cops in San Antonio back in December:

What as at stake here has a lot to do with the individual crimes of three cops, and it’s good to know that the police department is taking that very seriously. But while excoriating these three cops for their personal wickedness, this kind of approach also marginalizes and dismisses any attempt at a serious discussion of the institutional context that made these crimes possible — the fact that each of these three men worked out of the same office on the same shift, the way that policing is organized, the internal culture of their own office and of the police department as a whole, and the way that the so-called criminal justice system gives cops immense power over, and minimal accountability towards, the people that they are professedly trying to protect. It strains belief to claim that when a rape gang is being run out of one shift at a single police station, there’s not something deeply and systematically wrong with that station. If it weren’t for the routine power of well-armed cops in uniform, it would have been much harder for Victor Gonzales, Anthony Munoz, or Raymond Ramos to force their victims into their custody or to credibly threaten them in order to extort sex. If it weren’t for the regime of State violence that late-night patrol officers exercise, as part and parcel of their legal duties, against women in prostitution, it would have been that much harder for Gonzales and Munoz to imagine that they could use their patrol as an opportunity to stalk young women, or to then try to make their victim complicit in the rape by forcing her to pretend that the rape was in fact consensual sex for money. And if it weren’t for the way in which they can all too often rely on buddies in the precinct or elsewhere in the force to back them up, no matter how egregiously violent they may be, it would have been much harder for any of them to believe that they were entitled to, or could get away with, sexually torturing women while on patrol, while in full uniform, using their coercive power as cops.

A serious effort to respond to these crimes doesn’t just require individual blame or personal accountability — although it certainly does require that. It also requires a demand for fundamental institutional and legal reform. If police serve a valuable social function, then they can serve it without paramilitary forms of organization, without special legal privileges to order peaceful people around and force innocent people into custody, and without government entitlements to use all kinds of violence without any accountability to their victims. What we have now is not civil policing, but rather a bunch of heavily armed, violently macho, institutionally privileged gangsters in blue.

— GT 2007-12-21: Rapists on patrol

In Irvine, the same thing is happening all over again—just another Bad Apple causing Yet Another Isolated Incident. Except that in Irvine, the legal system has not even gone so far as to get to the part about individual blame and personal accountability. Overt misogyny against women who dare ever to be overtly sexual, combined with overt authoritarianism in favor of any controlling macho creep with a badge and a gun and a pocketful of wet dreams, have combined to get this admitted sexual predator completely off the hook, and leave all of his old buddies back at the department free to stalk, harass, extort and rape suspect women, with every expectation of more or less complete impunity for their actions.

Christ, but there are days when I hate being proven right about the things I write about.

Further reading:

Rapists on patrol

I’m in San Antonio, visiting family for the holidays. This is not the sort of story that I had hoped would greet me on the local news.

2 SAPD Officers Face Oppression Charges

SAN ANTONIO — Two San Antonio police officers were charged Thursday with official oppression in connection with an incident involving a woman.

Victor Hugo Gonzalez, 36, a six-year veteran of the force, was also charged with promotion of prostitution and sexual assault.

Police Chief William McManus said that Gonzalez propositioned and sexually assaulted an 18-year-old woman while on patrol at a park near Riverside Golf Course in June.

McManus also said that woman was forced to commit a sex act for a friend of Gonzalez.

Also charged with official oppression was Michael Anthony Munoz, 33, a five-year veteran of the force.

McManus said that Munoz groped the woman and stood watch for Gonzalez.

KSAT San Antonio (2007-12-20): 2 SAPD Officers Face Oppression Charges

Wanted SAPD Officer Surrenders To Police

SAN ANTONIO — A third San Antonio police officer charged with sexually assaulting of a woman turned himself in to authorities early Friday morning.

Raymond Ramos, 28, turned himself in Friday morning on charges of sexual assault, civil rights violations and official oppression in a Nov. 11 incident involving a 28-year-old woman.

Police investigating Ramos’ incident came across information that led to the Thursday arrests of two other officers in a separate incident.

All three officers – now out on bond – worked overnight patrol out of the Southside substation.

— KSAT San Antonio (2007-12-21): Wanted SAPD Officer Surrenders To Police

To their credit, the police department and the D.A. are, for the most part, treating these as serious crimes; that’s better than you can say for some police departments. The cops believed the complainants enough to charge the officers, the arrested cops have been taken off of patrol duty while the indictment is pending (although they have only been transferred to desk jobs; why not just put them on leave entirely?), and the D.A. says that she plans to seek indictments from a grand jury by next month. On the other hand, the boss cops still insist on talking about these rapists in terms of Yet Another Couple of Isolated Incidents — a way of talking about it that takes these particular crimes seriously while also guaranteeing that crimes just like these will keep on happening over and over:

Wednesday’s arrests bring the total of police officers arrested in 2007 to five, four of whom worked out of the Southside Substation on the 700 block of West Mayfield Boulevard.

McManus called Thursday’s allegations disturbing, but he also said that all officers should not fall under the umbrella of a few who might have broken the law.

McManus said an officer at the substation was the one who brought the allegations to his attention after a woman complained to him about an officer assaulting her.

These types of incidents are not only embarrassing, but frustrating, and they do make you angry, McManus said. By no means are we going to tolerate it, by no means are we going to soft step it.

— KSAT San Antonio (2007-12-20): 2 SAPD Officers Face Oppression Charges

What as at stake here has a lot to do with the individual crimes of three cops, and it’s good to know that the police department is taking that very seriously. But while excoriating these three cops for their personal wickedness, this kind of approach also marginalizes and dismisses any attempt at a serious discussion of the institutional context that made these crimes possible — the fact that each of these three men worked out of the same office on the same shift, the way that policing is organized, the internal culture of their own office and of the police department as a whole, and the way that the so-called criminal justice system gives cops immense power over, and minimal accountability towards, the people that they are professedly trying to protect. It strains belief to claim that when a rape gang is being run out of one shift at a single police station, there’s not something deeply and systematically wrong with that station. If it weren’t for the routine power of well-armed cops in uniform, it would have been much harder for Victor Gonzales, Anthony Munoz, or Raymond Ramos to force their victims into their custody or to credibly threaten them in order to extort sex. If it weren’t for the regime of State violence that late-night patrol officers exercise, as part and parcel of their legal duties, against women in prostitution, it would have been that much harder for Gonzales and Munoz to imagine that they could use their patrol as an opportunity to stalk young women, or to then try to make their victim complicit in the rape by forcing her to pretend that the rape was in fact consensual sex for money. And if it weren’t for the way in which they can all too often rely on buddies in the precinct or elsewhere in the force to back them up, no matter how egregiously violent they may be, it would have been much harder for any of them to believe that they were entitled to, or could get away with, sexually torturing women while on patrol, while in full uniform, using their coercive power as cops.

A serious effort to respond to these crimes doesn’t just require individual blame or personal accountability — although it certainly does require that. It also requires a demand for fundamental institutional and legal reform. If police serve a valuable social function, then they can serve it without paramilitary forms of organization, without special legal privileges to order peaceful people around and force innocent people into custody, and without government entitlements to use all kinds of violence without any accountability to their victims. What we have now is not civil policing, but rather a bunch of heavily armed, violently macho, institutionally privileged gangsters in blue.

More Isolated Incidents:

December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

We identify with all women. We define our best interest as that of the poorest, most brutally exploited women. —Redstockings Manifesto (1969)

GT 2005-12-17: December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The commemoration began from the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project’s memorial and vigil for the victims of the Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer. Since then its purpose has expanded to a memorial for, and protest against, all forms of violence against women in prostitution and elsewhere in the sex industry.

I’m opposed to prostitution as an industry, on radical feminist grounds. I frankly have very deep and sharp differences with the organizers of the event, and I’m iffy at best towards the rhetorical framework of sex work as a whole, for reasons that are way beyond the point of this post). But so what? The day is an important one no matter what differences I may have with the organizers. Real steps towards ending the ongoing daily violence against women in prostitution and elsewhere in the sex industry are more important than that; here as much as anywhere — probably more than anywhere else — women’s lives are at stake.

