Policing and Societal Regulation (Part 1)

By | July 27, 2014

I doubt that the story a couple of weeks ago about the police shooting of Jason Conoscenti in Long Beach – another gunning down of an unarmed man – made the news in your areas. It barely did here. This one is different, however – I knew Jason, although I hadn’t seen him in person for some years. He was the ex-boyfriend of one of my best friends. He was a troubled guy in many respects, but that hardly warranted capital punishment doled out by the cops.

I have been concerned for a good while now about the increasing militarization and arrogance of the police and other government people (TSA, DHS, ICE, BATF, etc.) Now it’s hit close to home. When a 71-year old retired professor like me is one step away from an act like this, absolutely no one is safe, and we’d better all be prepared for the call in the night, if not the knock on the door. Sympathy for the difficulties that minority folks have always experienced is about to become identification with them, for more and more of us.

Then I came across this article – If You Are Doing Nothing Wrong You Have PLENTY to Fear – 30 Examples – which was a real eye-opener. What is striking about these examples is how incredibly ordinary they seem to be. That is, we aren’t talking about odd people, rather just like anyone you might find walking down the street. And although these form a limited number of examples, it would be hard to argue that these constitute the only 30 cases of such misconduct in the country. While the actual number is unknown, it must run literally into the tens of thousands. And barring something, it will only increase.

And that’s just the tip. There’s another threat out there – the good people who want to make everybody else good too. Here’s a little essay on that problem. Now it’s easy to treat some of these excesses as a “mistakes were made” scenario, in which the problem lies with a few implementers of these atrocities rather than with the system itself. But I believe that the problems are indeed systematic, and one of the reasons that we have so much abuse of the legal/police system is that we have too many freaking laws.

These highly visible police abuse cases are only a highly visible subset of whole other ranges of governmental abuses, ranging from rampant abuse of eminent domain to the misuses of the VA hospital system to corruption of many kinds in state and local contracting to large-scale Medicare fraud to administrative fiat of all kinds. We have far too many people with far too much discretionary authority over other people’s lives.

Getting shot to death by police officers who know that they won’t be called to account for it is one end of a spectrum; but it’s a spectrum that ranges down to petty harassment. Toward that lower end, it includes the petty stupidity of the Social Security clerk who a while ago informed me that my 2014 Medicare premium had to be based on my 2012 earnings ((the year I was laid off halfway through) rather than  my 2013 earnings (Social Security plus unemployment) because only a “special event” during a year could trigger a re-evaluation of earnings and I’d apparently already used up my special event with my layoff in 2012 that had allowed my 2013 premiums to be reduced, and my continuing unemployment during 2013 was NOT a special event, so I had to have my premium based on my higher earlier earnings.

If you didn’t understand that, good; I didn’t either, but had it repeated to me four times in increasingly shrill tones. I am consequently paying double the premium for 2014 as I did in 2013, although I have about the same income with my loss of unemployment benefits (one year and out) more or less made up for by the income I’m making from minimum-wage part-time academic work. Next January, I can apparently look forward to having my premium based on 2013.

The bottom line is that we are all increasingly subject to a society operated on the principle of Catch-22. More on this next time. Stay tuned.