Posts from December 2007

Over My Shoulder #39: Garrison on radicalism, electoral abolitionism and third-party politics. From Henry Mayer’s All On Fire.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from Henry Mayer’s masterful biography, All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. I was re-reading it recently because of an interesting debate over the Ron Paul campaign on LeftLibertarian2, in particular some interesting comments by Brad Spangler, who has been beating the anti-electioneering drum for some time, to the effect that he thought support for Ron Paul represented progress in people who would be otherwise be state liberals or state conservatives, but that the real shame was when radical libertarians, who ought to know better got sucked in to the same constitutional-statist song and dance.

Garrison agreed with [Abby Kelley and Stephen Foster] that the allure of the presidential campaign threatened the movement’s identity. Abolitionists should not bow down to the house of Rimmon, alluding to the parable (2 Kings 5:18) illustrating the dangers of false worship and conformity with outmoded rituals and reprehensible customs. The first duty of abolitionists, he concluded, was to avoid becoming Republicans. To the Fosters’ intense annoyance, however, he argued that the amount of conscience in the party and the sectional basis of its opposition to the slave power made it a political entity that the movement had to take seriously. Kelley conceded that the party may be the work of our hands, but she insisted that such progeny, like other children, required a great deal of reproof to bring it up in the way it should go. Garrison agreed, but sweetly added that, as in child-rearing, it was important to praise the party when it tried to do good work, as it had on the issue of nonextension.

That Garrison accorded the Republicans a measure of respect he had never conceded to the Liberty Party remnant should come as no surprise. He always had more interest in politicians who lifted themselves toward an acknowledgment of moral principles than he had in moralists who lowered themselves into partisan activities. For the Republicans to support and elect candidates willing to condemn slavery as wrong would be productive agitation, for it created something where nothing had previously existed. For Gerrit Smith to advance himself as a presidential candidate was ludicrous, in Garrison’s view, for he had no practical organization and demeaned himself in the futile process of making one. For Frederick Douglass to make persistent attacks on Garrisonian abolition as passé—as a phase of moral education through which the movement had inevitably traveled en route to more enlightened forms of practical agitation—was more than a continuation of their personal feud; it was the old Liberty Party idea that a token candidacy offered a greater opportunity for moral agitation than did the prophetic apostleship of Garrison. While the Republican nonextensionist approach had the virtue of exposing the constitutional compromises that prevented abolition, moreover, the Smithites continued to dwell, Garrison believed, in the realm of constitutional fantasy. They tried to claim the Framers as architects of an antislavery politics and advanced all sorts of schemes—a congressional repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, a reconstruction of the federal judiciary through the appointment of antislavery judges, the fixing of a date certain for abolition in the states and federal control of states in default—that had no chance of peaceably breaking the national political deadlock and, far from saving the Union, would make a military confrontation inevitable. Theirs was an oblique disunionism that masked itself behind the facade of constitutional interpretation. For Garrison the special work of abolition lay not in adopting the model of politics, but in creating a redemptive vision. We see what our fathers did not see; we know that they did not know.

Powerful organizations never espouse great reforms, the editor told a December 1855 meeting called to celebrate the desegregation of Boston’s public schools after a decade-long struggle by abolitionists of both races. Social reform, he said, begins in the heart of a solitary individual and grows strong among humble men and humble women [who], unknown to the community, without means, without power, without station, but perceiving the thing to be done … and having faith in the triumph of what is just and true, engage in the work…. He always regarded the abolitionists as a saving remnant who would create the preconditions for reform. Theodore Parker compared such non-political reformers either to the windlass that raises the anchor while the politicians haul in the slack or to the spinners and weavers who make the material from which politicians cut their clothes, but Garrison found the humblest metaphor of all in the baking of bread. By and by, he said with the apostle Paul, the little leaven leavens the whole lump … [and] this is the way the world is to be redeemed (1 Cor. 5:6). The most popular metaphor for the progress of reform in the 1850s, however, drew from both mechanics and nature. The world moves, people said, having found a shorthand way of remarking social change that evoked at once the lever of Archimedes and the stubborn faith of Galileo that the earth itself revolved in obedience to higher laws.

