The shooting death by police of Ferguson, MO teenager Michael Brown, and what has happened in the aftermath, has been blanketing the news for the past few days. It’s a story about race, but it’s also become a story about the power of the state and how it’s wielded, and against whom.
So my question is this: Where are the libertarians?
Libertarians are, after all, supposed to be having their moment, as a cover story in last week’s New York Times Magazine put it. The foundation of libertarianism is skepticism toward government and a belief in individual freedom. There aren’t many freedoms more fundamental than the freedom to walk to your grandmother’s apartment, as Brown was doing, without getting shot by a representative of the government. So you might have thought that libertarians would be all over the media raising pointed questions about the misuse of police power.
You would also have thought that libertarians would be using the police reaction to the protests over Brown’s killing as a case study in the needless and dangerous militarization of the police. Like many police forces around the country, the one in Ferguson is bristling with military equipment, which they brought out to confront protesters. Though we’re talking about a town with 21,000 residents and a police force with 53 officers, they apparently have acquired the means to repel an invasion by any commando teams that decide to invade Ferguson. Driving up in their armored vehicles and decked out in gear appropriate to a Marine patrol in Helmand province, the police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and wooden pellets against protesters, including some who were standing in their own back yards.
But there has been a near-total silence from prominent libertarians on this issue. Senator Rand Paul, right now America’s most prominent libertarian (yes, I know, some don’t consider him a real libertarian), hasn’t said anything about the case — no public comments, no news releases, nothing on Twitter, nothing on Facebook. I contacted his office just to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything, and a press staffer told me they have no statement at this time. I also called the office of Rep. Justin Amash, known as the purest libertarian in the House, and got the same answer: he hasn’t said anything about it, and they have no statement to make. How about mustachioed libertarian TV personality John Stossel? Just a couple of weeks ago he was writing about the militarization of the police. He hasn’t said a peep about Ferguson.
You can find articles about Ferguson on the website of Reason, the libertarian magazine. But the politicians and conservative media figures who claim to be the most fervent advocates of individual freedom and to care the most about misuse of government power have been silent. One might be tempted to conclude they believe that when somebody’s grandson has to pay taxes on their inheritance, it’s a horrifying injustice that demands redress, but when somebody else’s grandson gets shot walking down the street, that’s just how things go sometimes.