Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ve must haff ORDER!

I've been thinking more about the case of the Florida student tasered for asking a question. I've now looked at multiple cuts of two different videos from two different angles including the aftermath once the student was removed, and read the comments attached to these videos by a variety of people. And what I've concluded is that the reaction to this story tends to fall into two categories: "The student deserved it!" or "The student didn't deserve it, he was just exercising free speech!".

Both reactions, I think, misunderstand the job of police officers. The job of police officers is not to enforce nebulous concepts such as "democracy" or "freedom" or "free speech". The job of police officers is not to decide whether a student "deserves" or "doesn't deserve" to be tasered by a police officer. The job of police officers is control, specifically, control aimed at maintaining public order. Public disorder is rather upsetting to most folks and besides it threatens property, which is more important than human beings in our society. Just watch what happens when a Black Bloc anarchist throws a chair through the window of a Starbucks. It is clear from that result that the window of the Starbucks is more important than the health or welfare of the anarchists getting the beat-down. Thus the reason why the student was tasered. He was tasered because he was being loud and disorderly and other students were drifting towards the altercation. Given what the student was yelling, the police had reason to believe that there was about to be a riot -- massive disorder -- if they did not remove the student immediately. Removing the student was required in order to restore order. Thus they acted according to their training and policy and escalated force until they reached a level of force necessary to restore order, which was the taser in its contact (not projectile) mode.

Back to the issue of control. The catch-all infraction that you are always charged with, in the event that the cop can't think of anything else to charge you with, is "disorderly conduct", closely followed by "resisting arrest". If you fail to obey a command given to you by a police officer, you're going to get charged with these, period, because obedience is required in our society. Disobedience is disorderly. Disorderly conduct cannot be allowed because it might endanger property. Danger to property cannot be allowed because property is more important than human beings. Thus all necessary force, up to and including potentially deadly force (a taser), is justified if necessary in order to elminate disorderly conduct. If you allow disorderly conduct of the peasants they may decide that orderly conduct is not necessary. Then where would we all be?

The above may seem somewhat tongue in cheek, but actually there is a valid concern behind the requirement for public order, which is that public disorder often ends up with violence against human beings. In our society, the police have been given a legal monopoly on violence. The example of societies such as Somalia or today's Baghdad might give pause to those who decide that we do not need a single group that possesses the legal monopoly on violence. In neither case is life very valuable, or very comfortable. Personally, I prefer living comfortably -- even if that requires acknowledgment of the fact that public order, not freedom or democracy or anything like that, is a fundamental requirement of continuing that comfortable life. Donald Rumsfeld ignored that requirement in Baghdad after Saddam was overthrown. The results should be instructive. Public order is far preferable to the alternative.

In that preference, I am much like the vast majority of Americans, which is also why the notion of "freedom" in America is today as laughable as the notion of "freedom" in Saddam's Iraq. Certainly I am free to blather harmlessly in random web forums. But I am most certainly not free to act in any way which would endanger the position of the oligarchy that rules us. That would be disorderly, and there are many punishments, both legal and extra-legal, that would be applied to me if I ever did act in such a way. The fact that these punishments are nowhere near as crude or drastic as what Saddam would have applied does not in any way cause them to cease to exist. It simply means that our rulers are smarter than Saddam.

-Badtux the Orderly Penguin

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