—Henry Mayer (1998), All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, pp. 456-457.

Law and Orders #5: Daytona Beach cop takes control at Best Buy by shocking an unarmed, “retreating” woman

Attention, holiday shoppers: here’s some Christmas cheer, brought to you courtesy of officer Claudia Wright and the Daytona Beach police department. But first, let’s review.

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. In order to get control of situations that they forced their way into, they routinely hurt people, use force first and ask questions later, and pass off even the most egregious violence against harmless or helpless people as self-defense or as the necessary means to accomplish a completely unnecessary goal. In order to to coerce compliance with their arbitrary commands, they have no trouble electrifying small children, 82 year old women on a care check, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women, or an already prone and helpless student who may have been guilty of using the computer lab without proper papers on hand. They are willing to end an argument by pepper spraying lawyers who ask inconvenient questions or by beating up teenaged girls who don’t clean up enough spilled birthday cake or walk home too late at night. They are willing to shock you and leave you lying on the side of the highway in order to make sure they can serve you with a dubious traffic ticket. It hardly matters if you cannot obey their commands because you are sound asleep in your own home. It hardly matters if you can’t move due to a medical condition, or can’t hear their bellowed orders because you’re deaf. What a cop can always count on is that, no matter how aggressively he escalates the use of violence and no matter how obviously innocent or helpless his victims are, he can count on his bosses to repeat any lie and make any excuse in order to find that Official Procedures were followed. As long as Official Procedures were followed, of course, any form of brutality or violence is therefore passed off as OK by the boss cops, and the judgment will be dutifully repeated by cop enablers in the newsmedia and the legal system.

One increasingly popular means for domineering cops to force you to follow their bellowed orders is by using high-voltage electric shocks in order to inflict pain. Tasers were originally introduced for police use as an alternative to using lethal force; the hope was that, in many situations where cops might otherwise feel forced to go for their guns, they might be able to use the taser instead, to immobilize a person who posed a threat to them or to others, without killing anybody in the process. But in practice, police culture being what it is, any notion of limiting tasers to those situations very quickly went out the window. Cops armed with tasers now freely use them to end arguments by intimidation or actual violence, to coerce people who pose no real threat to anyone into complying with their instructions, and to hurt uppity civilians who dare to give them lip. Among civilized people, deliberately inflicting severe pain in order to extort compliance from your victim is called torture; among cops it is called pain compliance and is considered business as usual. So shock-happy Peace Officers can now go around using their tasers as high-voltage human prods in just about any situation, with more or less complete impunity. In those rare cases where media criticism, mass riots, or a lawsuit does force some minimal accountability on the police force, the handful of low-level cops who face punishment are portrayed as bad seeds by the same high-level officials who, until then, had been covering up or excusing their actions, any systematic criticism of the procedures or legal privileges or internal culture of the whole police force is promptly dismissed, and the whole thing is written off as yet another isolated incident.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, Elizabeth Beeland, a young mother trying to buy a CD player at a local Best Buy, got an upsetting call about her child while she was checking out. She stepped outside to take the call, and she was upset enough that she left her credit card behind at the counter. Perplexed by the sudden exit, the clerk thought that Beeland might have left suddenly because the card was stolen, and called over Claudia Wright, a cop who was in the store. Here’s how this Peace Officer took control of an uncertain and emotionally-charged situation from there:

When police officer Claudia Wright approached, she said Beeland became verbally profane and abusive.

Wright said she warned Beeland to calm down or face arrest. The officer hit Beeland in the stomach with the Taser darts and arrested her on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

In a video, the customer is seen backing away, then crumpling to the ground after being tasered.

