Monday, December 15, 2014

What Progressives Do Not Understand About Laws


Eric Garner's death has come at a convenient moment for protesters. The whole Michael Brown thing blew up for most rational people, once all that 'Gentle Giant', 'hands up don't shoot' shit faded away and all evidence pointed to Brown being a criminal thug. Sure, there's still some true believers out there, but there's also some people who are convinced

But so much emotion and outrage was invested in that story that there had to be SOMEone out there with a bit more sympathetic of a "narrative" to rally behind, so it looks like people are trading in their "Hands Up Don't Shoot" t-shirts for ones that read "I Can't Breathe". Everyone wins - the protesters get to keep on protesting while not feeling quite as stupid as before, t-shirt sellers get to double-dip the same people, and Jesse Jackson gets another funeral to crash. About the only losers here are 'sanity' and 'reasonable discourse', and c'mon - surely our collective rationality is able to take one more for the team, right?

Right.

Anyway, one glance at Eric Garner's wikipedia info indicates he's got a long string of arrests to his name, which is no doubt a testament to the thoroughly racist police department in his city. Regardless of his crimes, I feel bad for him, because the particular crime that got him killed was a combination of resisting arrest and selling loose cigarettes. Because, you know, if you sell singles you may make life more convenient for a lot of people but you'll also make the panhandlers more annoying, and the tiniest of babies are more likely to be able to afford a single cigarette than a pack ergo to sell a loosie is tantamount to KILLING CHILDREN, or so the logic goes.

All bullshit, of course. Or rather, at best - yes, I can see why single cigarettes are no doubt a bad thing, a negative thing, but the fact that something is on the whole negative is not in and of itself a good reason to pass a law against it. Now, there's a few reasons why that is the case - difficulty of enforcement, intrusion into people's private lives, but central to the topic is the fact that if you outlaw something you're running risk of some guy losing his life because a fucking cop pins him to the ground because he's outraged at being hassled for breaking a bullshit law.

Which is something people in general, and progressives in particular, do not get.

One thing I brought up during the talk about forcing Christians (and muslims, and...) businesses to service gay weddings is that people seemed to not comprehend - or not want to admit - that when they passed a law forcing Christians to bake a cake for a gay wedding, they weren't magically making Christians happily bake cakes for the most loving and monogamous of gay couples. They were telling a large number of men with guns, 'If people disobey this law, show up at their house with guns, take their stuff, throw them in prison, and if they act up too much do feel free to kill them or slam them around until they behave'.

Because, you know - that's what happens when you pass a law against something that people would like to do.

What was incredible was how many progressives - Christian progressives, no less - seemed to be in complete denial that this is, you know... how law enforcement works. More than one seemed to have the idea that, well, no, maybe someone would resist the law, but then someone will have a nice talk with them and then they'll happily comply and oh it's a win-win. Men with guns, aka, police officers? They'd never get involved. They certainly wouldn't threaten anyone. There's no air of threat or malice hanging over these people's heads.

Because if there was, that would make LGBT activists and progressives look like a combination of ridiculous monsters, and that is quite impossible, thank you very much. No, what happens is you pass a law and everyone follows it - maybe some of them begrudgingly, but oh, fuck those people anyway, ha ha, won't it be great to make someone violate their conscience?

But no one ever, you know... gets threatened by a cop. Or harassed. Or hurt.

Or killed.

Situations like Eric Garner's never actually happen.

And if they DO happen... well, clearly it's racism. The cops were trying to kill Eric Garner because he's black. The law itself couldn't have had anything to do with it. The reliance on the law couldn't have had anything to do with it. Because if it did, well, that would mean we should be hesitant about outlawing things we dislike which, of course, is unthinkable.

But yeah, this is what happens. This is part of the risk of passing a law like banning the sale of loosies. And you know what? Sometimes that risk is worthwhile. Sometimes you get tragedy happening, almost inevitably, in the normal course of enforcing a law or maintaining one or another good standard.

And sometimes that risk isn't worthwhile, and you realize that oops, wait, maybe outlawing things we dislike - even things we feel quite strongly about - is a bad idea and we should just accept that some bad things will happen, and dealing with them will require other approaches, if we even decide to shoulder that particular burden at all.

However, if we recognize that - if outlawing things we dislike is actually potentially dangerous - we may hesitate. We may think things through. We may even develop a stigma against reactionary use of and expansion of government power. Which, if you're a big fan of using said power for whatever happens to be making you frantic at the moment, is a bad thing.

And with that in mind, well, I suppose it's just better to pretend that if there was a reason Eric Garner died, it cant possibly have anything to do with Eric Garner having broken a stupid, ill-considered law. No, instead it has to be quite entirely due to racism, or one or another perceived injustice.

Hey, maybe it's because someone has a freedom they really shouldn't have, something that we dislike and need to discourage.

And if so? Well, then it's clear what we really need here: yet more laws!

No comments: