Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Guilding The Polity

Just a few days ago, Radley Balko wrote as follows:

The American Civil Liberties Union has released the results of its year-long study of police militarization. The study looked at 800 deployments of SWAT teams among 20 local, state and federal police agencies in 2011-2012. Among the notable findings:
  • 62 percent of the SWAT raids surveyed were to conduct searches for drugs.
  • Just under 80 percent were to serve a search warrant, meaning eight in 10 SWAT raids were not initiated to apprehend a school shooter, hostage taker, or escaped felon (the common justification for these tactics), but to investigate someone still only suspected of committing a crime.
  • In fact, just 7 percent of SWAT raids were “for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.”
  • In at least 36 percent of the SWAT raids studies, no contraband of any kind was found. The report notes that due to incomplete police reports on these raids this figure could be as high as 65 percent.
  • SWAT tactics are disproportionately used on people of color.
  • 65 percent of SWAT deployments resulted in some sort of forced entry into a private home, by way of a battering ram, boot, or some sort of explosive device. In over half those raids, the police failed to find any sort of weapon, the presence of which was cited as the reason for the violent tactics.
  • Ironically (or perhaps not), searches to serve warrants on people suspected of drug crimes were more likely to result in forced entry than raids conducted for other purposes.
  • Though often justified for rare incidents like school shootings or terrorist situations, the armored personnel vehicles police departments are getting from the Pentagon and through grants from the Department of Homeland Security are commonly used on drug raids.

In other words, where violent, volatile SWAT tactics were once used only in limited situations where someone was in the process of or about to commit a violent crime — where the police were using violence only to defuse an already violent situation — SWAT teams today are overwhelmingly used to investigate people who are still only suspected of committing nonviolent consensual crimes. And because these raids often involve forced entry into homes, often at night, they’re actually creating violence and confrontation where there was none before.

Slightly more recently, Balko wrote as follows:

As part of the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent report on police militarization, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization sent open records requests to SWAT teams across that state. It received an interesting response.

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.

Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.

Isn't that interesting? A principal source of armed violence, acting under color of law, denies all its essential information to the public that funds and endures its predations.

Those SWAT "corporations" are a modern guild.

Meanwhile, David French notes a parallel development among the political elite:

Andrew’s and Molly’s post reflecting the hysterical reaction on the Left to the Hobby Lobby decision makes for both entertaining and instructive reading. It’s entertaining because — regarding the issue they claim to care most about, access to contraceptives — the decision blocks exactly no one from obtaining the drugs they choose to purchase. There’s just slightly less free stuff on the market. This is hardly Handmaid’s Tale territory.

It’s instructive because it demonstrates the extent to which the Left is emotionally and ideologically committed to the power of the regulatory state. For some time, the Left has been selling the public and the courts on the notion that somehow the act of forming a corporation and opening for business operates as an effective waiver of your most basic liberties, including free speech, free exercise of religion, and virtually the entire panoply of property rights. In effect, your business is not “your” business at all, but instead all aspects of its operations exist at the whim of the state, and if the state wants to draft you into its child-killing abortion crusade — or wants to muzzle you during political campaigns – then you best salute and fall in line.

...concerning which the esteemed Ace of Spades comments thus:

The Left, were it to have its way, would forbid anyone who is not primarily in the business of politics (or working for the government or university) from exercising their full political rights.

If you work in any other industry, your rights are substantially reduced.

Think how much this proposed rule would benefit the Left, were it fully accepted. (It is 85% accepted at the moment.)

The only people who would be permitted to speak on political issues, or at in accordance with their social/cultural/religious/political principles, would be the Political Class Itself, which is of course largely "progressive."

Shopkeeper? Nope, you're not a professional of the political class. Shut up. You have no right to run your business as your conscience dictates.

Baker? You're not a professional in the political class. Shut up and bake the cake.

And so on. By choosing an economically-productive trade which is not politics, you have ceded most of your rights in the political sphere, per this line of thinking.

The people who retain their full rights are the artists, the academics, the media class, the union officials, the teachers and other civil servants, and all the various functionaries of the permanent DC lobbying/think tank class.

This seems to me to be very congruent with the Left's conception of a cadre of people who will Do all the thinking for the rest of the country -- the revolutionary vanguard -- and the rest of the people who will actually generate the economic surpluses that the vanguard will then divvy up.

The Left continues to conceive of their idea of a Utopia in which some -- they themselves -- are the thinkers, the plotters, the dreamers and the schemers -- and everyone else is merely a doer, a revenue-generating economic unit which is expected to follow the orders issued to them by the Thinking Class.

Dead on target...and a cogent argument that the Left's aim is a guild system.

If your memory of European medieval history is a bit vague after all these years, this Wikipedia article is a compact presentation of their nature and how they functioned. The central reason for a guild was to confine the practice of a certain trade to the guild's members. Non-members were forbidden to trespass on the guild's privileges, enforcement thereof provided by the monarch. If you find the whole idea to be a bit too similar to modern trade licensure, you're not alone.

Guilds are entirely antithetical to freedom. Beyond their pernicious economic effects, they were a baleful influence on family cohesion, through their imposition of onerous, excessively prolonged apprenticeships. Moreover, guilds imposed a version of omerta on their members, who were forbidden to discuss the "secrets" of the guild or their trade with outsiders. They had to be protected, and their rules enforced, by the political power of their day...just as the contemporary licensure regime is enforced by political power today.

The guild idea is well advanced in the realm of law enforcement. Yet it's a point of law that the policeman has no greater authority to perform an arrest than a private citizen. Indeed, the policeman is more constrained than the citizen, for a citizen making a criminal complaint against another individual must be heeded. The cop is forbidden -- again, a point of law -- to refuse to perform the indicated arrest, on pain of being arrested himself for nonfeasance.

One could make a plausible case that unionization, especially when it covers an entire industry, is an attempt to create a guild. The auto industry and "public" schooling are excellent examples. Note also that the federal government and the majority of states require all their employees to join some union as a condition of employment.

The attempt to enact guild-like rules about political expression began with the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, which gave "established media organizations" (e.g., newspapers and broadcasters) privileges to orate on candidacies that the rest of us were denied. It was struck down some time ago. But it's clear, given Democrats' fury over the Citizens United decision and their current attempt to repeal the First Amendment, that the political class hasn't given up. Their incandescent rage over the Hobby Lobby decision will cause them to redouble their efforts.

We shall see.


Mark said...

In your antepenultimate (I have always wanted to use that word) paragraph, I was familiar with the arrest authority of a citizen vis a vis that of a cop, but I was not familiar with the info in the next two sentences. Is this a common legal status across the 50 states? I have never been faced with this situation, but I would like to be ready for it, when I am.

Weetabix said...

I don't have the book in front of me right now, but didn't Captains Badass and Superhonk have an ad hoc Law Enforcement Council?

Francis W. Porretto said...

Weet, you have done your good deed for the day: You've made me smile.

Anonymous said...

"Dead on target...and a cogent argument that the Left's aim is a guild system."

The Left's dream is Orwell's nightmare.