Violence, Government Violence, and Anti-Government Rhetoric

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Thanks to the folks at the Show Me Institute, CoMoCitizens, and Keep Columbia Free for obtaining and posting this video and the information surrounding it. It’s footage of another raid carried out by the Columbia, Missouri Police Department.

Like the widely-viewed video released in May, this was a drug raid. Unlike the prior video, it appears that in this case the police found strong evidence that someone in this house was dealing drugs. But I think that actually makes this video particularly important. If we’re going to continue to fight the drug war, America ought to see just how literally the government is taking that war to our homes, streets, and neighborhoods. (Note the presence of children in the home.)

As with the first video, this raid isn’t specific to Columbia PD. It’s typical. It employs the same violent, volatile tactics used 100-150 times per day in this country to serve search warrants for drug crimes. They’re the same tactics that have led government employees to terrorize, injure, and kill dozens of nonviolent drug offenders. Below is video of such a killing. Todd Blair, a meth user, was shot and killed by Utah police during a SWAT raid on his home last year. There’s no evidence he was dealing. He had four dollars in his pocket when he died. When police broke into his home, he confronted them with a golf club. So they shot him in the head and chest.

They’re the same tactics that, last week, caused Framingham, Massachusetts police to shoot and kill 68-year-old Eurie Stamps, an innocent, unarmed man whose only apparent transgression was to have allowed his girlfriend’s son to live with him. And they’re the same tactics that led police in Georgia to shoot and kill Jonathan Ayers, a pastor whose only transgression was to have ministered to a woman the police were investigating for drugs and prostitution. Below is the map I put together for Cato, which I’m certain is not comprehensive, of other completely innocent people killed in drug raids. These are people who weren’t even using, much less dealing. Click here to read their stories.

Of course the drug war is merely one of a number of government policies that result in violence against its own citizens. We’re going to hear a lot of talk in the coming days about putting an end to anti-government rhetoric. I’ve been listening to it all morning on the Sunday talk shows. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here: Initiating violence against government officials and politicians is wrongheaded, immoral, futile, and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk here.

But it’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else. The particular policy that leads to the sort of violence you see in these videos is supported by nearly all of the politicians and pundits decrying anti-government rhetoric on the news channels this morning. (It’s also supported by Sarah Palin, many Tea Party leaders, and other figures on the right that politicians and pundits are shaming this weekend.)

I hope Rep. Giffords—and everyone wounded yesterday—makes a full recovery. It’s particularly tragic that she was shot while doing exactly what we want elected officials to do—she was making herself available to the people she serves. And of course we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Green, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.

That said, I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own government—killed in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders support—as they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man. What happened this weekend is not, by any means, a reason to shunt anti-government protest, even angry anti-government protest, out of the sphere of acceptable debate. The government still engages in plenty of acts and policies—including one-sided violence against its own citizens—that are well worth our anger, protest, and condemnation.

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56 Responses to “Violence, Government Violence, and Anti-Government Rhetoric”

  1. #1 |  MattN | 

    Thanks for putting this out there, Balko.

    In response to ‘matt w’ #27, but also more generally:

    First, in this particular instance the gunman appears to be totally detached from reality. So that should end the story, but it doesn’t, of course — politicians use the occasion to imply that the attack was provoked by speech critical of government, in a disgustingly cynical attempt to silence that criticism.

    It kills me every time I hear a statist (right or left, but usually left) attack free speech on the pretense that it might provoke the occasional extremist into acts of violence. Balko glaringly points out that the state not only condones violence by its own agencies, but actually approves and funds the tactics.

    But that’s only the explicit portion of the violence. The rest of government is a gestapo of implied violence. For every law that is passed there is the explicit legal requirement of punishment for non-compliance… perhaps a fee. But does someone who disagrees with a law pay the fee because they agree with the punishment, or because it is the easiest way to avoid the next level of punishment… jail? And does someone go to jail because they agree with the punishment, or only because it is preferable to being killed? If the “criminal” says, “anh… I don’t agree with that law and I refuse to be punished for it,” does the government shrug and go on it’s merry way? No… ultimately it pursues non-conformists into their graves.

    Think of that… Obama and his statist friends in congress passed a law legally requiring everyone to buy insurance. Those that don’t must pay a fine, but that’s only an option to let you avoid jail, which is only an option to let you avoid being killed. Their ultimate goal is to convince you to participate in the program even if you don’t agree with you, by making the consequences uncomfortable. Most people are going to choose compliance or the fee, even if they disagree, because it’s less painful than jail or death. But the implication is there.

    [Now that’s just an example. This isn’t a rant against liberals or Democrats. It’s a rant against statists, which can be applied to conservatives and Republicans just as well.]

    So I slip into a subtle rage when a statist sycophant complains about anti-statist rhetoric supposedly provoking some anti-government violence. Statists live and breath violence on a daily basis. Their entire BEING is consumed with the use of state power to force people into compliance. Implied violence lies behind the veneer of “compassion” and “benevolence” of every state action. The explicit and implied violence behind state action is apparently so completely absorbed into the being of those who wield and support that power that they are able to completely compartmentalize it out of conscious mind. PARDON ME if I don’t feel an OUNCE of remorse for speaking out against the state. If the state wasn’t shitting all over people on a daily basis, I wouldn’t have to.

    Now, dammit, I am NOT an anarchist, or some right-winger. I’m just a dude who believes in FREEDOM, and I won’t live in a f-ing world where politicians and their god-dammed sycophants get to run around using and threating violence with impunity, while at the same time criticizing (and threating the rights of) people who simply SPEAK in criticism of government.

    Now, to people who love government and think it is a great source of good for solving all kinds of human problems, I submit to you: using coercive power, and the associated explicit and implicit violence, to achieve your goals is not “success,” it is not “progress,” it is not “good,” “right,” “just,” or benevolent in any sense. It is a complete capitulation to abject failure.

    WHEW… I feel SO MUCH BETTER! Now that I was able to SPEAK, maybe I won’t go out and SHOOT someone!

    [to anyone reading, that last comment was sarcasm aimed at making a point about speech being an important outlet… I’m not planning to, nor have I ever planned to, shoot anyone… fuck all that I even have to say that]

  2. #2 |  When Politicians turn Murder into Opportunity | Thoughts on Liberty | 

    […] writing I have seen thus far that mentions all six of the dead victims in the shooting was made by The Agitator. Most of the seven other news stories I have open only mention Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured […]

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    […] Radley Balko writes on the same topic I just addressed, though a couple days earlier: Let’s get the obvious out of […]

  4. #4 |  Michael Ejercito | 

    I’ve been listening to it all morning on the Sunday talk shows. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here: Initiating violence against government officials and politicians is wrongheaded, immoral, futile, and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk here.

    While there have been situations in history (the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking) where initiating violence against government officials and politicians was justified, these conditions do not exist currently in this country.

  5. #5 |  My Letter to the Long Beach Press-Telegram - eHarmony Advice | 

    […] of society to see how this works out, a subset that has a proven track record of abusing guns. That subset, of course, is government. If we find that eliminating guns from all levels and agencies of government dramatically reduces […]

  6. #6 |  Divorce Authority | 

    We can and do hold officials at all levels accountable for their actions. That doesn’t mean that they are saints, but they do have to think twice before abusing authority.