Obsession with law and order

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.


Georgia Sand

Georgia (George) Sand is an attorney located in sunny California. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach, music, and chatting with her cats in her spare time.

  • Eric Hanneken

    I don’t agree that keeping an oath and not keeping it are ethically indifferent, although it’s clear from your examples that there are other ethical concerns.

    Has anyone ever contemplated becoming a police officer without realizing that legislators have criminalized some victimless activities? If the job requires swearing an oath to enforce those laws, then maybe the right choice would be to find another career, rather than make a promise in bad faith.

  • Jenn

    Yeah, maybe “no bearing” was little too strong. I suppose there is a general sense that being true to one’s word is a good quality, much of the time. What injects ethics into the oath probably depends on a combination of whether you are swearing to do something good, and whether you are creating some kind of expectation or reliance in someone. For example, if you’re promising to yourself to scratch your head every day at 1pm, it’s 1) not good or bad either way and 2) breaking this oath doesn’t really harm anyone, or defeat anyone’s expectations (as breaking a vow to your spouse or an oath to uphold a business contract would).

    I guess what I mean more is that an oath cannot be examined in a vacuum. You can swear to do good things, bad things, or nothing at all… the oath alone shouldn’t be the focus of the discussion, or even a significant part of it, at least in this context.

    I agree with you that the right choice would to be find a different career, but police officers are of the mentality that the law is the law, and obedience and enforcement of those laws is tantamount and of utmost importance, regardless of whether there was a victim involved, or any real harm done.

  • Jon

    I have to agree with Eric on that. You knew what you signed up for when you signed up and you swore the oath. If you cannot live up to that oath, quit. If you were naive to what would be required during your course of employment and later learn that you have misgivings to enforce the laws you swore to uphold than quit. If you hate the laws, then work to change the laws.

  • Jenn

    Well, Jon I don’t agree with you there. I don’t believe in the “you made your bed so lie in it” reasoning when there is an easy solution to the matter. Officers swear to punish and jail people who commit victimless crimes, and later may decide/realize that this is not right, and that it is oppressive and unjust. I do not agree that because they swore to do it, they must either continue to do it, or quit their jobs. Sure, quitting your job is an option, but I see lack of enforcement as a great option as well.

    Context is everything. If an employee promise his boss to write one memo a week, but after a month suddenly decides he doesn’t feel like it, I’d say he’s not a very good employee and probably should be fired. This employee said he’d do a job, and created a reasonable expectation in his boss, then breached this expectation.

    But here, this is the case of tax-funded police officers whose employers are demanding them to throw non-violent drug offenders who have harmed no one into jail. The things they promised to do violate human rights, are not good for society, and they did not create a reasonable expectation in anyone with the oath. I do not agree that society has a reasonable expectation of having their pot smokers locked up in cells.

    I can’t vouch that every police oath is different, but their oaths can be totally inconsistent – vowing to uphold the constitution, justice, and state constitution all under one breath. Drug laws arguably are in violation of all of these. So when the oath was inconsistent, or just plain meaningless to begin with, I have no problem with an officer deciding to do what’s just, instead of what he’s told to do.

  • Jenn

    I guess what I am trying to say is, the officer’s actions should not be analyzed from the perspective of, “did he break a vow?” it should be analyzed from the perspective of, “did he violate someone’s rights or property?”

  • This whole thing reminds me of Jefferson, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” There can be no honor in enforcing the tyrant’s will.

    Cops should resign anyway:
    Drug Prohibition: Law Enforcement Is The Problem

    A key point here is that the source of the problem is not the War on Drugs, that is merely the symptom. The problem is that the government has the means to enforce laws like the drug prohibition. Once it had the power it then passed the bad laws. (Of course, once they had these bad laws to enforce they then used the higher crime rates these bad laws created to justify more, and more powerful, police.) The only way to ensure that there won’t be a repetition of the War on Drugs fiasco is to abolish policing as we know it today.


  • Jenn

    Totally agree, Darren. I will be reading your blog. Thanks everyone, for your thoughtful comments.

  • Bob

    Drugs, regardless of legality, alter something in the body. They either do so to the benefit of the body, such as aspirin, or negative, such as LSD.

