Eric Garner and the Case for Police Competition

EspañolBy Julian Adorney

On July 17, officer Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death for selling untaxed cigarettes. On December 3, a grand jury elected not to indict Pantaleo. He will face no charges.

The case has gripped the attention of the nation, in part because it reveals how powerless ordinary citizens are to drive change in police forces. Thousands have protested Pantaleo’s actions across the country. The entire altercation between Pantaleo and Garner was captured on video. The coroner involved ruled Garner’s death a homicide, and it is about as clear-cut a case of police brutality as there is.

Yet, in spite of these factors, officer Pantaleo is facing no charges for his actions. He will likely stay on the force. The entire incident brings home just how unaccountable bad police officers are, which leads to feelings of powerlessness among those they are supposed to protect.

This sense of powerlessness is most acute for poor people and minorities, who are more often the targets of police abuse. However, affluent white citizens are not exempt from police violence, as in the case of Michael Bell. His father, Michael M. Bell, a retired Air Force officer, sought justice after police unnecessarily and wrongfully shot and killed his son. It took him six years, and the help of a private investigator, to make the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, settle a wrongful death lawsuit.

These facts make many conservatives uncomfortable, because there’s an automatic desire to stand up for the men and women in blue who keep us safe. In the wake of the Ferguson case, for instance, conservatives from Joe Scarborough to Sean Hannity leaped to defend officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown.

While there are exemplary police officers that deserve this support, conservatives are also supposed to be staunch opponents of big government. There is no bigger government than one that kills peaceful citizens for engaging in economic activity that the state disapproves of, as in the case of Eric Garner.

The root of why people feel powerless around police is the state’s monopoly on protection. What we need is consumer choice. For people who feel trapped between relying on police forces they can’t change, and being vulnerable to criminals, police alternatives can offer an empowering third option.

Oath Keepers in Ferguson defend private businesses from looters.
Oath Keepers in Ferguson defend private businesses from looters. (@StewartRhodesOK)

In fact, these alternatives to the police already exist. Oath Keepers, a private organization of constitutionalist former and current military and police agents, stepped in to Ferguson to defend businesses when police could not. Local business owners were reportedly grateful for the protection.

Threat Management Company, a private security firm, did the same thing in Detroit. They offered “Lamborghini-quality” services to wealthy neighborhoods, and the profit margins off of those deals gave them the resources to protect poor and minority neighborhoods free of charge.

Peacekeeper is a free app that uses technology to offer another choice besides the police. The app lets users create a network of friends, family members, and neighbors that users can call in an emergency. This network can be faster and more customer-centric than state police forces.

Using these services wouldn’t have saved Eric Garner, but they are valuable. The more power we give police over our lives, the more power we give abusive officers. Interactions with police don’t always occur in public, and not every police killing happens on the streets. As demonstrated in the North Carolina case of Keith Vidal, some parents might call the police to help deal with a teenage son, only to have the cops shoot and kill him.

Don’t get me wrong, third-party solutions do not eliminate the need for protest. Taking to the streets, calling legislators, and fighting for bills to rein in big government are all useful actions. But for people who feel powerless to change police forces, market alternatives may be a solution.

Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate living in Colorado. Follow @Julian_Liberty.

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