What Is Murder? What Is Police Work?

What is the difference between murder and normal police work? Many people who have seen the video from North Charleston, South Carolina, are just sure it constitutes murder. In a moral sense, and this is probably the sense we should draw upon, it does seem like outright murder.

One man in a public park is slowly running away and another man draws a gun and shoots him in the back eight times. Cold blooded.

The person doing the shooting has the legal right to kill people who resist his orders, because he is a cop, an agent of the state. That’s the very essence of the state, its very definition. It can do to us what we are not allowed to do to each other. It is the privileged class. It exercises power over us. It can murder, but we just don’t call it that. We call it law enforcement.

It’s ominous to realize that we only know about this thanks to the smartphone video taken by a passerby. Had he not been there, this would have been just another statistic, perhaps making the local news but that’s about it. The cops would have told the usual story about how the dead man was a lethal threat and the case would have been forgotten.

What’s strange about this case is that the video is so compelling, and so evidently evil, that the local government immediately drew on normal morality (the stuff we use to judge human action generally) and charged the cop with murder. Most observers predict that nothing will happen, and that the cop will be declared innocent, as is usually the case. Under the regulations, cops can kill if they sense a threat. All the police have to do is demonstrate that the victim was up to no good.

Do these regulations really bind the state? I’m almost certain that if I ran away from a cop who was trying to ticket me, I would get shot. As I think about it, I could right now get a cop to shoot me within, say, half an hour. I could wander out in the street, block traffic and do crazy stuff, run when confronted by the police, evade for a bit, struggle if caught, and eventually, I could accomplish my own death at the hands of police.

Would it be murder? Absolutely. But it is also legally protected murder. We are supposed to suspend normal moral considerations when evaluating the state. We are supposed to obey. We are not allowed to flee. We are supposed to overcome every core biological urge we have in us — no human being wants to be captured — and submit entirely to the rule of our bodies by another person.

In the case of the film, that is all that is happening. He was stopped for having a broken tail light. But once the cop had him in his sights, the matter intensified. Then the action began and the victim became afraid. He was behind on the child support. He knew that if he were caught, he would go to jail. He didn’t want to go to jail. So he ran, and was shot fully eight times in the back. What happens next is especially chilling. The cop demands that the dead man put his hands behind his back. When he doesn’t, the cop does it for him. Creepy doesn’t quite describe it.

Why do we put up with this? Hard question to answer. But the fundamental answer is the one that no one wants to hear: it’s because we allow such a thing as a state to exist at all. By its structure and nature, it has the power of life and death, regardless of time or place, based entirely on its enforcement of the law and regulations. Every regulation and legislation carries the death penalty based on the level of resistance you offer.

A good example is the case of a broken tail light. That shouldn’t carry a death penalty, right? But, in the end, it does because, if you resist the demand that you comply with every order, you are risking your life. They are the ones with the guns and the statutes that allow using them with impunity. It’s also true with child support. Failure to pay is not a tort but rather a crime. The government can put you in jail — some estimates are that 50,000 people are in jail today for this very reason.

The only difference between the shocking South Carolina video and the normal conduct of public policy is that the violence of the latter is largely sanitized, its ugly moral core shielded from view by the claims of collective need, science, and democratic consensus.

I’m all for prosecuting abuse by the police. I’m for oversight and more regulations on police overreach. But, in the end, if what you see in this video bothers you, you have to rethink the whole institution of the state itself. The only thing that will end police killings of people whose only crime is resistance is the elimination of the state itself and that very strange power that it possesses to do to us what we are not permitted to do to each other.

The state, like this video, doesn’t make moral sense.

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Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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15 comments

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  • Excellent. I recognize arguments in this piece that were fundamental in my progression from thinking the State needed to be ‘fixed’, to realizing it was simply a moral evil that needs to be eliminated.

  • Notice how the guy never tried to run after the suspect, or try to give help after. He was slow, measured, emotionless, just another day at the office. Looked like something that happens in a movie on nazi concentration camps.
    We have to pretend the immediate implementation of embedded cameras on every cop. There are no reasonable excuses not to do it.

  • You almost sound like Cantwell here. Add something about the need to use self-defense against the state at some point and it would be almost indistinguishable. I like it.

    • Not so much need, but the choice, if the victim so desires. It is becoming kind of a nothing to lose option for those being shaken down by police. Definitely the only way to remain free is to defend your own Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness. It may be beneficial to include those of like mind who will stand with you. We are way out gunned, despite being superior in numbers.