— MSNBC (2007-12-21): Officer uses Taser to tame [sic! —R.G.] Best Buy customer

So a distraught mother is blasted with a 50,000-volt electric shock because she dared to yell at a trained professional police officer, and failed to calm down quickly enough to satisfy the store’s pig-in-residence. Of course, she was backing away from the cop at the time, had her hands raised and visible, did nothing that could even remotely be construed as threatening, and provided no reasonable basis for the cop to presumptively treat her as in any way criminal. (The credit card was, as it happens, not stolen, and at the time Claudia Wright had only the clerk’s unsubstantiated suspicions on which to act as if it were.) But pursuant to the Daytona Beach cops’ policy, she was noncompliant, and therefore could be subdued, i.e., tortured into submission for failing to obey a cop’s bellowed order, even if she posed no credible threat to anyone else’s safety.

Of course, there will be an Official Investigation of the Incident, right? Sure:

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A police officer used a stun gun to subdue a woman who yelled at her in a crowded electronics store, and prosecutors are reviewing whether to pursue charges against the customer.

— Associated Press (2007-12-22): Fla. Officer Shocks Woman Yelling at Her

Let’s review.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A police officer used a stun gun to subdue a woman who yelled at her in a crowded electronics store, and prosecutors are reviewing whether to pursue charges against the customer.

— Associated Press (2007-12-22): Fla. Officer Shocks Woman Yelling at Her

Charges for what? Ah, yes:

Police later verified that Beeland was using her own credit card, but she was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting a police officer without violence. She has since pleaded not guilty.

— MSNBC (2007-12-21): Officer uses Taser to tame [sic] Best Buy customer

In other words, one incredibly vague and immeasurably trivial crime directly produced by the cop’s incompetent and insensitive handling of the situation, and another crime which consists in absolutely nothing other than non-violently defying a cop’s arrogant sense of entitlement to shove other people around. Of course, in real life, outside of statist power-trip la-la land, yelling at a police officer is not a crime, much less one that it would be appropriate to respond to by deliberately inflicting extreme and immobilizing pain.

But, hey, let’s make sure we hear both sides of this story, which the news media will insist on noncommittally presenting, as if the two were obviously equivalent in accuracy and honesty:

Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood defended the officer’s actions, which he said avoided use of other weapons.

Even if you look at the video, when the officer stepped toward her after announcing she’s under arrest, she’s flailing her arms and retreating from the officer, Chitwood said. Police work isn’t pretty. It doesn’t look pretty, but from where we sit, interviewing civilian witnesses and people may or may not agree, but she followed our policy, she followed FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) guidelines.

— MSNBC (2007-12-21): Officer uses Taser to tame [sic] Best Buy customer

As long as she followed Official Procedures, of course, any level of aggression and violence against an unarmed and retreating civilian (!) is perfectly O.K. for the paramilitary cadres occupying Florida cities. Hell, she’s lucky she didn’t get bludgeoned or shot by other weapons! For the record, here’s what those Official Guidelines say:

Police department policy states an officer can deploy his or her TASER for the purpose of subduing a violent, noncompliant or combative subject.

— Central Florida News 13: Woman TASED At Best Buy

Please note that since Beeland was not in any way violent, the claim must be that either she was (1) noncompliant or (2) combative (without being violent), or both. If you happen to be in Florida, please note that, even if you in no way threaten the rights or the physical safety of anybody, a professional Peace Officer will still feel professionally entitled to hit you with an excruciatingly painful 50,000-volt electric shock if you (1) don’t ask how high? when they shout jump, or (2) dare to give them lip.

Civil liberties and human rights groups may see the incident in a different way:

Cop Watch’s George Crosley sees the incident in a different way. His group polices police actions. He said he is stunned by the store surveillance video.

This is wrong, this shouldn’t have happened that way, Crosley said. When the officer starts toward her, you don’t see her threatening the officer, you see her backing off with her hands up, he said. If she couldn’t figure out how to handle it, she should have called for back up. The truth of the matter is, people have died as a result of being tased.

