Thursday, July 22, 2010

Justice Failure

This is abhorrent.  It simply should not be happening in our country:

When the 20 agents arrived bearing a search warrant at her Ventura County farmhouse door at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday a couple weeks back, Sharon Palmer didn't know what to say. This was the third time she was being raided in 18 months, and she had thought she was on her way to resolving the problem over labeling of her goat cheese that prompted the other two raids. (In addition to producing goat's milk, she raises cattle, pigs, and chickens, and makes the meat available via a CSA.)

But her 12-year-old daughter, Jasmine, wasn't the least bit tongue-tied. "She started back-talking to them," recalls Palmer. "She said, 'If you take my computer again, I can't do my homework.' This would be the third computer we will have lost. I still haven't gotten the computers back that they took in the previous two raids." 

As part of a five-hour-plus search of her barn and home, the agents -- from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, Los Angeles County Sheriff, Ventura County Sheriff, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture -- took the replacement computer, along with milk she feeds her chickens and pigs. 
While no one will say officially what the purpose of this latest raid was, aside from being part of an investigation in progress, what is very clear is that government raids of producers, distributors, and even consumers of nutritionally dense foods appear to be happening ever more frequently.

Note that this is Los Angeles county.  Vast chunks of Los Angeles are urban wastelands, ruled by gangs and plagued by violent crime.  And yet the police choose to spend their time harassing a farmer for not labeling goat cheese properly.  She has never been charged with any crime, but they keep raiding her property and taking her possessions.  Her daughter will not grow up believing that agents of the state are little more than petty thugs, who break in and steal for no known reason.

Most examples of police overreach and draconian laws are clearly the result of popular pressure.  People want the government to get tough on crime, so they elect politicians who promise to do so, and the politicians pass ridiculously harsh laws:

Possession of a tiny amount (14-28 grams, or ½-1 ounce) yields a minimum sentence of three years. For 200 grams, it is 15 years, more than the minimum for armed rape. And the weight of the other substances with which a dealer mixes his drugs is included in the total, so 10 grams of opiates mixed with 190 grams of flour gets you 15 years.

But the pestering of small farmers who violate petty little administrative regulations is ridiculous.  No voter wants that, with the possible exception of owners of large agricultural firms.

This kind of behavior can only be explained if you look at the incentives of the police.  Tackling gangs is hard.  Patrolling the inner cities is dangerous.  It is much easier and more convenient to crack down on a harmless farmer.  The truly nauseating thing is that these police probably think that they are doing a good thing for the country.  This raid probably gave them a sense of accomplishment, a boost to their egos, in contrast to patrolling a crime-ridden area and not knowing if they are doing anything.

This kind of behavior will be endemic unless we get rid of petty little laws and exercise much better oversight of law enforcement.  If given the option, people will take the easy way out.  They will hassle farmers while an entire inner city rots away into third-world squalor.  We have to take this option away from them, and force them to do the job that police are meant to do: protecting the innocent from violent crime.

But I see no sign of this happening.  People keep feeding the Blind Idiot God of government bureaucracy, and it continues to grow ever larger and crush more and more innocents in its gelatinous maw.

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