If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.

 

Policing a Riot

A Commentary By John Stossel

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Libertarians warned for years that government is force, that government always grows and that America's police have become too much like an occupying army.

We get accused of being paranoid, but we look less paranoid after heavily armed police in Ferguson, Missouri, tear gassed peaceful protesters, arrested journalists and stopped some journalists from entering the town.

One week before the rioting began, Fox News aired my documentary on the militarization of law enforcement, "Policing America."

That show didn't stop some left-wing commentators from making the bizarre claim that libertarians like me have been silent about Ferguson.

I can't force them to read my columns, or Sen. Rand Paul's (R, Ken.) article titled "We Must Demilitarize the Police" or libertarian Rep. Justin Amash's (R, Mich.) condemnation of the police for "escalating" tensions with "military equipment."

Although it was government   police and government -supplied military equipment that provoked the conflict (plus property-rights-violating looters), leftists still found ways to blame libertarians and advocates of private gun ownership.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Tom Toles depicted a sarcastic TV viewer watching news from Ferguson and sniping that "I'm sure the NRA has an interesting solution for this" -- as if overzealous police are the fault of people who believe in individuals' right to defend themselves.

Other pro-big-government commentators just questioned the sincerity of libertarians, saying that if we were in power, we would become authoritarians and defend the police.

It's true that once people are in power, they often grow fond of authority and less interested in liberty. But I don't see why this is an argument against libertarians -- who warn about this problem all the time -- instead of an argument against all those who are actually in power and shameless about wielding that power.

But since leftists are so easily confused, and since there's plenty of blame to go around, let's list who's to blame for what:

--The police do not have the right to execute suspects, unless there is no other way of stopping them and they pose an immediate threat to the safety of others.

--Michael Brown, assuming current interpretations of security footage are correct, robbed and bullied a store clerk right before he was killed by police. That may well mean he was violent and dangerous, but even violent people should be brought to trial, not gunned down.

--Individual cops may feel threatened -- and may be   threatened in the course of doing their jobs -- but they still do not have the right to use more force than is necessary. Too often, panicked or angry cops pump multiple rounds into already-wounded suspects, as appears to have happened to Michael Brown.

--Yes, centuries of white people abusing the civil liberties of blacks have left many blacks resentful of police power, and in recent years, white police officers have shot, on average, two young black men every week. But none of that justifies violence and looting like that which followed Michael Brown's death. Criminals who ransack stores are always wrong to violate the rights of innocent third parties.

--Peaceful protestors should not be lumped in with looters and subject to curfews by police. Most looters are opportunists, not people making a political statement. Police and angry citizens alike have a duty to distinguish between protesters and criminals.

--The Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and opportunistic politicians all pushed the idea of heavily arming local cops, even in places more rural than Ferguson. "Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors?" wonders the Cato Institute's Walter Olson.

He notes that a man identifying himself as a veteran from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division reacted to video of police in Ferguson by tweeting, "We rolled lighter than that in an actual war zone."

If authorities arm cops like soldiers, they may begin to think like soldiers -- and see the public as the enemy. That makes violent confrontations more likely.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2014 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentaries by John Stossel.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.  Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.