That’s primarily a question for Jason Brennan, secondarily for Phil Magness, and as a tertiary matter, for the many people at BHL and elsewhwere, who have given them such eager obeisance on the issue at hand.
Back on April 7, I wrote a post seconding David Potts’s earlier recommendation of an article by Tomas Pueyo. Ignoring the point of my post, and ignoring every other post I’ve written on the subject of police work, criminal procedure, and the enforcement of stay-at-home orders, Brennan seized on one sentence in this passage:
Those who refuse to distance are initiating force against innocent victims. And like it or not, that force must be met with sufficient retaliatory force to stop its initiation. We don’t let bank robbers or rapists rob or rape, whether or not they kill their victims. We don’t even just shame them, and hope they’ll stop. We stop them. If they fight back and resist arrest, we escalate force against them; if they keep resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, they invite death by engraved invitation, and should unapologetically be obliged.
He then interpreted this passage, somehow, as saying or implying (or something) that Khawaja favored killing people on the spot either for resisting arrest or for simply disobeying the order.
Your guess is as good as mine as to the meaning of the following series of rhetorical questions and free associations*:
He says that if people “fight back and resist arrest,” they should be killed on the spot. Why killed rather than, say, subdued? Isn’t killing an extreme measure to be used as a last resort? Why not try to make them go home, and if they absolutely refuse, issue them a monetary fine and call it a day?
I wonder what Irfan considers “resistance”? Does that include simply ignoring the orders and continuing to do things such sit in one’s car watching the sunset near a California beach?
What does Irfan even have in mind? People already avoid strangers on the street. Strangers don’t interact unless they voluntarily choose to do so. No one is walking up to Irfan and coughing on him.
So, does he mean that if my neighbor has an outdoor party with 20 friends who come over voluntarily, the police should show up and kill anyone who refuses to go home?
I don’t usually play the race card in an argument, but I can’t help musing in this case on the presumption of a white guy lecturing to me about the perils of dealing with the police. He writes here as though I had never been in any of these situations–had never faced armed police officers or soldiers under fraught circumstances, had never been frisked, had never been strip-searched, had never been shot at, had never been detained or incarcerated, had never been interrogated, had never been threatened with a gun, or never had one pointed at me. Or, for that matter, had never been falsely accused of a crime. Actually, all of that has happened to me. It started happening when I was seven, hasn’t let up, and may well follow me to the grave.
So Jason Brennan and his sidekick Phil Magness join a long, illustrious list of white people who are evidently much better at shooting their mouths off than they are at shooting straight–at anything. And I’m sorry to offend anyone by the mention of whiteness here–many of my best friends, and all of my wives have been white–but the sad fact is that every accusation of criminality or brutality or terrorism made against me in four decades has been false, and every one has been made by a white person. People like Brennan and Magness and all of my accusers serve the same shit up over and over, then furrow their brows in consternation when I push back.
In any case, he really didn’t need to ask so many questions. The text in question didn’t require all that much hermeneutical sophistication. I said exactly what I said. Then I clarified it to David Riesbeck in the comments a little while later. The point all along was this: If someone disobeys a justified order, then resists arrests, then escalates their resistance to arrest, then keeps escalating their resistance, eventually they are inviting the police to shoot them. And if the police do shoot them under the relevant circumstances–at whatever point is sufficient to justify the use of firearms–the “victim” will fully have deserved it. I didn’t specify what that point was. I simply implied that there were circumstances such that in them, the police would be justified in shooting. And I think it’s obvious to most people that such circumstances can take place.
So now let me ask some questions. If Jason Brennan disagrees with the preceding, I’d like to see that disagreement written out in print without subsequent alterations, for the world to see. Is his view literally that the police are never justified in shooting anyone ever, simply because they’re resisting arrest for a stay-at-home order? Is the violation of a stay-at-home order an ad hoc sanctuary from arrest? Or is resistance to arrest never a basis for shooting the resister, even apart from stay-at-home orders, and even if the suspect has a deadly weapon and repeatedly uses it?
Some more questions. Let’s go back to the passage of mine that Jason quoted, and claimed to be commenting on. I’m really curious what he thinks about the actual sentences in it, rather than the view he confabulated and ascribed to it.
