Laws and the lawless

Swing, though, started in the wrong place.  He didn’t look around, and watch, and learn, and then say, “This is how people are, how do we deal with it?”  No, he sat and thought: “This is how people ought to be, how do we change them?”  And that was a good enough thought for a priest but not for a copper, because Swing’s patient, pedantic way of operating had turned policing on its head.

There had been that Weapons Law, for a start.  Weapons were involved in so many crimes that, Swing reasoned, reducing the number of weapons had to reduce the crime rate.

Vimes wondered if he’d sat up in bed in the middle of the night and hugged himself when he’d dreamed that one up.  Confiscate all weapons, and crime would go down.  It made sense.  It would have worked, too, if only there had been enough coppers– say, three per citizen.

Amazingly, quite a few weapons were handed in.  The flaw, though, was one that somehow managed to escape Swing, and it was this: criminals don’t obey the law.  It’s more or less a requirement for the job…

Some citizens took the not-unreasonable view that something had gone a bit askew if only naughty people were carrying arms.  And they got arrested in large numbers…

It wasn’t that the city was lawless.  It had plenty of laws.  It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them.  Swing didn’t seem to have grasped the idea that they system was supposed to take criminals and, in some rough-and-ready fashion, force them into becoming honest men.  Instead, he’d taken honest men and turned them into criminals.  And the Watch, by and large, into just another gang.

–Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

Eric Garner was harassed by the police for selling cigarettes, thus skirting tobacco taxes.  Walter Scott was pulled over for a traffic violation and owed child support.  Were they virtuous men?  Who can say?  Did they deserve to die?  Would they have been killed if we didn’t have so many victim-less “crimes”?  I hypothesize, not.  The police officers are culpable, to an extent.  The larger problem is that our laws have turned them, like the Watch, into just another gang.

Sometimes I wonder if Terry Pratchett is completely responsible for shaping my moral view of the world.

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