From Lew Rockwell at the Mises Institute Self-Defense and “Taking the Law into Your Own Hands” is about defending yourself and property from violence when “the law” will not. When “the law” abandons the people, is it vigilantism to defend yourself? The answer is, of course, no it isn’t, as self defense and defense of your property is legally authorized.
The riots in Louisville are only the latest in a long string of violent, raging mob riots by the criminal Marxist BLM movement, their mostly white “antifa” thuggish allies, and assorted looters. In this case, “Two police officers have been shot in Louisville, Ky., amid riots following the announcement of an indictment in the shooting of Breonna Taylor. Louisville chief of police Robert Schroeder confirmed that the officers were shot and were taken to a local hospital. Schroeder told reporters that one of the officers was undergoing surgery but in stable condition, while the other was alert and stable. Police have arrested one suspect in the shooting…after a grand jury charged just one of the officers involved in the shooting of Taylor in a botched drug bust. Rioters clashed with police throughout Louisville, burning trash cans and calling to defund the city police department.”
Last May, hundreds of businesses in the Twin Cities—Minneapolis and St. Paul—were damaged or looted during four days of unrest. In Los Angeles, “National Guard troops arrived in the nation’s second-largest city overnight after a fourth day of protests Saturday saw demonstrators clash repeatedly with officers, torch police vehicles and pillage businesses. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he asked Gov. Gavin Newsom for 500 to 700 members of the Guard to assist the 10,000 Los Angeles Police Department officers. ‘The California National Guard is being deployed to Los Angeles overnight to support our local response to maintain peace and safety on the streets of our city,’ said the mayor, who ordered a rare citywide curfew until Sunday morning. Firefighters responded to dozens of fires, and scores of businesses were damaged. One of the hardest-hit areas was the area around the Grove, a popular high-end outdoor mall west of downtown where hundreds of protesters swarmed the area, showering police with rocks and other objects and vandalizing shops.” About 3,000 protesters demonstrated in Brooklyn and were pushed back by NYPD officers releasing chemical mace after the protests turned violent. A woman was arrested and charged with attempted murder after she threw a Molotov cocktail into an occupied police car.
Things are likely to get worse. A story in the New York Times, a paper very sympathetic to the BLM hoodlums, admits that rioters plan to assault suburban white areas. They will demand that the white residents, who are often elderly, bow down to them and surrender their homes. “Nearly four months after the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, some protesters against police brutality are taking a more confrontational—and personal—approach. The marches in Portland are increasingly moving to residential and largely white neighborhoods, where demonstrators with bullhorns shout for people to come ‘out of your house and into the street’ and demonstrate their support. These more aggressive protests target ordinary people going about their lives, especially those who decline to demonstrate allegiance to the cause. That includes a diner in Washington who refused to raise her fist to show support for Black Lives Matter, or, in several cities, confused drivers who happened upon the protests.”
Ordinary Americans cannot rely on the police to protect them. In many cases, left-wing governors and mayors have ordered the police to stand down. For them, solidarity with the rioters is more important than the lives and property of decent citizens. We have seen the absurdity of rioters being called “peaceful protestors” when videos show cities aflame. When the police do their duty and counter the violence of the black thugs, they are vilified as racists, indicted, and even shot at and killed. In these circumstances, they are hardly likely to stay on the job. If the police don’t protect you, you have no legal recourse, and in some places, police won’t even investigate cases of looting. “’Neither the Constitution, nor state law, imposes a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm—even when they know the harm will occur,’ said Darren L. Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at the University of Florida School of Law. ‘Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution.’ The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government has only a duty to protect persons who are ‘in custody,’ he pointed out.”
What, then, are we supposed to do? In an interview on the Tucker Carlson Show on September 23, Danny Coulson, a retired deputy assistant director of the FBI, condemned the rioters. But he thought that there was something even worse than the burning and looting, and this was the main reason he condemned them: their actions might lead to “vigilante justice.” People must not take the law into their own hands—that could lead to chaos. Instead, we must unify around support of the police.