I had said:
Those who refuse to distance are initiating force against innocent victims.
Is Brennan’s claim that those who refuse to distance are not initiating force against innocent victims? How then would he characterize what they’re doing?
I had said:
And like it or not, that force must be met with sufficient retaliatory force to stop its initiation.
Does Brennan think that their force should be met with retaliatory force that’s insufficient to stop it? Or does he think no retaliatory force should be used at all? Or does he think that any force used wouldn’t be retaliatory?
I had said:
We don’t let bank robbers or rapists rob or rape, whether or not they kill their victims. We don’t even just shame them, and hope they’ll stop. We stop them.
Brennan disagrees? Brennan has in the past bragged online about his great prowess at fist-fighting. (Yes, really.) Most people would be embarrassed by that sort of thing, but Brennan is made of sterner, less emotionally intelligent stuff. Would he then like to volunteer to teach cops how to engage in hand-to-hand combat with armed assailants? Even I would pay money to attend such a demonstration. Can’t imagine he’d do it for free.
I had said:
If they fight back and resist arrest, we escalate force against them…
Note that the referent of “they” is rapists and murderers. If a rapist or murderer is being arrested, and resists arrest, is Brennan’s view that force ought not to be escalated against the suspect’s escalation? So if the suspect punches the officer, should the officer turn the other cheek? If the suspect tries to grab the officer’s gun, should the officer offer the suspect his Taser, along with the cloak on his back? Very Christlike. But more than a little stupid.
Last claim of mine:
if they keep resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, they invite death by engraved invitation, and should unapologetically be obliged.
Brennan disagrees? If a murderer keeps resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, is there no point at which it’s justified to shoot him? What then is to be done? Nothing? Passive resistance? Surrender? Send the suspect an angry letter?
I’ve read enough of Brennan to know that he loves to prime his readers’ intuition pumps with thought-experiments. In his post, he brags that the thought-experiments discussed in his book When All Else Fails are based on actual events.
Good. So is this one. It’s from the website of Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan. As it happens, I didn’t originally hear about it by subscribing to Cole’s site; it was forwarded to me by a Palestinian friend who lives near Hebron, has been on the receiving end of the relevant violence, and has been compiling a list of incidents like this, Cole’s post among them. In other words, this isn’t an isolated incident in the West Bank. This is what life has been like there since the COVID-19 crisis began.
Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Wednesday, a band of 20 Israeli squatters diagnosed with Covid-19, who had been placed in quarantine in their squatter-settlement on Palestinian land in the West Bank’s Ghor Valley, ghoulishly broke out and attacked a nearby Palestinian hamlet. They are members of the violent “Hilltop Youth” extremist group.
The Israeli terrorists, operating in Palestinian territory, burned cars, stoned civilians, and attacked individuals. They beat a young Palestinian woman so badly that she had to be rushed to the emergency room in an Israeli hospital.
Since she has now likely been infected, this injury may be a death sentence, since comorbidity conditions severe enough to require hospitalization would worsen her chance of surviving when she contracts the virus and it attacks her lungs.
Read the whole thing.
So, Jason–what now? You’re a First World philosopher with a big, long, impressive CV and a fancy chaired position at Georgetown. I’m just an obscure lunatic sitting in front of a keyboard and a screen. So you tell me–or rather, tell us: what would you tell my Palestinian friends to do here?
“Subdue” the settlers? How, exactly? What if the attempt to subdue the settlers led to the settlers subduing the would-be subduers? Any thoughts on Plan B?
How about trying to “make them go home,” and imposing a “monetary fine”? Or come to that, imposing a non-monetary fine? Imagine a nearby possible world in which this didn’t quite work. It isn’t hard if you try.
I’m afraid that my dumb Palestinian friends, people with insufficient sophistication to pass one of Brennan’s (dis)enfranchisement exams, would not be impressed with such advice. If they had guns, they’d start by putting holes in the settlers’ heads. But alas, they don’t have guns. So they just have to sit there and be victimized for the nth time in their lives.**
Suppose they called “the police.” Unfortunately, the Palestinian police are unarmed and, by “law,” unable to protect Palestinians against Israeli depredations. But suppose ex hypothesi that the police were armed and had the authority to protect them. Same questions. What should the police do?
