50 Bullets Have a Different Normative Status When They Come From a Cop's Gun

It occurred to me, after reading some recent news items, that there is a more direct way to respond to Richard's advocacy of institutional processes and procedural guarantees. Namely, what is the government's track record in this area?

Consider the case of Sean Bell, a black man shot and killed by police on his wedding day in a hail of 50 bullets. 50! Three of the plainclothes police officers involved in the shooting were indicted by a grand jury on charges ranging from manslaughter to reckless endangerment.

The defendants opted to have Justice Arthur J. Cooperman make a ruling rather than a jury. Yesterday, Cooperman found the defendants not guilty on all charges. As Radgeek cynically observed, it is abundantly clear that "we need government cops because private protection forces would be accountable to the powerful and well-connected instead of being accountable to the people." The institutional processes and procedural guarantees inherent in the current system surely reflect a "well-ordered society... governed by the rule of law." "The outcome of [this] just institutional process -- ...a [not] guilty verdict... -- has a different normative status than the corresponding action of a neighbor who takes it upon himself to unilaterally impose his will on others."

But perhaps New York City police shooting and killing black man and getting away with it is an isolated incidents, insufficient as an indictment of the entire system.

So consider the war on drugs. Richard believes that "it's not impossible to change public opinion, especially when you have the truth on your side." Richard assumes that "if a politician tried pandering to this ignorance, they would pretty soon be called on it, and ridiculed mercilessly."

And yet Charles "Cully" Stimson, who was a local, state, and federal prosecutor, a military prosecutor and defense attorney, deputy assistant secretary of defense, and currently a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is taken perfectly seriously while being completely nonresponsive to argumentative appeals to truth and while pandering to ignorance. The Drug War could not continue to exist if this were not the case. Exactly which institutional processes and procedural guarantees give drug prohibition "a different normative status than the corresponding action of a neighbour who takes it upon himself to unilaterally impose his will on others"? I would honestly like to know.

Share this

practice and principle

Note that I was previously just pointing out that as a matter of principle, the outcome of a just institutional process has a different normative status from analogous private actions. It's certainly open to you to argue that our actual institutions are hopelessly corrupt (i.e. not just at all). But that's a separate issue.

I'm much more sympathetic to pragmatic forms of libertarianism. So I think this post of yours is very good, and much better than moralizing parables.

As for the more particular issues you raise, I agree that the Drug War is completely unconscionable. I also expect this viewpoint will eventually win out in the marketplace of ideas, especially if we can reform aspects of our political institutions to make them more responsive to reason. I'm not sure what the alternative to this is; countries that lack "institutional processes and procedural guarantees" obviously have even worse track records.

Define your terms?

the outcome of a just institutional process has a different normative status from analogous private actions

To me that is as nonsensical as saying that the psychology of a female is different from the psychology of a human. The reason it is nonsensical is that the two categories overlap. Maybe you want to define your terms so that I can understand why you don't consider an anarcho-capitalist legal system such as that proposed by David Friedman to be just, or a process, or institutional, while a state legal system is all of these. Or, alternatively, maybe you define "private" in a special way which I do not understand.

I don't use drugs, and I

I don't use drugs, and I usually try to find fault with everything Micha says, but even I've got to admit that that example by Cully is idiotic. Strangely enough, so far as I can tell, Sullum and Cully seem to end up agreeing with each other: Presidents can use drugs and get into office.

Cully of course goes on to say we shouldn't have current drug addicts in political office--yowza. I doubt Sullum disagrees.

Unfortunately, Cully didn't respond to Sullum's point about the stigma attached to marijuana use being somewhat silly and disingenuous, which seems to be where the real bone of contention lies.

Also I love that the VP says: Give me the darn phone.

I don't use drugs... This

I don't use drugs...

This unexplains so much.