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Opening Arguments

Soft despotism

I know there have been a lot of  "The Eric Garner case is/is not about race" stories, but I think this piece, arguing that it is "worse than racism" is important

The truly terrifying thing about Eric Garner’s death is that I don’t think the cops in that video hated anybody. They were just doing their job. And their job included strangling a man to death for having sold “loosies” – untaxed cigarettes. Something he wasn’t doing when he was killed; he had just broken up a fight that the police came to investigate.

Garner had just broken up a fight. The police hassled him, based on his record as a (gasp!) vendor of untaxed cigarettes, and when he protested the force of law came down on him and snuffed him.

In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy In America that has been justly celebrated for its perception about the young American republic ever since. In it, he warned of the dangers of what he called “soft despotism” – that “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules”, all justified in soothing ways to achieve worthy objectives. Such as discouraging people from smoking by heavily taxing cigarettes.

Eric Garner died in a New York minute because “soft despotism” turned hard enough to kill him in cold blood. There was no anger there, no hate; the police simply failed to grasp the moral disproportion between the “crimes” he wasn’t even committing at the time and their use of force. And an investigating grand jury did no better.

Violent racists, as evil as they are, generally understand on some level that they’re doing wrong. That understanding is written all over the excuses they make. These cops didn’t need an excuse. They were doing their job. They were enforcing the law.

One thing that libertarians understand clearly, progressives really don't and conservatives get only sometimes, is that "the law" is the use of force. It is the gun and the right of police to use it. That's why we have to be very careful about the laws we pass, make sure the prohibition in question is important enough for the use of force. The more complicated we let the law become and the more we clutter it up with trivialities (like selling loosies, for God's sake), the more likely that the "soft despotism" he's talking about will become hard despotism.

It kind of creeps up on us, and befoe we know it anybody can be arrested at anytime for almost any reason:

But we are all accessories before the fact. Because we elected them. We ceded them the power to pass oh, so many well-intentioned laws, criminalizing so much behavior that one prominent legal analyst has concluded the average American commits three inadvertent felonies a day.

"The cops didn't hate anybody. They were just doing their job." If that's not chilling, I don't know what is.


Rebecca Mallory
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 4:20pm

New York law does not allow the release of specific details of Grand Jury testimony.  District Attorney Daniel Donovan has petitioned The Court for authorization to publicly release specific information.

It may be wise to suspend judgment until details are made available.

Leo Morris
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 4:34pm

Point taken.