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What Defund the Police Gets Right

Summary:
By: Andrew Cowley For all the hullabaloo that surrounds the “Defund the Police” movement, we forget that our fellow citizens have legitimate concerns that must be openly and honestly discussed. Although the defund the police movement is surrounded by controversy, libertarians, conservatives, and liberals alike can find common ground in the sort of law enforcement that is required for a safe and secure neighborhood. Those who embrace individual freedom and liberty should take the defund the police movement seriously. The driving force behind defunding the police is the thirst to govern our communities, and ourselves, without government coercion. If we defund the police, it must follow that communities are empowered to “police” their own neighborhoods as they see fit. Without

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By: Andrew Cowley

For all the hullabaloo that surrounds the “Defund the Police” movement, we forget that our fellow citizens have legitimate concerns that must be openly and honestly discussed. Although the defund the police movement is surrounded by controversy, libertarians, conservatives, and liberals alike can find common ground in the sort of law enforcement that is required for a safe and secure neighborhood.

Those who embrace individual freedom and liberty should take the defund the police movement seriously. The driving force behind defunding the police is the thirst to govern our communities, and ourselves, without government coercion. If we defund the police, it must follow that communities are empowered to “police” their own neighborhoods as they see fit. Without government-sponsored police, law enforcement is privatized. And this is a good thing!

Libertarians hold the political philosophy that an individual needs to be recognized as such. Rights can only be applied to the individual, not to a group of individuals. The most supreme right of them all is the guarantee that personal property and individual freedom are never violated, without exception. This means that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not just ideals we strive for but actual rights that each individual person has been born with. These rights are not granted, given, or awarded to anyone by anyone. Instead, these rights are inherent in man’s existence and cannot be infringed upon by anyone or anything. The government is not exempt from this truth. No government, or individual, can violate the inherent right each person has to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Policing our communities is no different.

It is widely accepted that law enforcement is the responsibility of government. However, we must recognize that each community requires a different approach to policing. When considering population size, community diversity, resources available, etc., we can see that the law enforcement needs of places like New York City will necessitate a different approach from the one for Coeur d’Alene, Idaho—no matter how small the nuance. It is hard to deny that each specific community requires a unique approach.

Although the general theory of American individual liberty is recognized as good—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—it is difficult to apply this theory to real-world circumstance. This is why the defund the police movement mistakenly conjoins two contradictory goals: (1) the freedom to police for communities to police themselves as they see fit, and (2) a heavy-handed government to make sure that happens.

The freedom to do what is best for your individual circumstance and a strong authority figure to enforce compliance cannot coexist. Unavoidably, the right to police the community you live in as you see fit will clash with some strong authority figure who wants to decide for you what they think the right way to police is. The ideal of people choosing what’s best for themselves becomes others deciding what’s best for them.

There are as many different opinions about what good policing looks like as there are politicians who lie—we couldn’t begin to count that high, even if we tried! The premise is correct—we must overhaul what policing looks like in practice—but the conclusion is wrong. Replacing one authority figure with another in order to rectify policing issues will not solve the problem.

Surely, the most ardent propolice individual must admit that a community where people feel safe is the prime goal, whether that is achieved through traditional policing or not. If we can offer people a safe community, is it important if that safety is achieved through a private company? Are we to believe that a community would reject a safe neighborhood merely because that safety was provided by a private company, rather than the government? I think not!

The defund the police movement makes a poignant case against the current system of policing and community involvement by the government. By uniting behind the cause of privatizing the police, we will make strides toward a safer and more respectful community.

History has shown that government will prioritize revenue and power over the safety of citizens. Enforcing arbitrary laws (like parking tickets) to generate revenue from fines, government funds bloated pensions and expands union control—and the safety and well-being of citizens takes a back seat. We can see this reality playing out in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit. In Baltimore, government spending on police is more than half a billion dollars per year. Such a massive amount of money expended in the name of safety has produced one of the most dangerous cities in the United States.

There is a real, undeniable problem in minority neighborhoods—drugs, violence, and theft—and we must face that problem. The belief that the system (i.e., the police, government, capitalism, etc.) unfairly treats minorities (skin color, sexual preference, sexual identity, etc.) is a mainstay in modern culture and cannot be ignored. There is a prevailing belief that systemic racism has forced minority groups into a life of crime. Because government has a monopoly on law enforcement, there can be no solution that does not include cartel-like control without tearing down the entire system. This is why groups like Black Lives Matter believe that defunding the police is not a mere catchphrase—it is a call to reimagine the “system” in its entirety.

Although some state and local governments have agreed to “cut” law enforcement spending, calls for defunding the police have persisted. Appeals for compromise will go unheard. And this is a good thing!

Defunding the police and revamping law enforcement are legitimate goals that need to be addressed. Libertarians, conservatives, Republicans, and all other members of society should strive to recognize this ubiquitous issue.

The message of “defunding” the police is correct, even if the conclusion on how to fix bad community policing is not. It is true that government-sponsored policing has been, and is, destructive to some communities. We see this destruction nightly on our news channels. Elected officials have used law enforcement for their own protection, rather than for the protection of their constituents. Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot used police as a personal protection service for her home as buildings burned and protestors looted stores nearby. Politicians claim gun laws are our way to salvation as they are escorted by an armed cadre of bodyguards. The police have been enlisted as a political tool rather than for public safety. It is hypocrisy at its finest!

Without government monopoly on law enforcement, no such abuse by politicians can exist. Why? Because paying customers are given preference, regardless of political standing.

The premise that a community has the right to decide how best to protect their neighborhood is a by-product of individual freedom. The defund the police movement is right: the government should have no say about how to police a neighborhood if that neighborhood doesn’t want the protection the government is offering. Forcing a community to accept whatever solution the government proposes has resulted in distrust of law enforcement personnel, runaway government spending, and the militarization of the police.

The conclusion the defund the police movement has come to—replace one government-controlled police force with another—is unfitting. The answer to creating a safer, more inclusive community is not through more government oversight and political heavy handedness. No! The answer is for the people to establish what works best for them in their individual circumstance. This is accomplished by privatizing law enforcement.

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Mises Institute
The Mises Institute, founded in 1982, teaches the scholarship of Austrian economics, freedom, and peace. The liberal intellectual tradition of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) guides us. Accordingly, we seek a profound and radical shift in the intellectual climate: away from statism and toward a private property order.

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