The big news of the weekend in our liberty community was the arrest of recent mover and activist Amanda Billyrock. Billyrock made a name for herself with her Youtube channel and social media presence, where she has catalogued her personal and ideological development as a voluntarist and offered Jeffrey Tucker-esque declamations on the wonders of the free market.
Hailing from Utah, Billyrock first moved to New Zealand in search of a laissez-faire culture before being called back to the North America, attending (and speaking at) her first PorcFest, and deciding to join the vibrant liberty community in Arcadia‘s Merrimack Valley.
While I can’t speak to her past record of civil disobedience, I’m going to venture a guess that being surrounded by ideological allies may have given her the strength to follow others down the path of open defiance. So, on the night of Friday, December 13th, after a “routine” traffic stop, Billyrock asserted her right to remain silent and ended up arrested. [
See the full video of the encounter here. EDIT: Video removed while trial is pending.] The liberty community rallied and, with the notable efforts of Seth Hipple and numerous call-flooders, Billyrock was only caged for one night instead of three before being released on bail.
While the legal drama is a story that will no doubt continue to unfold, today I’d like to make the case against critics of Billyrock’s actions. I’ll start with the voluntarist argument against the state, then progressively grant my opponents their assumptions and show that Billyrock is still in the right.
“The police have a legal right to patrol the roads and detain citizens.”
While Billyrock did acquiesce to the sirens and lights by pulling over and handing over her Driver’s License and Car Registration, she did so merely out of a rational calculation of trying to avoid further attacks from the state. Neither she nor I nor any peaceful person can recognize the moral authority of agents of a monopoly state. In other words, while the police are acting out of millennia of tradition of state dominance, that tradition is incompatible with individual liberty. Billyrock was not trying to get away with a crime; she actually doesn’t concede that these men in blue uniforms have any more right to demand she pull off the road than if you or I were to make the same demand.
History has been the saga of the struggle of individuals against arbitrary power. Because people calling themselves “the police” make demands of us that we cannot make of them, and because the courts they use are operated by the same organization that employs them, there is no justice in a monopoly state. This idea may come as a shock to many readers. It’s a shame you weren’t taught this in your schools… though they were likely operated and/or funded by that same monopoly organization.
BUT EVEN IF WE ASSUME THE LEGITIMACY OF THE STATE…
“However you feel about the officers decisions, they were well within the law in this case.”
While they weren’t equipped with a good theory of stateless governance, the American revolutionary generation were well aware of the vulnerable position of individuals when subject to state sanction. They included many protections into the founding charters, including Article 15 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution. Since, by virtue of the 14th Amendment, the latter takes legal precedence over the former, we’ll focus on the it.
The 5th Amendment states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This translates to the commonly known “right to remain silent.” While we still do not know the original charge that incited the police to detain Billyrock, the video above clearly shows she complied with all legal requirements. What she didn’t do was give in to standard police tactics designed to manipulate people into incriminating themselves. She did not answer the officers’ questions and she did not consent to a search. In response, she was told that her legally enshrined right not to self-incriminate would be illegally used as probably cause to arrest her and search her vehicle.
Later in the video, the alleged charges recited by the officer were A) maintaining a Utah Driver’s License with a New Hampshire Car Registration, and B) having an open container of alcohol in the back seat. Neither of these charges would justify the initial stop, and the officers’ previous statements show that her primary offense was really what we libertarians like to call ‘contempt of cop.’ The latter charge, much more serious under NH statutes, resulted from a search of Billyrock’s vehicle without her consent. While this may be thrown out in court… who runs the courts again?
BUT EVEN IF WE ASSUME THE OFFICERS’ BEHAVIOR WAS TECHNICALLY LEGAL…
“These officers are good people who do their best in a difficult job. If you were out there, you’d see this is how it must be done.”
This kind of argument has all the hallmarks of Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe you have never had a bad experience with a police officer because you always stay precisely within the law (virtually impossible today, but we’ll just assume); or maybe when you’re pulled over, you bat your eyes and do everything the officer asks. Maybe a few cops have even smiled back and been lenient with you. The point is that whatever your personal experience, the onus is on the police to justify their actions and not on you to be ‘cooperative.’ They’re the ones pulling you over, threatening you with arrest or worse if you simply try to continue on your way. And they are the ones with a tremendous power advantage.
As the tape clearly shows, these officers were engaged in the kind of quasi-legal bullying that compels most ‘good citizens’ to just cooperate with any police demand at a traffic stop – most of the time before they are even told why they were pulled over. After all, even if Billyrock beat the odds in state monopoly court, she still faced a hefty pre-emptive punishment:
- The stress of being threatened by armed men for exercising her legal rights.
- Being held in a freezing car with the engine off for an extended period. See the poor, shaking cameraman to imagine what that was like.
- A weekend in jail awaiting her bail hearing.
- The financial strain of making bail.
- Substantial attorney fees.
- The stress, time off work, and travel requirements (probably without an active Driver’s License) of the pre-trial period and the trial.
It’s no wonder that someone asserting their fullest rights under the law is so rare that Amanda Billyrock could be singled out and ridiculed as an ‘extremist.’
And certainly the officers *did* have a choice to handle this situation differently. They could have clearly identified the reason for the stop, issued her whatever fine they believed was warranted, and let her on her way. Instead, they chose to punish her for exercising her rights and to trump up secondary charges in order to justify extra-legally punishing her for insolence.
Traffic laws do not need conversation to be enforced. If someone is clearly driving dangerously, the police can capture that on a dash cam as evidence, inform the suspect of the charges, and either fine or arrest the suspect as needed to neutralize the threat to others. The whole ‘traffic stop’ phenomenon as we know it is a power play meant to coerce drivers into self-incrimination through the threat of extra-legal punishment.
Of course, to voluntarists like me and Amanda Billyrock, it comes as no surprise that agents of the monopoly state resort to intimidation and coercion rather than honestly enforcing safe driving practices. What incentive do they have to do otherwise?
If you have another argument for why Amanda Billyrock’s stand was wrong, please comment below and I will happily respond.
UPDATE 2013/12/18: Here’s Billyrock’s first statement since the incident. As I suspected, the charges were trumped up after the fact to punish her for remaining silent. Notice that none of the current charges would have justified the initial stop. Not even “driving under the influence,” because this does not claim that her driving was erratic or dangerous in any way.