The death of Eric Garner has stirred the emotions of many, as have previous such instances of conflict with law enforcement. As a result of that, government officials are already talking about reviews of existing procedures and even looking at new laws to regulate certain tactics during arrests. In a way, no matter what you may think of either Garner’s behavior or of the officer’s methods during the encounter, it could be said that the freelance cigarette salesman may wind up being an agent of change in one form or another.
Unfortunately, some writers tend toward hyperbole at times, and such seems to be the case with David Boaz in an editorial this weekend. He takes the occasion of the protests over Garner’s death and decides to draw a parallel to the death of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia and the beginning of the Arab Spring.
Bouazizi was a street vendor, selling fruits and vegetables from a cart. He aspired to buy a pickup truck to expand his business. But, as property rights reformer Hernando de Soto wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “to get a loan to buy the truck, he needed collateral — and since the assets he held weren’t legally recorded or had murky titles, he didn’t qualify.”
Meanwhile, de Soto notes, “government inspectors made Bouazizi’s life miserable, shaking him down for bribes when he couldn’t produce licenses that were (by design) virtually unobtainable.
Then we come to the companion description of Eric Garner.
Eric Garner’s story is surprisingly similar. He had been arrested more than 30 times, for such crimes as marijuana possession and driving without a license, and most often for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street.
Boaz goes on to write at length about the sin taxes which make cigarettes so expensive in New York and how it leads to black market situations such as the one being exploited by Garner. It’s a subject which I’ve written about extensively myself, and Boaz is absolutely correct in his analysis of that part of the equation. But… an American spring?
Bouazizi’s struggles with the government in Tunisia were just a tad different. What he was trying to do was engage in activity which should, by any rational analysis, be available to anyone. He was selling food. As awful as the taxes are in New York (and they are awful) they are laws passed by the duly elected representatives of the liberals who keep voting Democrats into office there. And Garner was breaking those laws. Similarly, marijuana possession and driving without a license are also small potatoes, but they are still violations of current state laws.
Further, Bouazizi was struggling against an entire government system which was corrupt. People rose up in mass at frustration with the corruption and repression. Our government is far from perfect, but we at least get to elect the people passing the laws. And our police forces are not corrupt in mass. They are hard working people doing a dangerous and increasingly thankless job. You can argue if you like that the cops who engaged Garner acted improperly, but they were not a roving gang of government sanctioned thugs going around the city and shaking down the honest business folk. If any reforms and changes come from this, some – such as the use of body cameras perhaps – may be a benefit, but no sane person thinks the protesters should be bringing down the current government structure.
Garner is not Bouazizi, and the protests taking place in the streets are not the equivalent of the Arab Spring in any way, shape or form.