Victimless-Crime Laws Breed Police Violence

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

As long as the police are charged with detecting and stopping consensual transactions — concerning, for example, drugs, guns, gambling, sex, and untaxed cigarettes and CDs — tension and violence will continue. Abolishing victimless-crime laws won’t end institutional racism, but many opportunities for it will be eliminated.

The key feature of a victimless-“crime” transaction is that unlike, say, battery, it has no complaining participant — the transaction is consensual. Because of this, police find they “need” to engage in surveillance, entrapment, cultivation of informants, stop-and-frisk, and other methods that breed distrust between the people and the system. This in turn gives rise to a view of the police as an occupying army, especially in poor minority neighborhoods, where for a variety of reasons — occupational licensing and government schools, to name two — the black market presents attractive alternatives to poverty.

Other measures to be taken: abolish all occupational licensing and minimum-wage laws, which impede people’s efforts to prosper. (Providing goods and services without a license is a victimless crime if no deception is involved.)

Thus Dallas Chief David Brown’s invitation to Black Lives Matter activists to join the police department and work for reform from within badly misses the point. This is not just about bad apples and community policing.

Another way to put it: if we didn’t have cops, we wouldn’t need them.

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Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute, senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies, former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education, and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest book is America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited.