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Government "Security" Dictated by Prank-Calling Sadist in Walmart Shooting

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Tags The Police State

09/29/2014

The shooting death of John Crawford in an Ohio Walmart store well illustrates the difference between private security and monopoly government security which is the final judge of its own actions, and which enjoys essentially limitless access to cash via the taxpayer. The basic facts are these: Crawford picked up a BB gun (which is not in any way a "firearm").  The BB "gun" is store merchandise and is sold in the store by Walmart. Crawford walked around the store holding the non-firearm in a non-threatening manner while talking to the mother of his children on the phone.

In response to a phone call from another shopper, police stormed the store, guns drawn, and shot Crawford dead on sight with no warning. Another woman, a 37-year old mother Angela Williams, also died of a heart attack in the ensuing police-caused chaos. We now know that the person who called the police, Ronald Ritchie, lied to the 911 operator when he said that Crawford was pointing the toy BB "gun" at people and that he was trying to load bullets into it. Ritchie lied when he said that Crawford was pointing the gun at children. And just as an illustration of Ritchie's reliability, we also know that Ritchie lied about being "an ex-marine."

Nonetheless, police officers and dispatchers unquestioningly deferred to Ritchie, and based their response on Ritchie's claims. So, we apparently live under a system of public-sector policing in which a phone call from a single "witness" can trigger an aggressive police response based on no evidence, no intelligence gathering, and no regard whatsoever for whether or not the person calling into 911 is to be regarded as a credible source or is just a lying man-child. This isn't the first example of this sort of thing, of course. We know that police engage in SWAT raids and other forms of police violence based on nothing more than a single phone call from a single witness with not even the most cursory investigation into whether or not the "tip" is based any anything other than boredom, spite, racism, or simply sadism .

If anyone has an enemy, he need only call the police and report that the target of one's ire is selling drugs out of one's home or that he's some sort of "terrorist." Police with then descend on the "perp" with assault weapons drawn and smash up the person's home. In fact,  a violent police response is so reliable, that the "game" of calling police with the intent of calling out military-style police raids on innocent victims in called "swatting." Would private police respond in a similar way? Would one phone call from an anonymous caller precipitate a private police agency to send out an armored vehicle filled with para-military assault-rifled soldiers pointing weapons at innocent bystanders? When government police point loaded weapons at innocent women out walking their dogs, they regard it as their prerogative to do so and make no apologies. As we know in the case of Crawford, even when an innocent person is gunned down, we're told it's "policy" and can't be avoided.

First of all, it's a fair bet that such overblown responses would not be employed by any sort of private security for no other reason than the fact that armored vehicles and military-style raids cost time and money. In the real world of the private sector, resources are limited, while for government agencies like your local police, one can simply turn to federal funds and the local taxpayer for the latest law-enforcement toys. Taxpayer-funded police forces face no true obstacle to spending outlandish amounts of money on any minor incident, which is why police departments will use a SWAT raid to seize one-tenth of an ounce of marijuana, and then declare the raid a "success." What is the cost-benefit ratio of such a raid? It's also unlikely that private police would be willing to point loaded weapons at people they are paid to protect, without at least some evidence that the targets pose an actual violent threat to the community.

Moreover, the fact that government police see no problem in employing maximum violence with virtually no knowledge of the situation at hand illustrates yet another problem with centralized nature of government power in a modern state. In situations such as the Walmart case, clearly it was Walmart management that had the best knowledge of the situation. The police, who claim a monopoly over the entire municipality, county, or state, can't possibly know the true situation on the ground in any given Walmart. Any policing model that relies on a single phone call from an unknown source to trigger a military assult on unfamiliar territory is ineffective at best, and tyrannical at worst. Any measured response, on the other hand, would be to have security personnel that are de-centralized, localized, and directly familiar with each and every store. Government policing clearly cannot provide this sort of service, nor is a government police agency motivated to do so when it enjoys immunity and cannot be put out of business no matter how many botched raids it engages in.  

Is Walmart Partly to Blame?

Based on press reports, it's difficult to ascertain if there way any consultation with WalMart management before the police entered the store guns ablazin'. Based on this report, we know that management was aware of Crawford and sensitive to the fact that his casual handling of the non-firearm could be misinterpreted by other shoppers. According to a witness, Walmart staff was in the process of approaching Crawford to deal with the situation. Before they could, however, police shot Crawford dead. Did Walmart staff stand aside and send in the police without first ascertaining the reality of the situation and attempting to communicate that to police? If so, that's alarming, and a good reason to never shop in a Walmart store. Moreover, will Walmart continue to allow Ronald Ritchie to shop in their stores? If so, Walmart apparently has no problem with some customers who pose a true threat to other customers. In either case, the situation could have been greatly improved if Walmart employed (competent) security of its own and refused to tolerate sadists among its clientele.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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