Will Minneapolis be safer after its police force is disbanded? Only if the city follows a libertarian approach will the people be guaranteed greater protection for themselves and their property. All other methods jeopardize resistance to a police state.
A veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council promises to “dismantle” their city’s police department in response to the May 25th death of George Floyd, who died after suffering for over eight minutes from an officer’s knee pressed into his neck. That incident, caught on video, spurred protests and riots nationwide as well as globally.
Needless to say, a lot is at stake here if Minneapolis follows through. It is the country’s 46th largest city and part of the 16th largest metropolitan area. The immediate and long-term consequences would be studied by communities worldwide, perhaps for generations to come.
In the run-up to the City Council’s decision, over 600 people have been arrested in connection to the Minneapolis protests and riots. Together with St. Paul, the Twin Cities have seen nearly as many buildings looted or vandalized, and at least 67 were completely destroyed by fire, while still others had serious water and fire damage, according to the Star-Tribune.
Libertarians, especially those of an anarcho-capitalist bent, have long called for abolishing the police or at least severely downsizing or decentralizing them. However, there are reasons for them to be apprehensive about what Minneapolis appears to be spearheading.
The libertarian understanding of police is that they are not just the government’s law enforcers but more fundamentally a state response to the market demand for security of persons and property.
Like all government “services,” policing is financed through compulsory taxation backed by the threat of force. The moral and logical implications of this should be obvious, but the libertarian is also aware of the economic impacts when only one side of a transaction is voluntary.
Thankfully, it is easy to visualize what policing or protection services would look like under a totally voluntary arrangement. Most of what the police provide is already largely available on the open, voluntary market. In fact, what’s difficult is quantifying all of the products and services that go into this field, from cameras to alarm systems to weapons and security guards.
Now, when it comes to some powers like making arrests and incarcerating, police have more of a monopoly. Might that exclusivity be a contributing factor to unaccountability for police brutality and the troubling facts surrounding criminal justice and record prison populations?
In a libertarian order, where private property rights are secured through voluntary means, there is the benefit of economic signals in the form of prices. Under the status quo, governments may calculate some costs, but there is no sales revenue feedback, due to their “customers” being coerced into “buying” whatever is “offered.”
If police answered to customers just as grocers and hairdressers do, they wouldn’t be wasting time doing things that customers wouldn’t pay for, like pursuing the failed War on Drugs or petty rule infractions that generate revenue for governments.
Many police officers want to serve the public, and they nobly try their best to do so. But they’re up against a system that actually serves the government, as it makes the call on what is deemed a security threat. Police militarization is a consequence of this.
A brief sidenote to better illustrate the point, consider the TSA’s role at airports. The agency just rolled back its rule on larger bottles of hand sanitizer due to Covid-19, effectively admitting its rules are as dumb as they’ve always seemed. Or, remember when then-Congressman Ron Paul counted nearly 100,000 federal agents who carried guns, including for OSHA and the EPA.
Considering how much technological research and development is steered by government grants and contracts, it’s startling to think of the potential there is for truly private production of security.
The malinvestment is seen, but the unseen is how those resources would be better directed by businesses, neighborhood associations, and mutual aid groups that care about the communities they serve.
In Minneapolis, unfortunately, it does not seem that a libertarian path is being taken to arrive at a “police-free future” as their City Council statement puts it.
The statement fails to detail how the city will develop a “new transformative model for cultivating safety.”
“We recognize that we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does,” the statement continues, adding that the City Council will dialog with residents over the coming year.
That may sound good, but it really doesn’t say much of anything. More can be derived from what is not being said.
There is no indication that the taxpayers who footed the bill for the police department will see any refund, nor taxes being lowered. And there is absolutely no talk of undoing any gun control restrictions or pressuring the state to do so. Unsurprisingly, the Minneapolis City Council isn’t poised to give up any power, but instead grab more.
City Council president Lisa Bender has appeared on CNN, saying that worrying about who to call about a house break-in in the middle of the night “comes from a place of privilege.”
“I think we need to step back and imagine what it would feel like to already live in that reality where calling the police may mean more harm is done,” Bender added.
So, now “privilege” is the latest bogeyman, not unlike the concocted threats mentioned earlier, like terrorism, drugs, etc.
Bender’s words do not reflect a good philosophical foundation to ensure public safety going forward. They reflect a political class that feels emboldened to centrally plan the allocation of public safety resources, and that’s no transformation from what existed beforehand.
The libertarian way is the only “transformative” one, because it strikes at the root of the problem. That is, the coercion, the legalized violence the state has reserved for itself in the name of protection. Only when peaceful means are deployed will there be a peaceful end, the end of unaccountable police.