You can read the rest at the original post. Any serious commitment to freedom for, and an end to violence against, women, means a serious commitment to ending violence against women who work in the sex industry. All of it. Immediately. Now and forever.

And that means any kind of violence, whether rape, or assault, or robbery, or abduction, or confinement against her will, or murder. No matter who does it. Even if it is done by a john who imagines that paying for sex means he owns a woman’s body. Even it is done by a cop or a prosecutor who calls the violence of an assault, restraint, and involuntary confinement an arrest or a sentence under the color of The Law. The Law has no more right to hurt or shove around a woman than anyone else does.

In honor of the event, in memory of the 48 women murdered by Ridgway, and in solidarity with the living, I have contributed $120.00 tonight to Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, a harm reduction group that provides counseling, safety resources, clothing, and food to prostitutes on the streets of the Washington, D.C. area, and $120.00 to Alternatives for Girls, whose Street Outreach Project provides similar services out of a van along the Cass Corridor in downtown Detroit. For other groups that provide similar resources and mutual aid, you can check out the links at the end of my original post.

Elsewhere:

Remarks on Matt MacKenzie’s “Exploitation: A Dialectical Anarchist Perspective”

These remarks were read on 29 December 2006, at American Philosophical Association meeting in Washington, D.C. The event was the Molinari Society group meeting and the occasion for the comments was Matt MacKenzie’s (excellent) essay, Exploitation: A Dialectical Anarchist Perspective, which is now also available online.

Update 2007-01-13: Typographical errors fixed.

Update 2007-03-23: MDM has put up a copy of the original essay on his website.

… Well, I, for one, have no opinion whether Marxists should be interested in exploitation. If Matt MacKenzie is right, though, perhaps a better question would be, Should exploitation theorists be interested in Marxism? If critiques of exploitation have heretofore been reserved for the use of state socialism—and Marxism in particular—then, as MacKenzie ably shows, that is the result more by default than by anything inherently statist in the notion of exploitation. Drawing from the work of Alan Wertheimer, MacKenzie offers a neutral concept of exploitation based on the virtue of fairness, and develops a libertarian conception of exploitation that compares favorably to the more familiar Marxist and Progressive theories. Thus, through MacKenzie’s insightful analytical work, exploitation joins class, oppression, dialectics, state capitalism, and other concepts that left-libertarians have swiped from the theoretical lexicon of the statist Left, and rehabilitated for anti-statist purposes.

Not surprisingly, this dialectical strategy tends to drive both state Leftists and right-wing libertarians bonkers. The statist Left may complain that we are plundering their private property; and the anti-statist Right may complain that we are trying to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. But the fact is that left-libertarian efforts are, in terms of the history of ideas, more like expropriating the expropriators: if we today sometimes find Marxian notions useful, it is usually because those Marxian notions were themselves swiped from anti-state, pro-market theorists—especially those in the French tradition of industrialism (out of which arose both Proudhon’s mutualist anarchism, and the radicalized classical liberalism of Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari). Although twentieth century libertarians often identified themselves with the economic Right, and treated complaints of exploitation with either indifference our outright contempt, nineteenth century libertarians—Benjamin Tucker, for example—drew directly from their industrialist heritage, and wrote extensively, even obsessively, about economic exploitation (or, as Tucker most often called it, usury), which they saw as pervasive, systemic, destructive, and indeed one of the chief evils for principled libertarians to confront. Thus MacKenzie’s efforts, insofar as they are successful, merely reclaim a word for liberty that we never should have given up to the statists to begin with.