    While a person may not be dangerous while they sit about after having a joint, they are a danger while driving a vehicle. ANY drug that has the potential to alter your ability to handle a 2000+ pound machine should have __SOME__ controls placed on it. For alcohol it is the age requirement. I am concerned that MJ has a great potential to be a factor in many vehicular deaths. I believe that it can outstrip alcohol as the cause of accidents over the next few years.

    I use alcohol for pain relief because it works. MJ (1960s version) would probably be safe today. However due to work by pot growers for more potentcy I belive modern pot places people at unnecessary risk.

    I am prepared to accept being wrong. Are you prepared to accept the possiblity that your opinion may be wrong? If not than I am afraid we can’t have a conversation.

  • Peter Ramins

    Bob, there’s a huge gaping hole in your argument – people are ALREADY smoking pot. You don’t have a multi-billion dollar market for it and have no one using it.

    Where are the 500 car pileups caused by cannabis usage? I’m comfortable in allowing as how there are probably a few accidents caused by slowed reactions or something due to cannabis use, but we don’t have blood on the highways right now, and when I get behind the wheel it never occurs to me to be afraid of someone driving while high.

    If it’s not happening now, and people are using, how can you claim it will happen in the future if some bit of law is changed?

  • Jenn

    I do not believe in criminalizing probabilities. If accidents happen, people who were at fault should take responsibility. Until that point, I don’t believe in DUIs, or driving under the influence of MJ criminal charges. Driving a car in and of itself is EXTREMELY dangerous; it is one of the most common causes of death in the United States, I believe. Should driving be illegal because it makes you more likely to kill someone?

    Studies have shown actually that smoking marijuana hardly impairs driving ability, if at all. One study I read actually showed that high drivers were LESS likely to get in an accident because they were paranoid and drove slower. Even assuming these studies were not entirely conclusive, and evidence is disputed, it is not right to criminalize and throw people in jail based on some vague likelihood of something possibly happening.

    It’s not illegal to punch the air because you MIGHT miss and hit someone; it’s only illegal to actually punch someone (without good reason). It’s not illegal to hack at a piece of meat because with a knife in your hand, you are more likely to kill someone. It is only illegal if you actually kill someone. Similarly, it should not be illegal to drive while high; you should only take responsibility if you actually injure someone in the course of driving.

    Like Peter says, there are already many, many people smoking pot. And pot-related driving accidents have not proven to be a problem, certainly not one for which we should start locking people up for.

  • @Bob: “Drugs, regardless of legality, alter something in the body. They either do so to the benefit of the body, such as aspirin, or negative, such as LSD.”

    Wait, let me fix this for you… “… or negative, such as ricin.”

    There, that’s better.

    From the warm familiarity of his constricted reality, Bob also seems to be ignoring the millions upon millions of people who don’t drive.

  • @Bob – There’s also the libertarian bottom line which is the non initiation of force. Someone using drugs is doing something peaceful & should be left alone by the law.

    Let me also suggest that the war on drugs has been a major factor in the expansion of the govt’s police powers. The police are becoming more & more like an occupying army:

    The Police Occupation of the USA

    The video of the Columbia, MO SWAT raid of a family’s house on 2/11/2010 has gone viral. The police are using the same tactics as US forces in Iraq. The same methods as they’re using to occupy a foreign country! Watch the these two videos and judge for yourself:


  • Chris Mallory

    To learn about marijuana and driving read this: http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=7459

    As for your potency claim, that is DEA/Drug Czar propaganda. Do some research.

  • Rob

    Did you watch this video before you wrote about driving on drugs? http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=513_1281674174

    When it comes to drugs I think you need to be either all against “including over the counter” or all for “including scheduled narcotics”.

    You can go to the market, buy sleeping pills, robitussin or nyquil and be a lot more drowse and impaired driving a car than you would on than you would be if you were on weed, cocaine or Ecstasy.

    So should all over the counter drugs now be turned into prescriptions? Should you only be given one dose per day at night from your doctor and have to take a cab home so you don’t drive impaired or take to much.

