About three weeks ago, a man named Sam Hicks led a gang of heavily-armed men to Robert and Christina Korbe’s house in Indiana Township. They got there at 6:03 in the morning to make sure their target would be groggy and would be less able to think quickly about the situation he was in. They knew of Robert Korbe’s reputation as a cocaine dealer and they were there to force their way into the house, take his stash of drugs, and abduct him so that they could lock him up as long as they needed to. They knocked on the door and told him who they were, and that they were there to take him and his stash of drugs, so he should open the door to avoid a violent showdown. Instead of opening the door to this gang, he bolted and tried to hide or get rid of his stash. So Sam Hicks ordered the gang to break down the door and force entry into the house. When they began to swarm into the house, Robert Korbe’s wife, Christina Korbe — who had been upstairs with her children, and who says she didn’t hear the conversation at the door — came out with a handgun that she kept for protection. Fearing for her own and her children’s safety, she fired at the first intruder charging through the door. Then she ran to call 911 and told them she had
shot an intruder.
But, since Sam Hicks’ title within the gang was
Special Agent, and since that gang was the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and since the home invasion was dignified by the law as a SWAT raid, Christina Korbe was arrested and hauled away on a charge of murder.
Later, on the Internet,
Paleoconservative Chris Roach groused — pointedly referring to Radley Balko’s long-standing and influential criticism of paramilitary SWAT raids and
no-knock raids — that
libertarians (by which he meant Balko) didn’t report on the story within 24 hours of when the story appeared in newspapers, and that since
The arrest went down using the that somehow proves the folly of libertarian complaints about paramilitary SWAT raids. Radley Balko replied that the basic issue is
knock and announce tactics and non-SWAT gear that libertarians have long asked for,
not about the no-knocks. It’s about the home invasions, and that FBI Special Agent Sam Hicks is dead because (knocks or no knocks) the Feds still chose to stage a needless high-stakes, confrontational early-morning storm-trooper raid on a family’s home over an arrest for nonviolent offenses. Balko went so far as to suggest
an alternate scenario [for arresting Korbe outside his house] where Agent Hicks unquestionably comes out unharmed.
All well and good, I guess. But here’s my take. FBI Special Agent Sam Hicks was a professional thug whose salary was paid by an extortion racket. He made his living invading people’s homes, rousting out harmless men and women and turning them over to a hellhole prison system that locks them in cages for years at a time even if they’ve never done anything to threaten or violate the person or property of another living soul. The morning FBI Special Agent Sam Hicks was shot, he was in the process of violently storming his way into a the Korbes’ family home, in order to take Robert Korbe’s private property by force and to abduct Robert Korbe himself, so as to lock him away in a cage for years, even though Robert Korbe was doing nothing that violated, or threatened, the person or property of even a single living soul. If anyone without a badge went around doing that sort of thing to peaceful people, we’d call him a dangerous gangster, and if he got himself shot doing it, nobody much would wring their hands about it. But taking a gangster and giving him a badge and calling what he does The Law doesn’t make him any less of a gangster or what he does any less violent and dangerous. The men and women who march under the banners of the State remain men and women, just like you and me; they are no more exempt from everyday morality than you or I are, and they have no more special right than you or I do to go around threatening, hurting, seizing, or killing innocent people — and by
innocent I mean
innocent of violating any individual person’s rights. Seeing as Sam Hicks was a professional thug who was shot in the course of violently enforcing a tyrannical law on an innocent man — and endangering that man’s whole family in the process — I’m glad he got himself shot while he was doing it. That was a righteous kill. If only more of his fellow gangsters had reason to fear that they might get shot whenever they attempted these storm-trooper raids on innocent families to enforce unjust laws. And I don’t even care whether FBI Special Agent Sam Hicks could have saved his own skin by enforcing that tyrannical law through other, less confrontational means.
Chris Roach’s original post complains that
Even now, libertarians pretend that drug dealers' sordid lives are equal in social value as those of FBI agents, blaming the FBI agents for their raid tactics rather than looking at the long string of criminal, illegal choices that led to the suspect's position on the wrong end of a raid in the first place. If he means to make a statement about all libertarians, he’s wrong about that. I certainly don’t think hat the lives are of equal value. I would never presume to speak for all libertarians, and certainly not for Radley Balko. (Who I suspect disagrees entirely with me, and who would never think of saying any of the things I’ve said here.) But, speaking only for myself, as a libertarian, I think that drug dealers’ lives are worth far more than the lives of FBI agents, because at least some drug dealers make their living nonviolently, by peddling a valued product to willing customers. Whereas FBI agents, and especially FBI agents on drug task forces, make their livings by imprisoning people who have done nothing to deserve it, in the name of
protecting people who never asked for it and often don’t want that kind of
protection, and taking home a salary that was extracted from their
protected victims at the point of a gun.