— MSNBC (2007-12-21): Officer uses Taser to tame [sic] Best Buy customer

Not that it would matter much even if she died, as far as the Authorities are concerned, so long as those guidelines got followed.

The ACLU and Amnesty International also have Beeland’s back. Her own lawyer is reviewing the incident. I would like to hope that she sues the pigs personally and takes them for everything they’ve got. Unfortunately, if a suit is filed, what will probably happen is that the city government will settle the case out of court, have the police department send Beeland an Oops, our bad along with some petty cash, and then—public servants that they are—send the bill to a bunch of innocent taxpayers, who had nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, precisely nothing will happen to authoritarian shock-happy thug Claudia Wright, who will go right on serving and protecting the hell out of civilians in Daytona Beach, whether they want anything to do with it or not.

If you’re baffled that cops could feel free to indulge in this kind of outrage, and that numerous fellow cops, prosecutors, and other government officials would rush to defend it, well, that’s just about why, right there. The State will never police itself; the government will never make a serious effort to protect you from your supposed protectors.

Support your local CopWatch.

“What kind of victory is that?” Jane Rule on Government-approved Gay Marriage

Jane Rule, a feminist before the Second Wave and a pioneer lesbian novelist before Stonewall, died last month at the age of 76. She was born an American but moved to Canada with her lover Helen Sonthoff, where they would live for the rest of their lives, in order to escape the persecution of the McCarthy era. In her novels, she was known for her nuanced and sympathetic portraits of lesbian characters’ lives—one of the first novelists to write books about lesbians in which her characters lived through ordinary human problems, were not punished for their sexuality, and were not treated as psychological freaks. Her essays, columns, and correspondence were notable for her generosity, patience, and also vigorously independent thought. Although she wrote passionately and movingly about her own life-long love affair with Helen, she was sharply critical of the gay rights movement’s efforts to win State recognition for gay and lesbian marriages. Here is what she wrote for the Spring 2001 issue of BC Bookworld; while I’d urge a radical people-power solution to problems of welfare, based on mutual aid between workers rather than State redistribution, the rest of the essay is almost entirely right-on. The solution is not to lodge same-sex relationships firmly under the eyes and the bootheels of the marital State; it is to free everything that’s valuable in both straight and gay love, intimacy, and commitment from the State’s stifling embrace.

The Heterosexual Cage of Coupledom

Over thirty years ago, when homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized, Trudeau said that the government had no business in the bedrooms of the nation.

Until a few months ago that privacy was respected.

Now the government has passed a law including gay and lesbian couples as common-law partners with the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual common-law partners. Any of us who have lived together in a sexual relationship for over two years must declare ourselves on our income tax forms, or we are breaking the law.

With one stroke of the pen all gay and lesbian couples in Canada have been either outed if they declare or recriminalized if they do not. Our bedroom doors have come off their legal hinges.

Why then is there such support for this new law among gay people? Svend Robinson spoke in favor of it the House. EGALE, the national organization for gays and lesbians, encouraged its passing.

It is celebrated by all of them as a step along the road to total social acceptance, to a day when those of us who wish to can be legally married, our relationships just as respectable as those of heterosexuals.

But common-law partnerships were never about respectability. They were forced on couples as a way of protecting women and children from men who, by refusing to marry, were trying to avoid responsibility, free to move on when they felt like it without legal burdens of alimony and child support, without claims on their property or pensions.

There are some gay and lesbian couples raising children who, because they are not allowed to marry, may find a common-law partnership useful for benefits in tax relief, health benefits, pensions, if they can afford to expose themselves to the homophobia still rampant in this country. The law may also protect those who are financially dependent on their partners from being cast aside without financial aid.

But the law, far from conferring respectability, simply forces financial responsibility on those perceived to be irresponsible without it. What about those poor who are unable to work because they are single parents or ill or disabled?