    It’s called personal responsibility and every person should be able to choose what they do with their body as long as they do not harm another. Although I don’t do drugs I think they should all be legal, and stop wasting our tax money on a “war’ that they are never going to win.

    And I know the big argument is always from parents saying if drugs are legal, my kid will start using them. Well alcohol and cigarettes are legal and those are the only drugs that my kids can’t buy, but what they can buy in school is everything else.

  • If you aggress (use non-defensive force) against a person (for instance, to prevent them from ingesting “drugs”), then you are a thug.

    If it is your job to aggress against people, that doesn’t make it OK, it just means that being a thug is your job.

    Taking an oath that says you’ll be the thug your job calls for even if you know it’s morally wrong is the opposite of honorable.

  • Vix

    Many cops have discretion they don’t have to do anything it’s the same with the government in general I have heard there have been many supreme court cases saying the government does not have to provide anyone with anything.

  • Peter Ramins

    Vix, I think you are referring at least in part to this: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/28scotus.html

  • Vix

    Peter Ramins: Sorry I can’t see/read that page since I’m not a member of the site.

  • Jenn

    Vix – I don’t know if you care to, but I think it’s easy to sign up for free New York Times online. You just give your email address; it doesn’t cost any $$. I haven’t had a problem with them spamming me or anything like that.

  • How about bugmenot.com? Very useful site.

    Most of the registration-required sites will also let you through via proxy (they want search engines to index their content). Go to http://proxify.com/ and enter the URL.

  • “One honorable thing we do is we raise our right hands and we swear that we are going to uphold the law.”

    The problem here is that law does not equal morally right, and mostly hasn’t ever.

    Just as jurors are morally bound to nullify immoral laws via jury nullification, enforcers of law are morally bound to ignore immoral laws.

    Would lawmen in the old south have been morally right if they refused to pursue runaway slaves?

    Would Nazi soldiers have been morally right if they refused to load people onto cattle cars bound for work camps?

    Everyone knows the answer.

  • “If it is your job to aggress against people, that doesn’t make it OK, it just means that being a thug is your job.”

    “Taking an oath that says you’ll be the thug your job calls for even if you know it’s morally wrong is the opposite of honorable.”

    Hmm. Sounds a lot like the mafia.

  • Jenn

    Matt – agree with you 100%. Keeping an oath is not moral if the oath was to do vow to something terrible to innocent people!

  • Cops already have plenty of discretion about whether they can “uphold their oaths” or look the other way. Everybody who is jaywalking doesn’t get a ticket. Even people who are speeding and committing plenty of other traffic violations only get a warning, if they properly kiss the cop’s ass or flash him some boob.

    Of course, jaywalking isn’t quite the fundraiser that drug crimes and seizure laws are. So any cop not enforcing them isn’t likely to need to quit his job. His bosses will make sure he is looking for another career pretty soon.

  • Jenn

    Except for me. I am a repeat jaywalking offender. And it can be quite the fundraiser, although definitely not on the level of drugs. One of my jaywalking tickets was $60. The other was $250!

  • Lawrence

    I have no respect for cops that enforce the socialist, victim-creating drug laws. They have transformed what normally would be (at worst) simple human failings affecting a limited number of people into a toxic environment that is universal in its impact and far more severe than anything that vice laws were designed to prevent.

    Like moral alchemists from hell, the cops who arrest people have transmuted self-destructive behaviors into crimes with real victims. For example, by refusing to allow drug addicts to harm themselves, the moralizers have become “crime socialists” in two ways. First, the “crime socialists” deprive nonusers of the positive consequences — the rewards — of not misusing drugs. How? By forcing them to pay taxes in order to police, try, incarcerate, and “treat” those who misuse drugs. The most avid socialist could not envision a more complete method for redistributing the consequences of human behavior — confiscating the positive results of sobriety from the virtuous and redistributing them to the self-destructive.

    Second, the “crime socialists” spread the negative consequences of drug misuse from users to nonusers by exposing non-users to the crime wave spawned by artificially high drug prices — a natural consequence of driving the drug trade out of the hands of honest chemists and into the hands of criminals.

