In Robert Tracinski’s opinion, the thing “most important about the Garner case is how stupid the reason was for arresting this guy”:
[H]e was being busted for selling single, “loose” cigarettes in order to evade heavy taxes on tobacco products. Basically, he was arrested for doing something that, in a previous era, thousands of people would have been doing in New York on any given day: selling goods on the streets of the city without any particular permission. It’s a low-grade form of entrepreneurialism.
But not in the nanny-state New York of today. In a city where everything is taxed and regulated and you can’t put trans-fats in your food or buy a soda that’s too large, it makes perfect sense that they would harass a guy for selling cigarettes on the streets without permission. After all, they’re bad for people. Somebody might die.
The meat of his argument:
We should remember that whenever the police use force, there is the danger that they will kill someone, whether through malice, poor judgment, poor training, or sheer accident. From time to time, they’re going to shoot the wrong person or wrestle a guy to the ground without knowing that he has serious health problems and can’t survive this kind of rough handling. That is one good reason (among many) to make sure that police are only authorized to interfere with someone whose actions are a threat to the lives and property of others, and not just to enforce some dumb, petty regulation.
The contradiction of the left is that they want to inject government into every little aspect of our lives and mandate that the police confront us all the time over everything—and then they scream when some of those confrontations go wrong. In this way, they are not only hoping for a new series of contentious, racially charged killings. By extending the reach of government and the omnipresence of police power in our lives, they are creating the conditions that make those cases inevitable.
A. Barton Hinkle wants to lower taxes accordingly:
Thanks to New York’s laughably high cigarette taxes ($4.35 state plus another $1.60 in the city) and higher prices generally, a pack of smokes in New York City costs $14 or more. That creates a powerful incentive to smuggle smokes in from states such as Virginia, where you can buy a pack for a third of that price. Fill a Ford Econoline van with a few hundred cartons and you can make a nice five-figure profit in a weekend. Some people do.
The robust cigarette smuggling irritates officials in New York, because they miss out on a lot of tax revenue. The trade irritates officials in Virginia for the same reason, because smugglers buy wholesale to avoid the retail sales tax. There’s an easy fix for all of this: Cut New York’s cigarette taxes.
Vinik responds to such complaints:
Are cigarette taxes smart policy? There are benefits to the law—it reduces smoking and makes Americans healthier—and consequences to it—the costs of it fall disproportionately on the poor. There are also value judgments involved: libertarians will argue that the law is an undemocratic intrusion into the private lives of U.S. citizens. Liberals believe the health benefits of cigarette taxes outweigh any loss of freedom. That argument has been ongoing for years.
He finds that “Eric Garner is not dead because New York City imposes high cigarette taxes. He’s dead because a cop put him in a chokehold, in violation of NYPD rules, and held his head against ground.” But J.D. Tuccille sees the issue differently:
You want a society taxed and regulated toward your vision of perfection? It’s going to need enforcers. … Those enforcers aren’t an equal problem for everybody. They spare the people who pay them to look the other way. They give a pass to friends and relations. But they often take a dislike to individuals or whole groups that rub them the wrong way or cause them extra grief. Poor minorities, in particular, are always on the short end of the stick when it comes to dealing with cops. When they break petty laws, they don’t often turn enough profit to grease police palms enough to be left alone, they don’t have the political power to push back, and at least some of the enforcers have a hard-on for them anyway.
Government, at its core, is force. The more it does to shape the world around it, the more it needs enforcers to make sure officials’ wills are done. “The law is the law,” says New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, but it’s creatures like him who make so much damned law.