Within the post, Winter Trabex discusses the response by the police and government in Manchester, New Hampshire to an incident last month in which two police officers were shot. That response consisted of “locking down” the entire city, via a “shelter in place” order, and subjecting the residents of Manchester to restrictions on their rights and the threat of heavily armed police within their neighborhoods. It also discusses the larger issues surrounding such situations and the dangers created by them.
“City on Lockdown”
The city of Manchester, New Hampshire is divided in half by the Merrimack River. There are two sides: the west side, and the east side. On May 13th, at around 2:30 in the morning, two officers of the Manchester Police Department were shot on the city’s west side. This is the city’s residential district. The suspect fled on foot. A “shelter in place” order was handed down. Helicopters flew over the city. Police officers searched through cars, trash cans, and yards as they desperately sought the suspect with any and all means available. The city was on lockdown.
One officer was shot in the face and the chest; he had to be rushed to an emergency medical care facility. The other officer was shot in the leg. An accurate description of the suspect was provided, which lead to his capture at around 5 AM. By 10 AM, almost five hours later, the lockdown order was rescinded. Everything returned to normal- except for the fact that what people had been through as a result of police activity in the area.
The following month, on June 7th, individuals from the Free State Project organized a rally outside Manchester’s city hall on Elm Street. Signs such as “We are not your pets” and “Don’t lock me down bro” were displayed to people who passed by in their cars. Around sixty people joined the rally. While the folks who were against police officers overstepping their bounds attended, those who supported the police with regards to the “shelter in place” order chose not to attend. They remained at home, preferring to express their opinions in facebook discussion groups.
At 7 PM, the mayor and fourteen of the city’s aldermen received testimony from the public. Anyone was invited to speak. The first speaker was a boy scout who wanted to memorialize previous boy scout troops who volunteered in historical wars. The next person was a father who spoke about how the lockdowns of several schools due to a possible active shooter situation made him feel that they police were doing their job protecting his son. He feels so strongly about his child, yet- for whatever reason- he hasn’t yet considered pulling that child out of public school even after such dangerous situations have unfolded.
The remaining speakers all came from the Free State Project. A woman talked about how she couldn’t take her dogs out for their morning walk. She said that while this was not a big deal, she was concerned that her right of free movement was being restricted even after the police had apprehended their suspect.
Carla Gericke, the former president of the Free State Project, spoke at length for the need for transparency. Earlier that morning, she had met with the Manchester chief of police, Nick Willard. Mr. Willard claimed that the lockdown orders were voluntary and that people could leave at any time. Further testimony revealed that this was false. People were threatened at gunpoint. Photographs were taken of officers holding their weapons with their fingers on the trigger, ready to fire. It was suggested that a class action lawsuit might be forthcoming on behalf of the residents of Manchester who were adversely affected- even physically injured- during the events of May 13th.
In a prepared statement given at the rally, Gericke’s remarks included the following:
Regarding the lockdown of Friday the 13th of May, Chief Willard stated publicly that: “’We were definitely infringing on their life and we understand how difficult that is.”
As residents of the city, we ask that a full public inquiry be held into the legality of the shelter in place order and the actions of the police on the streets of Manchester where people’s 4th amendment rights were violated.
We ask that a public report be issued from the AG’s office, which shall include the following information:
What law enforcement agencies were involved?
What federal agencies were involved, under what authority?
What calibre of firearms were discharged at each of the two sites, and how many shot were fired?
What calibre of firearms caused the officers non-lethal injuries?
What this cost, and who is paying for it.
A full explanation of the delay between the time the suspect was in custody–which was BEFORE the MPD letter was issued–and when the lockdown was lifted more than 5 hours later.
The AGs office should also issue a written memorandum to be distributed to all NH police departments that any lockdowns and shelter-in-place recommendations are VOLUNTARY and that residents will not be treated as criminals if they go about their lives, and that such language will always be included when a shelter-in-place recommendation is made.
Thus far, it is unclear what- if any- action will be taken regarding this issue. By any legal definition, the police have overstepped their authority just as they have overstepped their authority in cities across America, and in various other parts of the world. Those who defend the actions of police officers take a “the ends justify the means” approach, assuming that any escalation of force and any violation of rights is appropriate when dealing with someone who has broken the law.