His advice is useless, and it rests on a false premise. How can we support the police when they aren’t protecting us? His advice is like urging us to put out a fire with a hose unattached to a hydrant. The false premise is that vigilante justice is bad. Is it? Let’s look at the definition of the term: “Vigilantism is the act of enforcement, investigation or punishment of perceived offenses without legal authority. A vigilante (from Spanish vigilante) is practitioner of vigilantism.”
In other words, you are a vigilante if you exercise your basic right of self-defense without the permission of the predatory state that supports the rioters and looters. In fact, if people defended and protected themselves, the result would not be chaos, but a far better system than we have now. As the great Murray Rothbard explained, people in a free market society would defend themselves by hiring private protection agencies. The agencies would compete to provide the services customers want, rather than cater to the whim of a mob or promote venality and power seeking, as officials of the state do now. As Murray again and again stressed, the free market is always better at supplying goods and services than the state, and protection and defense are no exceptions.
He explains in For A New Liberty, “Free-market police would not only be efficient, they would have a strong incentive to be courteous and to refrain from brutality against either their clients or their clients’ friends or customers. A private Central Park would be guarded efficiently in order to maximize park revenue, rather than have a prohibitive curfew imposed on innocent—and paying—customers. A free market in police would reward efficient and courteous police protection to customers and penalize any falling off from this standard. No longer would there be the current disjunction between service and payment inherent in all government operations, a disjunction which means that police, like all other government agencies, acquire their revenue, not voluntarily and competitively from consumers, but from the taxpayers coercively. In fact, as government police have become increasingly inefficient, consumers have been turning more and more to private forms of protection. We have already mentioned block or neighborhood protection. There are also private guards, insurance companies, private detectives, and such increasingly sophisticated equipment as safes, locks, and closed-circuit TV and burglar alarms….Every reader of detective fiction knows that private insurance detectives are far more efficient than the police in recovering stolen property. Not only is the insurance company impelled by economics to serve the consumer—and thereby try to avoid paying benefits—but the major focus of the insurance company is very different from that of the police. The police, standing as they do for a mythical ‘society,’ are primarily interested in catching and punishing the criminal; restoring the stolen loot to the victim is strictly secondary. To the insurance company and its detectives, on the other hand, the prime concern is recovery of the loot, and apprehension and punishment of the criminal is secondary to the prime purpose of aiding the victim of crime. Here we see again the difference between a private firm impelled to serve the customer-victim of crime and the public police, which is under no such economic compulsion.”
Private law enforcement isn’t just a theoretical idea, as we can see from British and American history. In Britain, “Throughout the period 1674 to 1829 many victims of crime were able to identify and apprehend the culprits before contacting a constable or a justice of the peace to secure their arrest….Londoners continued to help apprehend suspected criminals. As the Proceedings frequently illustrate, cries of ‘stop thief!’ or ‘murder!’ from victims often successfully elicited the assistance of passers-by…[V]ictims frequently paid thief-takers to locate and apprehend suspects. Moreover, the difficulties the authorities had in identifying and apprehending criminals led them to offer rewards to those whose arrests led to the conviction of serious criminals, and pardons to accomplices who were willing to turn in their confederates. Increasingly, ordinary Londoners left the task of securing criminals to people who were motivated to do so by the prospect of financial or other rewards.”
We see the same thing in America. “The development of policing in the United States closely followed the development of policing in England. In the early colonies policing took two forms. It was both informal and communal, which is referred to as the ‘Watch,’ or private-for-profit policing, which is called ‘The Big Stick’….These informal modalities of policing continued well after the American Revolution. It was not until the 1830s that the idea of a centralized municipal police department first emerged in the United States.”
Danny Coulson was horror stricken about people hiring private bodyguards, but what is wrong with that? We should support our basic right to self-defense. This is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, but our rights don’t depend on the state and its constitution. By the way, the recently sainted Ruth Bader Ginsburg wanted to end the individual right to keep and bear arms. Our rights come from natural law, and only the free market can enforce them and protect us.