Chris Roach rejoins that
It seems elementary, but highly controversial among libertarians, that so long as a law exists, it should be enforced. I don’t doubt that this seems elementary to Chris Roach; it seemed elementary to lots of people at the time that as long as the Jim Crow laws were on the books, the police ought to have enforced them, and it seemed elementary to a lot of people at the time that as long as the Fugitive Slave law existed, the slave-catchers and the federal courts should have enforced those, and it seemed elementary at the time that as long as the Nuremberg laws existed, the Gestapo should have enforced those, too. But in fact if there are any moral restraints at all, even in principle, on what governments can do to people, then there must be some moral restraints on what laws government law enforcers can rightfully enforce, and there must be at least some laws which are so unjust that no-one can be bound in conscience to enforce them — indeed, there must be at least some laws which are so unjust that everyone is bound in conscience not to enforce them, no matter who may order them to do so.
Of course, Chris Roach is free to argue that (of course, of course) he didn’t mean those kind of laws when he said that; he just meant the normal kind. And thus that there’s some important difference between Jim Crow or the Fugitive Slave Act or the Nuremberg laws, on the one hand, and U.S. federal drug prohibition, on the other. That difference may be that, in his view, drug prohibition doesn’t really violate innocent people’s rights, and that he believes in locking people in prison for years, merely for doing things he considers
anti-social, whether or not they pose any threat whatsoever to anyone else’s person or property. If so, fine, let him argue that; but then his real disagreement with libertarians is over the justice of drug prohibition, and it’s disingenuous to pretend that it’s really about how we gotta enforce the laws we got. Or the difference may be that, in his view, drug prohibition does violate innocent people’s rights, but somehow doesn’t violate them badly enough that people have a moral duty not to enforce it. But then it’s up to him to explain what his standards are for making the distinction. How many years of your life would you agree to have stolen from you in a hellhole federal prison for something that really shouldn’t be a crime at all? Just how much injustice is it O.K. for someone to violently inflict so long as they’re Just Following Orders? In either case, Roach owes us an explanation and an argument that he certainly hasn’t yet given.
Unless it can be given, I see no reason to conclude anything other than that Christina Korbe is innocent of wrongdoing. Whether or not she knew ahead of time that she was shooting at an FBI agent serving an arrest warrant. FBI Special Agent Sam Hicks had no moral right to be there at all or to arrest Robert Korbe for anything, and he fully deserved to be treated like any other gangster breaking into your family’s home, for the purposes of armed robbery and abduction, would deserve to be treated. So, I repeat: I’m glad he got himself shot doing it. I don’t take any pleasure from Hicks’s suffering, and especially not from his family’s loss; it’s sad when anyone dies. But I do think that gangsters should have to fear the consequences of their reckless violence, and right now I’m a lot more concerned about the fate of the Christina Korbe, the innocent woman who now has to fear that she will end up locked in a cage for the rest of her life, for having dared to carry out an admirable and courageous act of self-defense against a gang of armed thugs invading her home and threatening to use extreme violence in the attempt to enforce a tyrannical law.
I am sure that Chris Roach will take this as proof beyond anything he could hope for that
The moral compass of libertarians is more than a little off course, and that is why they remain a fringe movement in America's public life. The first claim is nonsense — it is libertarians who insist that men and women claiming to act with the authority of the State should be held to the same moral standards that everyone else is, and statists who insist that they be given free passes for violence against innocent people.
But I’m sure the second claim is probably true. Government depends on popular enthusiasm, or at least popular tolerance, for whatever violence it may inflict against the people it has marginalized as
criminals. Armed professionals who represent the State are widely celebrated as
heroes for their violent efforts to uphold the status quo, and questioning their right to inflict that violence, or holding them accountable for the injustices they participate in, is, as a general thing, no way to make yourself popular. There are some things you just can’t say in circles that accept mainstream views of the limits of acceptable dissent. Certainly that sort of thing does not square with the agendas of any of the political parties, or with the etiquette of polite society in the talking-heads political media. So there are lots of people who just cannot say this sort of thing, and lots of people who think that, if a certain handful of media figures can’t say something, that makes it obviously wrong. But that does not make it wrong, and I’ll speak up for it even if nobody else well. FBI Special Agent Sam Hicks was the criminal, not the Korbes. Christina Korbe didn’t do a damn thing wrong and she ought to be a free woman.