Police corruption and the war on drugs

The latest police corruption scandal involves officer Spencer Moore, who was arrested last Tuesday in Baltimore County for drug trafficking. It’s ironic that, although there were several credible reports of Moore assaulting civilians, he ended up being arrested for engaging in a peaceful exchange of drugs. This focus on drug crimes above other crimes is ironically appropriate, given that this has been deliberate law enforcement policy since the 1990s.

As David Simon (the creator of the TV series “The Wire”) explained in a 2015 interview, the drug war arose from a widespread belief that clearing the streets of drugs would clear them of violence. This ignores the fact that drug prohibition itself is a leading cause of violence). Moreover, as Simon points out, the war on drugs severely damaged public trust in the police. Because of the drug war, investigating violent crime took a back seat to mass arrests of anyone who looked suspicious. It is unclear whether this helped reduce violent crime on the street, but it certainly led to more police brutality. This in turn set up the conditions for the Freddie Gray riots, loss of police confidence, and the recent upward spike in homicides.

Solutions

So what do we do about this? Legalizing drugs would obviously solve the “problem” of cops breaking drug laws. Internal investigations of police corruption would then focus more on the cops who commit acts of brutality. But it’s worth noting that even de-escalating the war on drugs might go a long way towards solving the problem of police brutality. Simon suggests simple administrative remedies, such as not paying overtime for dealing with petty drug crimes. Certainly, the less often police try to arrest people, the fewer chances for abuse there will be. How this would affect violent crime more generally is another matter; solving that will probably require addressing several issues at once.

Libertarianism in the city, or more about why I’m blogging

Why am I starting this blog? Well, the first reason is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a libertarian voice in Baltimore City. I want people to know that libertarians have answers to the social and economic problems that exist here. I want people to know that the answer to social problems is not always more government action. On the contrary, often it is government that is the cause of problems. Prohibition of drugs and the violent gang warfare it generates is just one notorious example.

The second reason is to get myself to learn more about how libertarianism can inform urban policy. There is a definite sense that urbanism in general is alien to small-government libertarian values (see discussion here). Big cities even in conservative states appear to vote liberal, while limited-government voters seem to be restricted to the suburbs and small towns. I hope to show that this does not have to be the case. Cities in fact thrive under limited government.

Two good books on this are the classic “Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs and the recent “Case for Market Urbanism” by Michael Lewyn. The former talks about how top-down city planning destroyed many thriving neighborhoods, while the second focuses on how suburban sprawl is the result of government intervention rather than market forces. It turns out that cities do not need to be planned form the top down. In fact, they grow organically from the bottom up. See also this discussion of the relationship between the non-libertarian Jacobs and libertarian thought.

The Baltimore Libertarian

Hello and welcome to the Baltimore Libertarian! I am a libertarian in Baltimore and came to realize there is not much of a libertarian voice in the city. So, in this blog, I will talk about local issues from a libertarian perspective. I talk a bit more about what libertarianism means in the About page.

I’ve decided to dedicate this site to H. L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore. The site icon that you see in the bookmarks bar is the picture of him you see below. He is a symbol of the link, however obscure today, between Baltimore and libertarianism. Mencken was in many ways a libertarian before that term came to be commonly used in its current meaning (though apparently in at least one place he called himself “an extreme libertarian”). He was skeptical of authority, loved liberty.

Libertarian economist Murray Rothbard wrote a very interesting piece not long after Mencken’s death about how ahead of his time Mencken was. For example, like many on the anti-FDR Old Right, Mencken opposed the New Deal. Unlike many of them, however, he opposed Prohibition and welcomed its repeal. He did not fit in the crude left-right categories of the 1920s and 1930s, just as libertarians do not fit in the left-right paradigm of today.

h-l-mencken
Photo of H. L. Mencken

Thanks especially to Tom Woods both for his free blogging starter kit that helped me get going and for just being an all-round inspiring voice for liberty. I will try to keep posts brief and focused on politically tractable solutions. I will also try to post at least once a week.

Thanks for reading the Baltimore Libertarian!