Pause here for a digression. When I was co-editor of Reason Papers (back in the summer of 2012), I edited a symposium on Jason Brennan’s The Ethics of Voting. One editorial criticism I made–privately, to Bryan Caplan–was that the book was about voting, but that the contributions to the symposium were exclusively about American politics. Shouldn’t some explicit mention be made of this limitation somewhere in the symposium? Is American politics really a proxy for politics everywhere? Yes, came the confident response from Caplan. The default methodological assumption was and should be that what was true of American politics was true of politics everywhere.
Fine. Who am I to quarrel with such methodological wisdom? So let’s move without further ado from Occupied Palestine to Michigan. The anti-lockdown protesters in Michigan are now carrying guns. They haven’t yet used them, but one of the first things one learns in firearms training is that one doesn’t carry a weapon one doesn’t intend to use. So when I see something like this….
…I reach immediately for my revolver. Whereupon I discover that I don’t own one, but remember that the police do.
Another heart-warming picture:
I’ve previously written here with admiration about the Malheur protesters, and written semi-sympathetically about their takeover of the Malheur refuge. I simply mention it here to remind readers of the violence involved. Most of us remember Charlottesville. Hard to forget the violence involved there. I’ve also written about the Branch Davidian conflagration at Waco, comparing it, among other things, to the Islamist take-over of the Lal Masjid compound in Islamabad. Plenty of violence in both places. So the specter of violence is not something I’ve conjured up out of the blue.
It turns out that Ammon Bundy, one of the principals of the Malheur protest, has peculiar views on COVID-19, and, with his followers, is now defying stay-at-home orders, and promising violence if his or their “rights” are infringed on:
“If it gets bad enough, and our rights are infringed upon enough, we can physically stand in defense in whatever way we need to,” Mr. Bundy told the meeting. “But we hope we don’t have to get there.”
Yeah, me neither. I wouldn’t exactly call his plans “defensive,” but that’s just me. In any case, Bundy is obviously not deterred by the armed standoff that happened last time he defied the authorities, or by his having been arrested or having to stand trial, or by the fact that one of his comrades was shot dead by the police the last time around.
The preceding incident might give you pause, but then again, you’re probably not Ammon Bundy. He’s willing to do it again. There are a lot of people like this in the world. One discovers them if one ventures past the glorious precincts of the ivory tower.
We all have our views on risk. Here is Ammon Bundy’s:
I also want the flu, the worst strain of it, and I want it as soon as possible. Ideally, it will come wrapped around a case of pneumonia—preferably walking pneumonia, so I can exercise my constitutional right to stretch my legs, but lying-down pneumonia would also do just fine, as I have a right to lie down whenever and wherever I goddam please. Last week, I lay down in the produce aisle at the Safeway in Coeur d’Alene. The floor was kind of hard, but it still felt good to take a load off. And it gave me some time to deliberate about pink grapefruit versus yellow grapefruit; that’s always been a tough one for me. I mean, they both have their advantages—the pink is sweeter, the yellow more invigorating. It’s a matter of taste, of freedom to choose. People looked at me funny as they wheeled their shopping carts along. I don’t blame them—it’s their right to look at me however they want. Just don’t bang into me with your cart, please—I’m a fellow-citizen—and cover your mouth when you cough, will you, Ma’am? That’s just common courtesy.
I’ve lost a lot of friends up here in Idaho, from doing unsafe things together, like playing with live electrical wires in the rain. We always figured we should do those things while we were young instead of waiting until we were old and more easily shocked. Good, red-blooded Americans, every last one of them. I guess in their veins it was blue. Plus, they had white blood cells. All the important colors.Sometimes, I daydream about getting diagnosed with a really rare disease, maybe a bone disease that no one’s ever heard of. I think that’d be a pretty special development, and I don’t want the government telling me how to go about my business or what I should be doing with my time. I’m a free man, made so by the same God who invented rare bone diseases. See what I mean?