If you asked me to make the best possible argument in favor of the police action that led to the death of Eric Garner, it would go like this:
- Cigarettes are taxed.
- You can’t have taxes without enforcement. In this case, the enforcers are the police.
- Where there are enforcers, there will be confrontations.
- When sellers refuse to cooperate, the enforcers have only two options: Walk away, or resort to violence.
- Enforcers who walk away soon lose their credibility and their effectiveness. This is more than doubly important for a police officer, who needs that credibility when he confronts far more dangerous criminals.
- Therefore, we cannot fault the police for resorting to violence.
- Violence is sometimes catastrophic. That’s sad, but it’s not news.
If you asked me to make the best possible counterargument, it would go like this:
- You could say exactly the same thing about a protection racket.
That is, every protection racket needs an enforcer. When shopowners don’t pay up, the enforcer has only two options: Walk away or resort to violence. To walk away would sacrifice credibility. Therefore we cannot fault the enforcer for resorting to violence. Sometimes violence gets pretty messy. So it goes.
The force of that reductio ad absurdum depends on the analogy between taxation of cigarettes and the demand for protection money. I think that reasonable people can disagree about the depth of that analogy.
But the lesson remains that every law must occasionally be enforced through potentially catastrophic violence, or, to put this more succinctly, all legislation is deadly. Violence is part of the cost of making laws, and it’s a cost the makers of new laws would be well advised to contemplate.