On March 31, The New Yorker published an item in its humor vertical, Shouts & Murmurs, titled "L.P.D.: Libertarian Police Department." At least 31,000 people liked it.
I can laugh along with parodies of libertarian ideology. But shouldn't a reductio ad absurdum start with a belief that the target of the satire actually holds? Tom O'Donnell proceeds as if libertarians object to the state enforcing property rights—that is to say, one of the very few state actions that virtually all libertarians find legitimate! If America's sheriffs were all summarily replaced by Libertarian Party officials selected at random, I'm sure some ridiculous things would happen. Just not any of the particular things that were described.
That isn't to say that there weren't parts of the article that made me laugh. It got me thinking too. If the non-libertarian approach to policing* was the target instead, would you need hyperbole or reductio ad absurdum? Or could you just write down what actually happens under the officials elected by non-libertarians? It is, of course, hard to make it funny when all the horrific examples are true.
* * *
I was just finishing up my shift by having sex with a prostitute when I got a call about an opportunity for overtime. A no-knock raid was going down across town.
"You're trying to have your salary spike this year to game the pension system, right?" my buddy told me. "Well, we're raiding a house where an informant says there's marijuana, and it's going to be awesome—we've got a $283,ooo military-grade armored SWAT truck and the kind of flash grenades that literally scared that one guy to death."
"Don't start without me," I told him. "I just have to stop by this pawn shop. It's run by some friends of mine from ATF. They paid this mentally disabled teenager $150 dollars to get a neck tattoo of a giant squid smoking a joint. Those guys are hilarious."
But when I got to the shop the guys weren't in any mood to joke around—something about having lost their guns again. That meant I had extra time to get to the raid. En route, I headed through a black and Latino neighborhood, and who did I see on the street? A teenage male who made what I would describe as a furtive movement.
So I threw him against a wall and frisked him. Then I realized I'd frisked the same kid a half-dozen times before. Never found anything. About 17 years old. Looked like he was mixed race. "What am I being arrested for?" he asked me. "For being a fucking mutt," I told him. "I am going to break your fuckin' arm off right now. Then I'm going to punch you in the face." I know stop-and-frisk is controversial, but it's like Ray Kelly said: "I go to communities of color. People want more." It meant a lot to us police officers when President Obama praised him.
By the time I arrived at the site of the raid it was after dark. Inside, there were the suspects, their kids, and the family dogs. We don't like to wait for suspects of nonviolent drug crimes to leave the house, or call on the phone and ask them to come out, or knock, because what if they flush the drugs we suspect them of having down the toilet? How would we ever win the War on Drugs if we let that happen?
So we go in with overwhelming force and firepower. Kick down the door and all that. Zealousness pays off, too. Just try to find me a free country where they arrest more people.
What happened at the raid?
If memory serves, we shot some dogs to death on that raid too. I think it was two puppies, actually: One was 10 months old, and the other was three months old. Or wait. Was that the one where we killed a 9-year-old Labrador with its tail wagging? Shoot, actually, maybe it was the time that we tased and shot the Chihuahua? Man, these all blend together after a while. I know it wasn't the Akita we shot nine times. Or that Iraq War vet's rescue dog we killed. I don't think it was the the Jack Russell terrier or the golden retriever or that dog where the bullet also hit the 5-year-old. The point is that it was just a dog. It isn't like we arbitrarily pepper-sprayed a woman in the face, or shot an 80-year-old man as he lay in his own bed, or killed a mentally ill homeless guy by beating him to death.
Anyway, I won't be going on raids like that anymore. Nope, I'm 50 years old now. So I'll retire, and every month for the rest of my life I'll earn 90 percent of my peak salary—the one I inflated in my last year by working overtime. God bless Gray Davis.
Hey, what's the harm?
Not that my career in law enforcement is over. I'll be double-dipping. The FBI is my first choice. They take care of their own: Every time they've shot anyone since 1993 it's been deemed justified! The DEA could be fun too. I've always hated defense attorneys, so I'd take pleasure in tricking them into thinking we caught their clients one way, when really the information came from a secret, mass-surveillance program. Suckers. Of course, I could also go into the private sector. There's a lot of money to be made tracking the movements of millions of people, and then selling the information back to my former colleagues or to the highest bidder. Not that the license-plate-scanning business is a sure thing, what with surveillance drones on the horizon. I'd operate one. Especially once they start arming them! Anything but working as a guard or staff member in a juvenile prison.
* * *
That's the great thing about an ideologically diverse media: All sides are objects of satire, that essential rhetorical tool for puncturing power and ridiculing ideological excesses. Thanks to The New Yorker**, America is now that much safer from a future where policing is controlled by radical libertarians who refuse to step on public sidewalks. And I'll keep looking to satirize problems with the non-libertarian approach to policing. Between us, we'll cover everything important.
* It should go without saying that there are many honest, courageous, talented police officers–and lots of average, mostly unobjectionable officers too. The bad apples are a minority, and while they're too often protected by colleagues, ultimate blame lies with the elected officials who neglect to pass necessary reforms, as well as an electorate that cares far too little about civil-liberties abuses.
** The New Yorker deserves credit for all sorts of excellent non-satirical reporting on criminal-justice abuses, from asset forfeiture to stop-and-frisk to executing innocent people. Yet somehow, when it's time to choose an ideological object of ridicule on the subject of policing, libertarians get the nod (what better tool than satire to stay totally within the comfort zone of the readership!). Could it be that the folks ordering street frisks and drone strikes are more deserving objects of ridicule?