    For those who doubt that innocent people become the prey of criminals as a result of the war on drugs, my deceased grandmother, Urszula Ludkiewicz, provides a typical example. In 1970, two heroin addicts broke into her home in Hamtramck, Michigan, and nearly beat her to death, hoping they could force her to reveal the location of “hidden money” they suspected she had placed, as so many immigrants do, in a secret stash in her home. When the junkies fled and 70-year-old Urszula regained consciousness, she crawled to a neighbor’s home and spent weeks in a hospital.

    As a result of this incident, my grandmother suffered a stroke that permanently paralyzed the right side of her body and forced her to spend the remaining five years of her life in a nursing home. It took months before the bruise — which covered her entire body and was the color of a prune — began to fade.

    The wicked men who attacked her were the inevitable byproduct of the war on drugs. The price of heroin had skyrocketed as a result of the illegality of drugs, making her attackers desperate. As a result, my grandmother, who never smoked a cigarette, carried the injuries of this government-manufactured crime with her until she died.

    Wouldn’t it have been better — wouldn’t it have been more just — if Urszula’s attackers had been allowed to abuse themselves and perhaps overdose and die without laying a hand on Urszula and others just like her? Was it just and moral for Urszula to pay the price for their drug use? Just as America’s experiment with Prohibition in the 1920s led to a vast increase in crimes of violence and the creation of large criminal organizations (while the subsequent repeal of Prohibition led to a steep drop in crime), today’s war on drugs has spawned the culture of violence that shattered my grandmother’s life.

    Behind the scenes, profiting from all of this chaos and pain are employees of federal agencies such as the FBI, DEA, and ATF; local police agencies; lawyers; judges; and prison keepers — all of them fastening themselves onto this social chaos and feeding off of it like leeches that refuse to drop off when they finish gorging.

    By profiting from the personal tragedies of others, they are guilty of far worse than the comparatively innocent vices of the “criminals” they pursue. So when I hear pompous politicians, DARE cops, and other drug-war profiteers speaking about the blessings of their policies, I remember my grandmother’s broken body and wish that the callous and vicious pseudo-moralizers could be held jointly responsible for her victimization.

  • Lawrence, you’re absolutely correct.

    The underlying problem here is that murderous cops are merely a symptom. People impose their stupid preferences upon their neighbors by a vote that insulates them from personal responsibility for what they’ve authorized.

    And sadists attracted to police work are more than happy to oblige by enforcing anything, as long as they know that their job title appears to relieve them from examining the morality of their actions.

  • Jenn

    Couldn’t have said it better myself, Larry.

  • Lawrence

    Matt: Yes, those people rarely see or pay anything personally for the evil mischief they support. They never identify with anything outside of their narrow-minded world.

    Jenn: Thanks, I’ll never forget how my grandmother looked — a living bruise from head to toe, and the people who support these policies never see this and must look at it or feel it or experience it in any way.

  • Will Digg

    What really raws me out is the fact that these officers swear to uphold these laws no matter how silly they may be but they never seem to have a problem with breaking all the rules themselves to make these arrests via many warrantless searches that continue to take place on a daily basis.

    My take on it is this, the book says that they must have a warrant to search. So that means that they know that they need a warrant to search but yet they never seem to have one when they show up. Why? If they know they need one then they should have one in hand when they arrive or else do not arrive at all. But they do arrive anyway in hopes of bypassing the system rules and use trickery instead to get inside.

    No one can argue that and say they are not dedicated. But I can argue all day long that they are too dedicated about all the wrong ways to accomplish their dedication. I was taught that if you can not do a job right then don’t do it at all. If that simple system were put into action in Law Enforcement then there would be many, many of them out of a job and that would be a worthwhile house cleaning. IMHO.

  • Jenn

    Matt – I would hope that everyone would know the answer, but I’m not sure that they actually do. I actually talked to someone who said that if you are present in the country, you are deemed to have consented, and must follow whatever law everyone else passed, or get out. People have to fix the law against slavery or genocide and should not ignore such laws, because of a “social contract.” I.e., if the Jews/slaves didn’t like it, too bad. They were born there, and “agreed” to a social contract.