MacKenzie’s careful analysis of the forms of exploitation represents some of the most important work in the essay. He uses this taxonomic backdrop to set out and defend a claim which is far more controversial than it ought to be: that there can be economic relationships which should be condemned as exploitative even though they are both mutually consensual and mutually beneficial (relative to a no-exchange baseline). For any principled libertarian, proving that an economic relationship is consensual is enough to show that no-one has any right to suppress it by force. But if MacKenzie is right, then that is very far from being enough to prove that it should not be condemned and opposed by non-violent means. This point has some import for the applied policy debates that libertarians have often involved themselves in: consider some of the more common libertarian apologetics for third world sweatshops against the objections of Leftists and so-called Progressives; or, to take another example, for the so-called sex industry against the objections of radical feminists. Libertarian writers have all too often suggested that if piece work or sex work is agreed to voluntarily, and if it benefits the workers more than other realistically available lines of work would have, then there must be nothing objectionably exploitative about either industry. But if our conception of exploitation refers not only to respecting rights, but also to questions of fair dealing and to the background conditions that enlarge or constrain the options that are realistically available, the defense of these industries against charges of exploitation must, at the very least, become more sophisticated than they have so far largely been. (I think, in fact, that libertarians who want to defend the so-called sex industry will find their position almost completely indefensible, and those who want to defend neo-liberal development policies in the third world will find that they have an eminently sensible position in some cases and a ludicrous position in others. But let’s try to postpone those quagmires until at least the question and answer period.)

For now, in the name of diabolical advocacy, I would like to prod MacKenzie a little on the applicability of his notion of fairness in exchange, and thus the applicability of his conception of exploitation. The concern that I’d like to raise, though, is not a logical but rather an epistemological concern. While I know some libertarians who would dig in and argue that there just is no tractable notion of harm, or unfairness, beyond the violation of individual rights—and thus no form of exploitation beyond transactions forced through direct coercion—I think that that claim is simply indefensible in light of any robust theory of human virtues. Here’s an objection I find much more plausible, though: if an economic relationship is both mutually consensual, then it may be very difficult to reliably judge whether or not it is exploitative. There are many virtues that are important for the sustainability of a free society, and while I think fairness is one of the most important of those virtues, tolerance is arguably another; one of the things that libertarians would be wise to cultivate is a certain amount of deference to other people’s judgments about the arrangements that they have voluntarily entered into, and exercising this virtue may make it correspondingly difficult to pick out exploitative economic relationships independently of workers’ decisions about whether or not the arrangement is worth staying in. The example that MacKenzie gives of an exploitative labor contract doesn’t help alleviate the worry, either: if it’s true that a worker making $6.50 an hour might make $11.00 if her bargaining were done against the backdrop of a free market, there remains the question of how we would ever know that this is true. Unless socialist calculation is possible (and it’s not), the hypothetical price of a good or service in a hypothetical free market will never be something that we can quantitatively predict, and orders of magnitude or even directions of change will be, at best, difficult to reliably judge. So might it not be difficult, at best, to identify concrete cases of mutually-consensual-but-exploitative economic relationships? And if so, would that not demand a great deal of caution, if not outright abstention, from putting exploitation to use in political debates?

I should say two things about this epistemological worry. First, I’m not actually convinced by it myself. Second, if it does have any bite, it’s important to note that the uncertainty involved affects only the question of moral force, not moral weight. Exploitation would be no less bad even if we could never figure out where it does and where it does not occur. Uncertainty may be a reason to qualify your judgments about what is or is not exploitative; it is not a reason to abandon your conviction that exploitation, wherever it may occur, is seriously wrong. Still, this may be an important caveat on the theoretical fruitfulness of exploitation within a pro-market theory; and I’d be interested to hear more about how MacKenzie would deal with it.

