Radley Balko continues his excellent work on the Cory Maye case (which in turn led to the separate issues of the malpractice of Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West). In his latest post he notes that not only did Nixon bring us the “War on Drugs”, his people also thought-up no-knock raids which kill cops like Ron Jones and grandmothers like Kathryn Johnston. Nothing to do with enforcing the law, it just fulfills the politicians syllogism and gets votes (a good example of such a “tough on crime” politician who doesn’t actually reduce crime is Frank Melton, Worst Mayor in America).
Balko also links to a previous post on the not-very-trustworthy informant in the Maye case I had missed. I find it funny that Mencius Moldbug will go on and on about the power anonymous leakers have through the press (which isn’t totally silly, Novak says “If you’re not a leak you’re a target”) and not a word about the influence of police informants, who tend to be the scum of the earth (who else knows more about criminals?). After all, real power comes out the barrel of Officer Friendly’s gun, and the person who can tell him where to point that gun and possesses information that can’t be independently verified (if it could, why bother keeping him around and overlooking the criminal activity that gave you the leverage to get him to inform?) has a lot more of it than we would wish them to have. Sounds scarier than Sulzberger to me.
The use of informants is inevitable when going after a victimless crime like the drug trade. There are no victims (or their grieving loved ones) who will go to the police, eager to give all the information they can. Everyone involved cooperates in letting as little information as possible getting out. Use of informants and entrapment is about the only option available. You could try going after the source in other countries with the military, but it won’t accomplish anything. As a parallel to Creveld’s saying “the strong that fight the weak become weak” we could say that when law enforcement shifts from protecting its citizenry to immersing itself in the muck of the world of the drug trade, it doesn’t come out looking too clean itself. It’s relationship with the public also changes from protector to prison-guard. Going on about the greatness of order and how those liberals, those lawyers, those media folks are leaving Vaisyas at the mercy of the lumpen hordes isn’t fixing anything. It just makes you part of the intertwined system that produces the anarcho-tyranny you denounce.
I wasn’t so cynical about the police and military years ago. I simply thought to myself “Legitimate area for the government to be involved in, end of story”. Of course the same incentives (or lack thereof) for disappointing performance exists there as elsewhere, we’re just screwed in that the market won’t provide something better. This isn’t going to be I Used to Not Be Anti-Cop, but I do feel like explaining a bit how my attitude has shifted. I’d been reading (and becoming, though I’m still a minarchist) more radical libertarian writers, observing the misuse of the defense and justice departments under Bush (if only the person in office was different…nothing would change). I figured there were probably lots of problems with law enforcement, but nothing too bad. My unexpressed assumption was that the police and prosecutors were generally disinterested well-meaning people and anyone they went after was probably guilty and deserved this. When the Duke Lacrosse story broke I ignored it (why is it any concern to the rest of the country what happens to three kids in Durham?). I also assumed they were guilty. Would the authorities really go after them if they didn’t have sufficient evidence to leave not a shadow of a doubt of guilt. I was annoyed that William Anderson kept writing about it on Lew Rockwell, since I figured there were more important things to occupy the front-page. Because it was my habit, I read everything anyway. As more and more evidence came out of the blatant misconduct on the part of the prosecutor and police, my assumptions about the justice system began to erode. Many writers mocked the liberals who were so eager to believe in the guilt of the “privileged white jocks” (and I think that did play a major role, to the extent that many were any less hateful when it turned out they obviously didn’t rape anyone or weren’t even present) but I had made the same assumption. It is certainly the case that that situation was unusual but unusual in a way that should have mitigated against such misconduct. These kids could afford good lawyers (and my hat goes off to them) who would point out what was going on. There was more media attention paid to that case than any other in the country, so Nifong should have watched his steps. Some of the things they did were so obviously wrong one couldn’t imagine them defending it to you or coming up with any plausible explanation. But that didn’t happen. Then I wondered, if it can happen there, just how widespread is that with defendants who aren’t so lucky? It wasn’t just limited to one bad prosecutor either. Police officers lied on the stand and arrested people who could testify for the defense and a DNA expert colluded to withhold exculpatory evidence. These people got support from the public when they locked folks up, not for letting go. I still think that relative to most places on earth, America is remarkably well functioning and we can be said to have “the rule of law” and a law enforcement system we can trust. But that’s relative to the thoroughly corrupt and thuggish systems you find in most countries and leaves plenty of room for perversions of justice.
UPDATE: Jeffrey Tucker discusses the more mundane evils of our justice system here. And if you think there are no intelligent people who oppose drug legalization, watch this bloggingheads with Mark Kleiman and Megan non-water-engineer.