While members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) generally support legalization of marijuana, former Copblock writer Brad Jardis took this idea a step further. Jardis encouraged police officers to cease enforcement of marijuana laws when he was a part of LEAP. As a result, LEAP removed him from the organization (more here).
In this video, LEAP Chairman Jack Cole, who e-mailed Jardis to inform him of his removal from the organization, discusses his views on this matter. Cole says, “One honorable thing we do is we raise our right hands and we swear that we are going to uphold the law. We don’t swear we are going to uphold the laws that we agree with….So we never ask anybody to stop doing what they swore they do. It’s an oath.”
Cole’s explanation encompasses two major fallacies – he assumes, without justification, that the act of keeping an oath is ethical. He further seems to imply that if police officers selectively chose which laws to enforce, the results would be arbitrary or unjust, and thus assumes, again without justification, and that order in and of itself is a desirable goal.
Although “keeping an oath” may sound honorable, it isn’t inherently so. It may be ethically correct to honor an oath to be faithful to your spouse or to do some good deed, but very few would argue one should be encouraged to honor an oath to the KKK or an oath to Hitler. Similarly, no one should care much if one violates an oath to pick one’s nose every Wednesday at 2pm. An oath is a promise that otherwise simply has no bearing on ethics; it is the underlying action involved in a promise that determines whether keeping that oath or promise is ethical or not.
To hold the mere idea of a promise, which is an ethically neutral concept, above the actual freedoms, rights and dignity of fellow human beings, is truly disingenuous, if not comical. Marijuana may be a particularly controversial subject, but other analogies quickly demonstrate the logical fault in this kind of reasoning. If it was illegal to drink water, no one would look too highly upon police who claimed to be against water prohibition, but nonetheless encouraged officers to continue to fine, jail and incarcerate individuals engaged in hydrating themselves.
Next, Cole states that police should not pick and choose which laws to enforce because they swore to uphold them all. Many defend this idea on the grounds that encouraging police to do so would cause arbitrary results, and would eventually lead to anarchy.
Arguably, the results are already completely arbitrary. One can be arrested for doing absolutely nothing, and minorities are disproportionately arrested for marijuana crimes compared to white people (not that if arrest was proportional, drug laws would be acceptable). Police can throw you in jail overnight for parking violations, as Adam Mueller personally experienced. Police can arrest you for feeding the homeless. In the name of following process and abiding by laws, society has in fact fallen into chaos, in my opinion.
But let’s assume this isn’t arbitrary. Let’s assume, as Mr. Cole and other police sympathizers do, that this is all perfectly orderly, and abides by due process because police are upholding oaths and correctly doing their jobs, rather than encouraging disobedience to the law, as Mr. Jardis did.
How is it a good thing that police are perpetuating racist and arbitrary arrests and depriving homeless people of food, in an orderly fashion? Due process shouldn’t make you feel better about starving homeless people, racism and unjustified incarceration of non-violent people. If it does make you feel better, you might be a sociopath. This kind of reasoning justifies legalized slavery, genocide, and a slew of other atrocities. People like Cole and his followers would be the ones berating officers who helped smuggle slaves across borders in the the pre-Civil War era, because until the law is changed, it must be obeyed.
Yet he he alleges he is honorable because he is upholding some vague oath. It is certainly understandable if a police officer is not personally willing to openly disobey laws because he could face serious personal and legal consequences. However, it makes no sense to claim to be against the systematic incarceration of non-violent offenders, but criticize someone who is taking immediate action against those very injustices.
Society’s obsession with due process is mind boggling. The fact that a process was followed is largely irrelevant to policy discourse. A process was followed to allow for legalized slavery, segregation, marriage discrimination (race and sexual orientation), and to pass all kinds of other laws violating civil liberties. Although existence of due process may facilitate a fair resolution of a particular situation, clearly, due process does not always give rise to protection of civil liberties, and in fact is often instrumental in violating those freedoms.