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Bicycle License

Another policing video has gone viral, which has received more than 5 million views on Twitter, shows no less than six police confronting a group of teenagers in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Their crime? Riding bicycles without a license.

The boys were incredulous at the encounter and pushed back on the officers’ demands that they dismount their “vehicles” and, ultimately, allow their bikes to be confiscated. The verbal exchange eventually led to one child being placed in handcuffs and taken to the station (where he was soon released).

After having their bikes seized, the teens were left to walk through the streets of the town to police headquarters where they then reclaimed their property. A video shows a female cop telling them, “You think I want to be here taking bikes away? Like, this is so asinine. Like, we have so much better stuff to do with our time.”

Data certainly show that the officers in this town have better things they could be doing with their time. Perth Amboy ranks in the bottom half of cities when it comes to public safety, and in 2019 the county cleared a mere 28 percent of its rape cases, 35 percent of its robberies, and 10 percent of its auto theft. That’s a lot of unsolved crime.

Throughout the video, multiple police officers tell the kids that they don’t make the law, they just have to enforce it. While police and solicitors have lobbyist that do push for laws to be created by politicians, we do know that individual police members are often tasked with enforcing petty offenses that needlessly endanger both the public and themselves and detract from time that could be spent on actually making communities safer.

Fortunately, this arrest over biking without a license did not lead to yet another loss of life at the hands of the state. History shows that the enforcement of such petty laws often can result in death.

Eric Garner was infamously killed by police in 2014 after being apprehended for illegally selling cigarettes on the streets of New York. More recently, Daunte Wright was killed after initially being pulled over for driving with expired license tags.  Many times the initial crime is petty, but emotions and tensions flare to a heightened level due to the distrust caused by what is perceived as “unfairness.”

Americans die in extrajudicial killings by police every year. The New York Times reports that police have killed more than three people a day since testimony began in the Derek Chauvin trial on March 29th. Other studies indicate more than 1000 Americans lose their lives to law enforcement each year. While not all of these incidents are a result of bad policing, we do know that each time law enforcement encounters a citizen there is a potential for violence.

While Black Lives Matter has ignited a global movement against police brutality and these extrajudicial killings, its priorities show it is gravely missing the mark on the policy reforms that would actually make Americans safer and lessen the loss of life. Key to reducing police killings would be to reduce the number of laws and reasons for police to interact with citizens in the first place.

Each time law enforcement encounters a citizen, no matter race or sex, there is a potential for violence – both against the suspect and the police officer.

Economist Ludwig von Mises said, “It is important to remember that government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action. (…) Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.”

Every time we allow the government to create a new law, we authorize it to enforce that law—the ultimate consequence of which can always be death.

If we want to limit death at the hands of the state, we therefore must limit the number and scope of laws it is authorized to enforce to only what is necessary to protect the citizenry, not rule the citizens.  What is the point of a soda law, cigarette law, seat belt law, helmet law, bicycle license, etc.

Recently, a California wine maker wanted to bring a new $400 million bottling center and warehouse to South Carolina, but it was the company’s desire to also add a few tasting rooms around the state which was not permitted.  Gallo Winery picked Chester County as its site to build its first East Coast hub and said it hopes to hire 300 to 500 people.  An area that desperately needs the jobs for its residents.

The state does not allow this to happen, but Gallo had to petition to allow these tasting rooms.  Restaurants and alcohol retailers are against the proposal, but thankfully it was allowed.  However the question remains – why does a business have to do this?  Why do we always have laws created to prevent petty problems and continue to create bigger problems with its enforcement.  SC could have lost 500 jobs and a $100 million investment in the state due to the continuous implementation and enforcement of laws that interfere with individual business and life, more than provide security to individuals from others that look to harm them.

Politicians (legislative branch) make these laws and then turn over the enforcement to the police (executive branch) without understanding the full implications.  Then when the police attempt to enforce the law, the politicians attack the police without reflecting on the fact that they are enforcing the law made by them.  The expansion of government and the creation of laws is the root cause of the problems with policing, and until reformers tackle that underlying issue, they will merely be treating the symptoms and not the disease.

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