The question then becomes: what happens when a police officer breaks the law? Is any escalation of force and any violation of rights appropriate to deal with such a person? Thus far, the answer appears to be no. Police officers who go beyond what they are legally allowed to do often receive no sanction or punishment for their actions. There have even been police officers who have murdered citizens outright with little or no repercussions coming against them.
This is what caused the riots in Los Angeles in 1992. Police officers who were recorded on video beating a black man were found not guilty in a court of law. They were demonstrably guilty of having broken the law, yet the law was unable to speak for the victim of the crime. History suggests that once police officers take a certain power upon themselves, there is very little short of direct action by the citizens themselves that can stop them from doing whatever they want at any time they want.
With all of this mind- and perhaps more that I myself am unaware of- members of the FSP gathered to voice their opinions and let everyone know what was happening. In fact, the events of May 13th are just one part of a larger picture of police escalating their tactics and using ever greater force against its populace. As is usually the case, children are mentioned whenever something bad happens. It appears that children are such a precious commodity that people are willing to give up their own freedoms and right in exchange for keeping their kids safe. It is unclear exactly how a frightened police officer with a gun and a penchant for breaking the rules in critical moments is supposed to produce this result. There is a mountain of evidence- both from America and from various tyrannical countries throughout history- that suggests even children are not safe from being put to the sword when the government loses control of its own agents.
A recent example of this occurred when a police officer in Georgia threw a flash bang grenade in a baby’s crib. Supporters of the Manchester police department do not believe that it can happen here. They believe that such force as is being used for the public good. They believe that innocent victims are never caught in the crossfire, or that training programs are sufficient to instruct officers on what they need to do, and what they are allowed to do. This does not appear to be the case.
As the enforcers of the law, and members of the government themselves, police officers are the ultimate authority. The law is often whatever they say it is. Following orders are more important than following one’s own conscience. Under such conditions, it is easy to excuse an abuse of power and authority as necessary because someone ordered it to be so. If no one followed orders from their superiors, it is believed, then a police department would cease to function entirely.
In 1996, James Dorn wrote an essay regarding the rise of government and the decline of morality. His claim was that an ever-increasing government produced the result of more and more moral decline. Whether this claim is true or not remains to be seen. It is difficult to judge today’s society against societies of the past because we do not live in the past. We only know what is moral today. We do things that future historians will no doubt find objectionable, just as our ancestors did things that we find objectionable.
The salient point that Dorn makes is that the state undermines the incentive for moral conduct. For example: anyone who wants to go on government assistance may do so, provided they can prove why their need is so great. Obtaining government money is a race to the bottom. The more wretched and hopeless someone is, the more money they are given. Thus, the incentive to receive government assistance is different from that which exists to receive money that is earned through a paycheck. In order to be paid by a business owner, or a customer with discretionary income, one must provide sufficient value that the owner or the customer will be willing to part with their money. This makes business a race to the top where the best provider of goods and services receives the most money.
This distortion of morality takes place in police departments, as it does in every sphere of government activity. Rather than trying to protect and serve everyone equally, police tend to disproportionately protect and serve well-to-do white people. Poor people- especially poor black people- are often the targets for disciplinary action. Centuries of court cases have shown that when a black man with little to no resources goes on trial, that man will end up in jail. The purpose of police departments is to get as many fines and convictions as possible. They prefer to have statistics on their side, rather than anecdotal evidence of how they helped individual people in individual situations. This too is a result of morality being subject to change.
Unfortunately, it appears that police departments- including the one in Manchester, New Hampshire- are becoming more and more frightened as time passes. They see danger where none exists. They believe that they put their lives on the line every day, even while those same statistics that they like so much suggests that there is no such thing as a war on the police. If police officers understood that as people become enlightened, they become more peaceful. An enlightened person understands that violent aggression and coercion are not good substitutes for persuasion and awareness. The truncheon does not inform; it merely terrifies.
While I remain doubtful that any disciplinary action or corrective procedures will be implemented as a result of the events on May 13th in Manchester, I find myself hopeful that some people were willing to take a stand and say that this is not all right, that two wrongs do not make a right, that the ends do not justify the means. Saying otherwise- allowing the state to have carte blanche on anything they believe is appropriate- soon leads to tyranny, martial law, censorship, and all the horrors that come with an oppressive, abusive police force.
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