  • I do not think there should be police. Also, I think there is a good case to be made that there is no “the state” but simply men and women behaving badly. Giving bad behaviour “colour of law” does not make it stop being bad behaviour. Taxation is theft. When the sheriff evicts a homeowner for non-payment of property taxes, that action is theft. When a police officer kills anyone, they should be investigated as if they had committed murder, with only the same “presumption of innocence” that all accused have a right to expect. People go to great lengths to believe that the system isn’t as bad as it seems to be. I think that’s a very poor choice. Your essay, as usual, Jeffrey, is excellent.

  • “Every regulation and legislation carries the death penalty based on the level of resistance you offer. ”

    That’s true, profound, and tragic.

  • An excellent article, as far as it goes, but what do we say to people who, like myself, are perceived as a threat by the police based solely on certain aspects of our physiognomy, but who, unlike me, are ignorant of the evil nature of the state or the existence of the liberty movement?

    My fear is that unless we in the liberty movement can provide actionable advice then we will end up appearing as lame as William F Buckley did in his 1965 Oxford Union debate with James Baldwin during which he accused Baldwin of effecting an accent for the sake of his British audience and further asserted that the problem with voting in the Jim Crow South was not that black people were being denied the vote but rather that too many white people were voting. The first comment revealed a complete lack of familiarity with James Baldwin. The second comment appears purpose built to alienate the largest possible audience. The net result is that his very cogent and important critique of the voting rights act gets thrown out with the bath water by the majority of the audience.

    My personal approach to the problem is to emphasize that what left statists refer to as institutional racism is merely the state just being the state and that the degree to which physiognomy correlates to cultural cohesion, that cohesion should be exploited to achieve self government starting with the provision of self defense for that community. This does not mean the sort of fascist behavior exemplified by the New Black Panther Party and others that seek to defend against the 1% of the threat comprised of police brutality to the exclusion of the internecine crime and violence.

    Here’s a link to the debate. http://youtu.be/oFeoS41xe7w

  • One thing I’d urge people to do after recording is to just sit on it. Wait a week before showing it to the media or uploading to YouTube. Especially if you see something very inappropriate. It is important for the police to do their report first, once their ink dries THEN your video might show all their lies. If they don’t lie then good, but if they see your video before they finish their story they will make their report match your video as best they can. They are professionals, dealing with nuances of law and evidence daily and know how to spin things.

    Bystander video brought a focus on LAPD for the egregious beating of Rodney King in 1991. Twenty five years later we see that police abusing power is not isolated to a few bad seeds or some “other” city. It is everywhere. Obey me without question or else! They have their robotic and rehearsed statements (they like to say those for your camera too) like telling a dead or nearly dead person to put his hands behind his back. And if he doesn’t cooperate and somehow had lived after those shots he’d be charges with resisting arrest even if he was unconscious.

    BYSTANDER VIDEO is the most likely source of change in so many ways, please stop once in a while and film even the most mundane looking police events. It helps them to know they are human and not superman, that they are also held accountable. In this case it was an almost nothing stop, broken tail light, but someone recorded it. Without that person filming this cop would surely have gotten away.

    Stay vigilent

  • I’ve long thought the whole institution of the state itself. Plain and simple: the state is inherently evil. And it cannot cease to be evil. But the most incredible thing is that it exists only because people believe that it does. The state only exists in the minds of the believers . It is the most horrendous of all religions.

  • I am not a lawyer, I have a degree in physics. As a trade, I am a specialist of system analysis.
    I suspect this phenomenon of agents of the state acting in all impunity does not break any rules.
    To explain why it happens, I will use a metaphor.
    Remember Windows 3.1 ? It ran “on top” of DOS. DOS was the set of ultimate rules, which allowed a lot of things to be done. Windows was the convenient rule and operating gizmo system built on top of DOS, both more restrictive, but allowing more because so much was taken for granted (you did not need to type long precise, explicit, non-ambigious command lines.).

    How law works?
    There is Anglo-Saxon Common Law (ASCL), the DOS part of the above metaphor. This grants individuals complete freedom to contract, protects against tangible crime (fraud, assault, murder, harm, theft, etc). It recognises property rights. The constitution of the u.s. of A. is based on it. The law goes up to the Magna Carta, AD1215.

    Then, on top of it comes “commerce”, a “roman” type of “law”.
    Basically, everyting that can be put Lawfully in a contract is legal. Even things that are not lawfull in themselves, if they can be put lawfully into the contract, can be put in the contract.

    Thus, you can sign yourself in the military, and be subject to an entirely different set of rule where you can be put in situation where you will die (and normally be considered a murder victim), but because you CONSENTED, contractual agreement between sovereing sentient human being, you have to perform according to the obligations of the contract.