The second important claim that MacKenzie sets out to defend is that in the political economy of state capitalism, the exploitation of labor is systemic and pervasive. He favorably cites the work of Benjamin Tucker and Kevin Carson, identifying state violence as the basis of class conflict, and government-enforced monopolies for politically-favored businesses as the root of economic exploitation. It’s important to note that, for MacKenzie as for Tucker and Carson, the exploitative economic relationship may not be itself coercive, even though the conditions that make it exploitative do involve coercion. For most of his life, Tucker pretty clearly suggested that exploitation (or usury) could only survive as long as the background of government privileges for the monopolists was sustained, and that if the privileges were once repealed, the exploitative arrangements would quickly crumble under the pressure of free competition. But while government intervention in the economy is one of the most important ways in which economic options can be restricted, it seems like there are other factors that could have the same effect. For example, if widely-shared cultural prejudices tend to constrain women to lower-wage or no-wage work — such as mothering, housekeeping, nursing, teaching, or acting as a secretary or assistant — when they would otherwise be willing and able to take on better-paying careers, then arguably the sexist cultural norms sustain a form of exploitation that has little if anything to do with government intervention, either directly or indirectly. MacKenzie suggests that he recognizes cases such as these when he says that a genuinely free market will dramatically undermine existing systems of exploitation, but will not be enough to do them in entirely. Later in the essay he offers a number of reasons why libertarians should be concerned with the forms of exploitation that are closely linked with the background of government privilege and regimentation of the economy; but I wonder whether he thinks that libertarians, qua libertarians, should also be concerned with forms of exploitation where not only the transactions but also the background conditions are non-aggressive, e.g. the result of objectionable but non-coercive cultural norms. And, if so, I’d also be interested to know whether the grounds for libertarian objections to these forms of exploitation, which might persist or even flourish even in a free society, are significantly different from the grounds for libertarian objection to exploitation that directly or indirectly depends on government-enforced privilege.

Third, in a brief but important section of the paper, MacKenzie suggests that where exploitative economic relationships are systemic, prevalent, and seriously morally wrong, it deserves organized political efforts to undermine it. Since he includes non-coercive forms of exploitation in that suggestion, it’s important for him to make it clear that he rejects the identification of politics with the employment of systematic force; thus, while it may be appropriate to enlist organized force in order to suppress coercive forms of exploitation, the sort of politics involved in undermining the non-coercive forms of exploitation need not involve any use of force at all, either from the government or from organized private efforts. Instead he endorses a conception of politics that I’ve elsewhere characterized in terms of organized efforts to address problems of social coordination through deliberate, co-operative action (rather than through the spontaneous orders that emerge from unintended consequences of private actions). MacKenzie suggests that non-coercive forms of exploitation can appropriately be met through working to develop and maintain anti-explotiative cultural norms, values, and practices, and supporting efforts to challenge and develop alternatives to exploitative institutions and social relations. I’d like to hear more about what, in particular, he has in mind here, particularly since he suggests that at least some political activism against exploitation will be necessary even in a genuinely free market. What sort of concrete institutions should we look to, join with, and build up as part of the way forward?

Finally, MacKenzie ends his essay by suggesting several ways in which a critique of exploitation—even when the exploitation is not, in itself, aggressive—might be connected with the libertarian commitment to non-aggression and the decentralization of political power. To frame the discussion he uses five forms of thick connections between libertarianism and other cultural or political projects in my remarks at this session last year. While I think MacKenzie’s right that a libertarian critique of exploitation involves each of these forms of thickness, I’d actually like to suggest that, when exploitation depends on a background of government intervention to survive, it suggests yet another form of thickness, which addresses the issue more directly but which did not make it into my earlier list of five. (Fortunately the list wasn’t intended to be exhaustive, so I’m happy to welcome one more into the family.) You might gloss the form of thickness here as something like this:

Consequence thickness: Libertarians should commit to opposing E because even though E is not in itself coercive, (1) E would be very difficult to carry out or sustain over time if not for background acts of government coercion that sustain it; and (2) there are independent reasons for regarding E as an evil.

If aggression is morally illegitimate, then libertarians are entitled not only to condemn it, but also to condemn the destructive results that flow from statist aggression—even if those results are, in some important sense, external to the actual coercion. Now, there are a lot of details and caveats that I am skipping over, but I do wonder whether something like consequence thickness, as I’ve roughly described it, might better explain the immediate concerns that folks like Tucker, Carson, and MacKenzie have about (at least some forms of) exploitation—concerns which seem to arise well before questions about instrumental supports for statism or the ultimate grounds of libertarianism even get raised.

Tucker changed his mind near the end of his life, as reflected in the pessimistic postscript to later editions of State Socialism and Anarchism. But even then, his position was merely that the wealth accumulated through so many years of government privilege would be enough to crush any attempts at free competition—government intervention was still the central issue, but the late Tucker thought the shadow of past government intervention had grown too long to be escaped in the forseeable future, even if the disruptive power of the free market were fully unleashed.