Can Riots be stopped without police?

By Vaughn Spargur

In a recent newsletter/article my friend Chris Spangle worried that libertarianism does not have an answer to what he has observed. Specifically that the cities which did not have riots which got out of hand used lots of cops and called in the national guard. It’s not a happy observation. It seems to go against what we libertarians believe and want in a society. For those of us who believe that government is not the solution, but the problem, it is a scary concept to have to consider.

In response, I will first point out that “riots”, the way cities respond to them, and the outcomes are not things that can be looked at in a vacuum, but must be looked at in the historical context of the situation. Riots happen for a reason. They do not just materialize out of thin air. Even if we accept the idea that in the current situation the US finds itself, the only way to prevent the riots from doing too much damage is through lots of bodies which are wearing police and national guard uniforms, it does not naturally follow that they are the only possible way to prevent riots from getting out of hand in all situations and contexts. In the current context we have to ask then, what is causing the protests which are sometimes turning into riots? And this is partly where Chris’s fear is found unfounded.

The protests occurred because a large enough group of people are fed up with what they believe to be injustice being meted out by the justice system, first at the hands of the police, and in every step afterwards. Since at least in this context, the police are a major cause of the riots, they can’t also be the only way to solve them, unless they change drastically.  While it is true that enough police and NG bodies can mitigate the damage caused by riots, it is a short term solution. Eventually the Guard will have to be sent home, the police will have to get back to their other tasks, and if the source of the problem has not been fixed, the protests and even riots will return when no one is prepared.  Martin Luther once said that “the riot is the language of the unheard”. If we want to stop the riot, we must stop and truly listen to the complaint that has caused so much unrest.

So then, if there were no government and therefore no state appointed law enforcement officers, how would the individual small business owner protect himself from a mob intent on committing violence? Would we be dependent on people like Kyle Rittenhouse to show up and protect this business from the looting? No. The fact that Kyle Rittenhouse even felt it necessary to show up to protect businesses is a symptom that the current system failed. A system in which police departments (and other law enforcement) have the monopoly on law enforcement. A great example of how this could work is the founding of the San Francisco Patrol Special Police who were founded by local businessmen to protect their immigrant workers from the abuse of not only anti-immigrant activists but also harassment from the government “law enforcement”. Up until recently this police force was completely separate from the city government and was truly a “private police force”. And because they were paid by the local businessman directly they were much more accountable for the way in which they treated the workers and customers of those businesses. Even today, we see many neighborhoods and storefront areas hiring security companies to help protect their properties. Because our current police forces are government backed and funded through the taxes we pay we cannot change to a different law enforcement organization if we are not satisfied with the one we currently have. This removal of a means to keep the police accountable to the business owners and citizens of an area is one of the reasons we are having the protests (which sometimes spur riots) in the first place!

Now would a stateless society always succeed in protecting every person’s property? No. But as we can see now, the current paradigm isn’t working all that well either, and in many cases contributes to the circumstances that create the anger that causes some people to lash out in ways that are not right or helpful. A heavy presence of police/National Guard can only prevent riots in the short term, especially when that same police dept is what the protestors/rioters are most upset about. When we are in the midst of tumult it is hard to look past the here and now for long term solutions. But, if we want to see an end to this cycle of anger, we have to stop and actually listen to the complaints of the unheard.

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