RAND PAUL BLAMES TECHNOLOGY FIRST AND RACISM LAST
I've given Rand Paul a hard time for not responding to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, but now he's out with a Time op-ed on the subject -- and it clarifies for me why I've been uncomfortable with some of the other reactions to the events, including reactions of people I normally agree with.
Paul starts by describing the killing of Michael Brown as "an awful tragedy." He says he can imagine "smart[ing] off" to a cop if he'd been told to get on the sidewalk as a young man. "But, I wouldn't have expected to be shot."
So far, so good. But what follows -- and takes up the bulk of the op-ed -- is a discussion of the hardware being used in Ferguson now, not the people ordering it onto the streets or wielding it. Paul quotes a 2009 Popular Mechanics article by Glenn Reynolds on the militarization of the police. He quotes a recent blog post by the Cato Institute's Walter Olson on the same subject as it's playing out in Ferguson. He quotes a 2013 Heritage Foundation report on the equipping of police with military hardware. Ultimately, he blames "big government." His main concern seems to be scoring points for the conservative/libertarian side -- see, we've been warning you about this all along (and trying to link it in your minds with everything else we denounce as "big government").
Only at the end of the op-ed does he make overt references to race. They're forthright references, and I give him credit for them. But they're secondary to his main point. The word "militarization" appears in the op-ed five times, and "military" three times. "Government/governments" appears five times. "Black" and "race" appear once each.
Paul isn't alone in focusing primarily on the excessive use of hardware -- John Cole and the rest of the Balloon Juice crew have been particularly passionate about this, as have a lot of the people I follow on Twitter.
But I live in a city where the cops tried to destroy a black man's life by sodomizing him with a broom handle. The most notorious recent death here at the hands of the cops was, literally, at the hands of the cops -- no high-tech heavy-metal gadgetry involved:
And, on the other coast a generation ago, there was this, of course, involving plain old nightsticks:
Military weaponry makes a bad situation much worse, but the core problem is still police forces that have nothing but contempt for the populations they're supposed to "protect and serve." By all means criticize the hardware -- but the real problem isn't going to go away if the use of that hardware is dialed back, because cops will treat civilians they despise with contempt using whatever's at hand. And if Paul's fellow libertarians get us talking almost exclusively about gear and government, then they'll have successfully diverted the discussion onto their turf, for their ends. We mustn't let that happen.