I Can’t Breathe: How to Reduce Police Brutality
Should we have laws we aren’t willing to kill for?
Following tragic deaths at the hands of police, like that of Eric Garner, many are outraged over racism and unaccountability in law enforcement. But George Mason Law Professor Ilya Somin takes issue with the laws themselves, and asks whether all laws are really worth killing for. Police run the risk of injuring or killing Americans every time they arrest someone–and each year, hundreds of thousands are arrested for nonviolent crimes. The more racist and unaccountable you believe the police are, Somin argues, the more you should want to limit the number of situations where they can inflict that abusive and racist behavior on civilians.
Can we justify killing people for nonviolent crimes? Can we justify the death of Eric Garner and countless others?
Why don’t you just leave me alone. I told you the last time. Please just leave me alone.
The recent tragic death of Eric Garner reinforces a point we should have learned a long time ago. That we shouldn’t support laws unless we’re prepared to take the risk in the process of enforcing them, people will be injured or killed. Eric Garner was killed by a New York police officer who was trying to arrest him for selling cigarettes without collecting New York’s extremely high cigarette tax in the process. Although the officer probably did not initially intend to kill Garner, sadly that is what happened in the end as a result of their interaction. This is just one example of the many thousands of situations that happen every week where police arrest people and apprehend them and therefore there is a chance that violence will result. Even if police are extremely careful to use only the minimum and necessary force over hundreds of thousands of arrests it is inevitable that in at least some cases they are going to slip up and tragic results will occur as happened in the case of Eric Garner.
Now, some people argue that focusing on the number of laws is a distraction from what they regard as the real problem. The fact that police are usually not held accountable for violence against civilians and also what they see as the often racist behavior of the police when they deal with minorities. The more racist and unaccountable you believe the police are, the more you should want to limit the number of situations in which they could inflict that abusive and racist behavior on civilians. The more arrests they have to make, the more likely it is that these tendencies will come out in a variety of different situations.
Moreover, the more interactions between police and civilians, the more difficult it is to monitor all of these situations and ensure that the police are held accountable and don’t engage in practices such as racial profiling