The single mother on welfare has long had her privacy invaded by social workers looking for live-in men who should be expected to support her and another man’s children. Now single mothers must beware of live-in women as well. The ill and disabled will also be forced to live alone or sacrifice their benefits if their partners have work.

Over the years when we have been left to live lawless, a great many of us have learned to take responsibility for ourselves and each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, not bound by the marriage service or model but on singularities and groupings of our own invention.

To be forced back into the heterosexual cage of coupledom is not a step forward but a step back into state-imposed definitions of relationship. With all that we have learned, we should be helping our heterosexual brothers and sisters out of their state-defined prisons, not volunteering to join them there.

We should all accept responsibility for those who must be dependent, children, the old, the ill and the disabled, by assuring that our tax dollars are spent for their care. We should not have any part in supporting laws which promote unequal relationships between adults, unnecessary dependencies, false positions of power.

No responsible citizen should allow the state to privatize the welfare of those in need, to make them victims to the abilities and whims of their legal keepers. Human rights are the core responsibility of the government.

The regulation of adult human relationships is not.

To trade the freedom we have had to invent our own lives for state-imposed coupledom does not make us any more respectable in the eyes of those who enjoy passing judgment. We become instead children clambering for rule, for consequences to be imposed on us instead of self-respecting, self-defining adults.

Those of us who want to legalize our relationships for the protection of our children, for our own security, for whatever reason, should have the right to do so but not at the expense of imposing that condition on all the rest if us.

What we have now is neither the right to marry nor the right to remain private and independent in our relationships.

What kind of victory is that?

— Jane Rule, BC Bookworld (Spring 2001): The Heterosexual Cage of Coupledom

Via Women’s Space / The Margins 2007-12-02.

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:

A Place for Positive Law

For those of you who don’t know, L. and I will be out of town for the holidays. In fact, we are already out of town; but I’ve arranged to have some not-especially-time-sensitive posts go up while I’m away through devious WordPress scheduling trickery, so stay tuned. While we’re away, we’ll first be visiting my assorted relations in Texas, and then heading east to the Molinari Society session at the APA Eastern Division meeting in Baltimore. The session will be a symposium on the theme Anarchy: It’s Not Just a Good Idea, It’s the Law. Roderick will be presenting a paper on Spooner’s early theory of constitutional interpretation (most famously presented in The Unconstitutionality of Slavery), and the degree to which it can be reconciled with his later radical rejection of the Constitution and all forms of government-made law as having no legitimate authority over anyone. (Geoffrey Allan Plauché will be giving prepared comments in reply.) I’ll be presenting a new paper, A Place for Positive Law: A Contribution to Anarchist Legal Theory, which is also about Spooner, but from a different angle:

Peter Kropotkin famously defined anarchism as

… a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government—harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of civilized beings.

If he was right about that, then anarchist legal theory would seem to be either a contradiction in terms, or an exercise in demonology. Anarchists want to abolish the State as such, and replace it with a society without government. And without a government, how would you have laws? Maybe so, but what I want to do today is not to storm the Law from the outside. Before the Law there stands a doorkeeper, and I note that he is mighty. My remarks will aim instead at an internal critique of a common-sense view of the law, beginning with some common premises that most statists share, and then moving towards the anarchistic conclusion that no government has sovereign authority to impose legal obligations on anyone. I will then consider a difficult problem that seems to face the anarchistic conclusion—the problem of reducing the natural law. I shall argue, though, that the solution that government seems to promise cannot withstand critical scrutiny; an anarchist solution to the problem will be difficult—one of the most difficult theoretical problems for anarchists to tackle—but the difficulty is necessary for a solution to the problem that is not simply arbitrary. The place for me to begin, then, is with the concept of law.

John Hasnas will be commenting. You can read the whole thing online. Comments, questions, applause, brickbats, etc. are welcome, either in private or in the comments section below.