    If someone runs from the police, according to ASCL, the cop acting in the capacity of an agent of the state has legitimacy to assume the running guy accepted his jurisdiction.
    WHY ? Because he did not refute it.
    In ASCL, if someone claims juridiction over you, has a claim against you, if you do not refute it, you are reputed to have accepted it.
    The real abusers are not the murderously inclined thugs who made the decision to be on the right side of the rulebooks in order to indulge in their bloody thrills… They are the magistrate, the courts officers, the legal system who maintain such profoundly bad system.
    The origin of the Roman-types systems of law goes very far in history. I think the Phoenicians. They bestowed legal personality (person: from latin “persona”: a theatre mask, an assumed/adopted identity for the purpose of playing a role).

    Agents of- and fictitious legal entities, because said entities have no inherent ability to restitute (ASCL seems to be based on restitution, not punition), are forbidden to deal directly with sentient flesh and blood beings. Only other sentient flesh and blood with full responsibilty can deal with their peers. So, government creates “persons”, offers them to us as token. To play any game (monopoly), you need a token. The system never charges the sentient being, only the token.
    All violation to regulations that are victimless crimes can NOT be lawful crimes. They are transactions of a security interest, a claim laid down by a corporate entity (fiction), for having violated their rule. These fines and actions always have a direct or indirect profit motive.

    But here is the problem in their system.

    All men are equal under the Law (ASCL). Thus, on man, or group of men can impose their will on others unless
    1) said man violated the rights of others (and forfeited the protection given to him by the Law (ASCL) or
    2) he gives his informed consent to be ruled by other people (like when he enrolls in the army, at the risk of loosing his life, against the benefit of pay and the moral benefit of protecting his country, his values).

    Thus, when a cop stops you for a traffic violation, he will use all sorts of tricks, all based on the “security holes” (to use a computer science metaphor) of the ASCL.
    – One security hole is that not refuting a claim of jurisdiction is considered acceptance.
    This is one major real-life weakness in computers system.
    – A second security hole lies in syntactic mis-interpretation. When the cop tells you “do you understand”, he really means “do you stand under (my jurisdiction)”. Unless you don’t have an explicit agreement to use the words meaning of some ordinary language dictionary, he can use whatever dictionary he wants (and so can you, as you are both free men).
    – syntactic tricks: Miranda: the guy makes you a *proposition*: all you say will be held against you. That’s a nasty one. If you talk, you accept by default his jurisdiction. This is why if you are presented with Miranda, you MUST SHUT UP, NOT A SQUEAK. Better to piss and shit your pants than ask for the bathroom. After some elapsed time, by ASCL, they MUST free you. They usually resort to beating you and then, you utter something, and they, you are fucked.

    All of this is because there are severe “security issues” in the core Law (ASCL, akin DOS under Win3.1).
    But unlike the software creators, the present courts have no interest in changing this.

    This is why cops never ever get charged. And if they do, it is only for the court’s and legal system’s self-preservation, for appearances. The prosecuted cases are probably one out of a thousands, when a particular case gets too much publicity.

    But the core of the problem, IMHO, lies NOT with the hired thugs, but with the black robed white wigged thugs sitting in the courts.
    Lawyers are less aware of that than cops, because cops are sworn peace officers (according to the criminal code, based on ASCL).
    Have you ever wondered why, in the criminal code, many articles starts with “no person” while others start with “anyone who” ?
    Art. 1 of the Quebec Civil Code states
    “Every human being possesses juridical personality and has the full enjoyment of civil rights.”

    What you possess, you are not. A person is not something you are, it is something you possess. It is the theatre mask you possess.

    This is not conspiracy theory, it is simply reading the texts, all black on white.
    And it is just good common sense.

    Why is the constitution of the u.s. of A. a joke? Because the courts have decided to not adjudicate ASCL anymore, they are operating in the fiction of maritime-type, roman law-type rules, for profit.
    As soon as you cross the bar in court, you accept the judge’s jurisdiction. You abandonned any rights you were granted under ASCL. And as a man having accepting the burden of the new set of rules, you are compelled to perform, unless you refute jurisdiction (hard to do once you passed the bar).
    Lawyers are usually blissfully ignorant of this, and they waive off the cognitive dissonance of their trade by using argument from authority (from higher judges, jurisprudence) for dismissing these ideas. And the ones who don’t and talk about it get disbarred.
    The judges ALL KNOW about it (else, they wouldn’t be able to render consistent judgment).

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