Bipartisan Non-Leadership

Yesterday Paul Waldman asked why libertarians are not talking about Ferguson.

Senator Rand Paul, right now America’s most prominent libertarian (yes, I know, some don’t consider him a real libertarian), hasn’t said anything about the case — no public comments, no news releases, nothing on Twitter, nothing on Facebook. I contacted his office just to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything, and a press staffer told me they have no statement at this time. I also called the office of Rep. Justin Amash, known as the purest libertarian in the House, and got the same answer: he hasn’t said anything about it, and they have no statement to make. How about mustachioed libertarian TV personality John Stossel? Just a couple of weeks ago he was writing about the militarization of the police. He hasn’t said a peep about Ferguson.

Reason magazine defended Paul and Amash, thus: “Neither, it should be noted, represents Ferguson, Missouri, and neither is a member of the Libertarian Party.” So neither Paul nor Amash are real libertarians, then. And Nancy Pelosi hasn’t said anything about Ferguson, either; nyah nyah nyah. I assume that’s true, and there’s a good argument that politicians who don’t represent Ferguson have to be careful what they say about it.

The Blaze reported disgust that the President was at a party in Martha’s Vinyard as violence raged in Ferguson. The FBI is involved in the Michael Brown shooting investigation, so now the President has to maintain some distance, too, I would think. If he were to inject himself into the situation and the FBI investigation resulted in indictments against Ferguson police, many people could jump to many ugly conclusions, especially considering the President and Attorney General are black.

Another libertarian apologist, Ilya Somin, points out that libertarian spokespeople such as Radley Balko have been at the forefront of speaking out against the war on drugs. But I wasn’t aware the situation in Ferguson had any connection to drugs. Why does Somin reflexively connect “violence in a black community” to “drugs,” hmmm?

I realize the “war on drugs” has a connection to the militarization of the police, but so does the “war on terror.” Hysteria over foreign terrorism and illegal immigration probably has more to do with it than the war on drugs, actually. See Bill Moyers

The “war on terror” has come home — and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.

The weapons that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization — complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades — when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.

Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.

But what about the politicians who do represent or govern Ferguson? It has to be said that the governor of Missouri, a Democrat, has been largely MIA about Ferguson. I don’t follow state politics any more and have no sense of where Gov. Jay Nixon is on anything. I see he is from DeSoto, in Jefferson County, which is very poor, rural and white, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I grew up in an adjacent county which was also rural and white, although slightly less poor. Also, Ferguson is represented in Congress by Lacy Clay, a Democrat, who from what I can see hasn’t said much about the violence either.

Missouri’s senators are Roy Blunt (R) and Claire McCaskill (D). Blunt has made vague noises supportive of the police. McCaskill has called for a fair investigation and is supposed to speak with the Attorney General about it today, so that’s something.

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat who represents Ferguson in Jefferson City, appears to be a little more proactive. She’s at least nudging Gov. Nixon to step up, and she’s been critical of the police. I don’t know anything about the politics of the mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles, who seems not to be in charge.

The larger point is that neither party gets bragging rights on this. However, I really would expect the fire-breathing libertarians in Congress to be a little more vocal. Just for consistency’s sake, you know.

Ferguson: Police Are Out of Control

From where I grew up St. Louis was the nearest city. After moving away I often told people I grew up “near St. Louis” even though it wasn’t that near, actually. It’s just that St. Louis was the closest place to where I grew up anyone who isn’t from there has heard of.

It’s been many years since I’ve been in downtown St. Louis or seen any part of St. Louis County other than the airport, so I can’t say I know it at all any more. But I can’t say I’m surprised at what’s happening in Ferguson. I imagine it’s the worst of a lot of worlds — a community still suffering from the lingering effects of Jim Crow and unequal opportunity; a police force with big city equipment and rural southern sensibilities. In the Heat of the Night meets Robocop.

And now the cops are out of control. I’m sure that’s not how a lot of people see it, but that’s how I see it. Joan Walsh writes,

“This looks like a textbook case of what not to do,” Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund told Lawrence O’Donnell.

On the 49th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, it’s important to remember that the famous Kerner Commission established to look at 1960s urban upheavals found that virtually every “riot” was triggered by police brutality — and that has continued in our own time, from the so-called “Rodney King riots” in 1992 through today. On MSNBC Ifill indicted the failures of police training and culture that led not only to the killing of Michael Brown, but also the overreaction to every night of protests.

But Ifill also made the important point that the militarization of the Ferguson police is something entirely new and enormously disturbing. The images Wednesday night should wake all of us up to the alarming militarization of local cops all over the country. How did a local police department get tanks and trucks and body armor that look like it all was designed for the streets of Baghdad and not a little city outside St. Louis?

As Walsh says, political leadership seems entirely absent, and the out-of-control cops are arresting reporters guilty of charging up their laptops at a McDonald’s. Yep, this should wake all of us up. Probably won’t, though.