Banning menthol cigarettes is the road to Eric Garner

There is a certain kind of busybody who is just born to be a legislator.  That's all he is good for.  He -- or she -- exists to "do something" every time someone utters the phrase, "Something must be done!"

Of course, every law or regulation... every "something" that this guy does, will at some point involve a man with a gun to showing up to enforce it.  Everybody forgets that.  Laws aren't designed to be benign.  To mean anything, at the back of them there must be mean force -- enough to take your money, your freedom, your life.

But the busybodies keep on making laws -- telephone books full -- because "something must be done!"

Reporting out of committee in the Assembly earlier this week was a bill -- A2185 -- to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes.  Welcome to the era of Phil Murphy! 

New Jersey is a state that won't kill you if you sodomize, torture, and murder a dozen children.  But increasingly, the state practices a form of ad-hoc execution -- a death penalty meted out without benefit of legal process.  And the lawmakers know that this grows more likely every time they make a new law.  Yet they keep making things illegal... even as they thump their chests and congratulate themselves for abolishing the kind of death penalty in which you get a trial and an appeal or two or three.

In one of his most famous essays, columnist George Will argued that "overcriminalization" was responsible for the death of Eric Garner, a sidewalk merchant who was killed in a confrontation with police trying to crack down on sales tax scofflaws. 

Will raised the question of how many new laws are created by state legislatures and by Congress in the rush to be seen to be "doing something"?  Will's brilliant column is a must read for legislators thinking about proposing their next round of ideas that will end up being enforced by men with guns.  An excerpt is printed below:

America might at long last be ready to stare into the abyss of its criminal-justice system.

By history’s frequently brutal dialectic, the good that we call progress often comes spasmodically, in lurches propelled by tragedies caused by callousness, folly, or ignorance. With the grand jury’s as yet inexplicable and probably inexcusable refusal to find criminal culpability in Eric Garner’s death on a Staten Island sidewalk, the nation might have experienced sufficient affronts to its sense of decency. It might at long last be ready to stare into the abyss of its criminal-justice system.

It will stare back, balefully. Furthermore, the radiating ripples from the nation’s overdue reconsideration of present practices may reach beyond matters of crime and punishment, to basic truths about governance.

Garner died at the dangerous intersection of something wise, known as “broken windows” policing, and something worse than foolish: decades of overcriminalization. The policing applies the wisdom that when signs of disorder, such as broken windows, proliferate and persist, there is a general diminution of restraint and good comportment. So, because minor infractions are, cumulatively, not minor, police should not be lackadaisical about offenses such as jumping over subway turnstiles.

Overcriminalization has become a national plague. And when more and more behaviors are criminalized, there are more and more occasions for police, who embody the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence, and who fully participate in humanity’s flaws, to make mistakes.

Harvey Silverglate, a civil-liberties attorney, titled his 2009 book Three Felonies a Day to indicate how easily we can fall afoul of America’s metastasizing body of criminal laws. Professor Douglas Husak of Rutgers University says that approximately 70 percent of American adults have, usually unwittingly, committed a crime for which they could be imprisoned. In his 2008 book, Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law, Husak says that more than half of the 3,000 federal crimes — itself a dismaying number — are found not in the Federal Criminal Code but in numerous other statutes. And, by one estimate, at least 300,000 federal regulations can be enforced by agencies wielding criminal punishments. Citing Husak, Professor Stephen L. Carter of the Yale Law School, like a hammer driving a nail head flush to a board, forcefully underscores the moral of this story:

Society needs laws; therefore it needs law enforcement. But “overcriminalization matters” because “making an offense criminal also means that the police will go armed to enforce it.” The job of the police “is to carry out the legislative will.” But today’s political system takes “bizarre delight in creating new crimes” for enforcement. And “every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence.”

Carter continues:

It’s unlikely that the New York Legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they’re so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants.

Garner lived in part by illegally selling single cigarettes untaxed by New York jurisdictions. He lived in a progressive state and city that, being ravenous for revenues and determined to save smokers from themselves, have raised to $5.85 the combined taxes on a pack of cigarettes. To the surprise of no sentient being, this has created a black market in cigarettes that are bought in states that tax them much less. Garner died in a state that has a Cigarette Strike Force.

George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist at The Washington Post.  To continue reading...

Being what they are, some of the legislators now pushing this newest, "something must be done" ban on menthol cigarettes, will be quick to blame the police when the law that the legislators send them to enforce inevitably produces resistance.  Someone will be shot or choked and the honorable busybodies will take to going down on one knee or crying on the television or shouting "it's the cops fault" whilst hopping up and down with a featherduster lodged firmly in the bunghole.

The blue-collar police always get blamed -- not the white-collar legislators who make the law and then send them to enforce it.  The kick in the balls is that it's some of those white-collar legislators who made the law who end up leading the protests against the police for enforcing the law they made.

Police officers come in all races, creeds, and genders.  It is the best job available to folks of their class in a job market that has grown increasingly thinner (courtesy of the politicians and their paymasters).  If the politicians could find a way to outsource the work, they would... and maybe, they will, someday.  But for now, our police are our neighbors, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, moms and dads.  For now, they are just ordinary members of our communities called upon to do some very important and often unpleasant work.  Blue-collar work at blue-collar pay.  Hey, how many of Phil Murphy's One-Percenter friends would perform CPR on a homeless man if he needed it?  A cop will.  A firefighter will.  They're honor bound.

Why would you give them anything more to do?

Memo to Legislators:  The next time something goes wrong with a law that YOU made... get out there and lead the chants against YOU.  Identify the culprit that is YOU.  Do the right thing.  Don't blame the guys YOU sent to enforce it.