One of the depressing trends of the last seven years has been the ideological transformation of some libertarians — especially those who work on criminal-justice issues — into leftists who condone rioting, and see racism everywhere, even in instances where it isn’t present.
At the libertarian website Reason, two staffers peddled the false “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” narrative about Michael Brown’s death being a racist murder, even though Michael Brown never said those words, and he wasn’t murdered. Even the progressive black Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart has admitted that “‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie.” The progressive Washington Post fact-checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee has explained that “‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ did not happen in Ferguson.”
The Washington Post reported in 2015 that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson “was justified in shooting Brown,” according to the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It was reasonable for police Officer Darren Wilson to be afraid of Michael Brown in their encounter last summer, a Justice Department investigation concluded, and thus he could not “be prosecuted for fatally shooting” Brown, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
An 86-page report by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division found that both physical evidence and “credible” witnesses supported Officer Wilson’s version of an incident that triggered looting and rioting in Ferguson. As the Civil Rights Division concluded on page 82 of that report, “the shots fired” by Wilson after Michael “Brown turned around were in self-defense.” Indeed, “several of” the mostly black “witnesses stated that they would have … responded” as the police officer did in shooting Brown.
The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman condoned rioting after the death of George Floyd, in a column titled “If riots are not the answer, what is?,” which was posted on May 29, 2020. Many libertarian criminal-justice activists approvingly tweeted or retweeted this column. Chapman’s twitter account describes him as “vaguely libertarian,” and his writings were long reproduced by America’s leading libertarian magazine.
A libertarian think-tank employee approvingly retweeted the statement that riots are necessary to get people’s attention: “So it is not surprising that protests become riots where angry people loot and damage businesses. Destroying or stealing stuff is one of the only ways you can really get people’s attention. Telling them that people died won’t do it. Because so many folks care more about stuff.”
Libertarian criminal-justice activists have condoned Antifa attempts to blind federal police officers defending courthouses against attack, and the actions of a hostile Antifa mob chasing Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — an irony, given that Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, was the Libertarian Party’s 1988 presidential nominee.
The Washington Post’s “libertarian” criminal-justice writer, Radley Balko, approvingly retweeted a July 2020 article in “The Atlantic” defending “cancel culture.” That article defended the firing of the editor of a liberal newspaper for publishing a conservative op-ed that offended black staffers by endorsing a crackdown on rioters. Balko also approved the withdrawal under pressure of an academic study finding that police shootings weren’t usually racist. He did so even though another libertarian academic who is an expert on scientific evidence found nothing wrong with the study’s methodology.
As that professor observed, “It’s absurd to ask that a valid study be retracted [because] you think others are ‘misusing’ it. A study says what it says, and so long as it wasn’t actually flawed it shouldn’t be retracted for political reasons except perhaps under truly extreme circumstances, which this isn’t.” Critics objected to an “extrapolation” in the study, but it was a “perfectly reasonable one.” The study’s “retraction resulted from a sustained attempt to discredit politically unpopular research,” rather than anything being wrong with the research.”
On Twitter, Balko smeared an Asian-American college official who discussed that police-shooting study as a white supremacist, because that official talked to Ron Unz. Never mind that Unz is Jewish, and has been cited by the employees of libertarian think-tanks where Balko himself once worked. Balko has mocked people who oppose government funding for the Kennedy Center, even as he has called for reducing funding for the police. Since the Kennedy Center is funded by taxes, and “taxation is theft” according to libertarians like Murray Rothbard, endorsing spending on the Kennedy Center is akin to endorsing theft, from a traditional libertarian perspective. Perhaps Balko is actually a progressive, rather than a libertarian.
Libertarian criminal-justice “reformers” depict racial disparities in incarceration rates as being caused by racism. But in reality, racism in the criminal justice system reduces black arrest rates, because it makes black people trust the police less, and cooperate less in catching the criminals who victimize black people — criminals who are themselves overwhelmingly black. Ironically, racial disparities in incarceration rates aren’t caused by racism; they are reduced by them. As Balko himself once conceded, “After a 2004 police shooting in Milwaukee, calls to 911 dropped off in black neighborhoods. Crime soared.”
Crime is heavily black-on-black, and black victims of violence are usually attacked by other black people. As the Bureau of Justice Statistics has stated, most crimes are committed mostly between members of the same racial group, and this is true for “rape or sexual assault,” “simple assault,” “aggravated assault,” and indeed, “all types of violent crime except robbery,” which is disproportionately committed by blacks against non-blacks. PolitiFact reports that between 2010 and 2013, “92 percent of blacks who were murdered were killed by other blacks.”
A disproportionate number of murderers and other violent criminals are black. As the American Journal of Preventive Medicine once pointed out, “Homicide rates have consistently been at least ten times higher for blacks aged 10-34 years compared with whites in the same age group between 1995 and 2015.” Yet black are arrested for murder at no more than eight times the white rate, not ten times the white rate.
A black killer is actually less likely to be arrested than a similarly-situated white killer, because black killers tend to kill other black people, and murders involving black victims are less likely to be solved. For example, Chicago solves 47 percent of cases when a murder victim is white, but only 22 percent of cases when the victim is black, according to NPR.
For other violent crimes, the higher black arrest rate simply reflects the higher black crime rate, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. “White and black people were arrested proportionate to their involvement in serious nonfatal violent crime overall and proportionate to their involvement in serious nonfatal violent crime reported to police.” (See Allen J. Beck, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Race and Ethnicity of Violent Crime Offenders and Arrestees, 2018, at pg. 2).
The obvious reality that the crime rate is higher among black people is rejected by some “libertarian” criminal-justice activists, who claim that the only reason blacks are arrested at a higher rate is due to racism. This claim is at odds with a 1996 Supreme Court ruling that recognized that crime rates vary by race.
They may have succeeded in convincing some libertarians to believe this false claim. In 2016, the libertarian presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, inaccurately suggested that black people were four times more likely to be arrested than whites, for committing the very “same” crime. Even progressive “fact-checkers” took issue with this extreme claim.
Johnson may have been talking just about drug cases, where people have raised concerns about racist application of the drug laws. But most incarceration is not due to drugs, but rather due to violence. Only 16% of people in state prisons in 2013 were there for drugs (either drug dealing or possession). 54% were there for violent felonies, and 19% were there for property crimes.
Today, an even smaller percentage of inmates are in prison for drugs than in 2013. Some states have decriminalized marijuana. Other states have released many non-violent drug offenders through early-release programs or expanded good-behavior sentence credits for non-violent offenders.