When The Law Is Viewed As Unjust, Running From It Is A Rational Behavior

Regarding the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, I noted:

If you believe that the justice system is not just, then the decision to obey law enforcement simply becomes a cost-benefit analysis decision, not a moral or ethical one: running away is making the best of a bad situation.

As I describe at the link, running away from the police often doesn’t have adverse effects–it’s a rational action if you believe surrendering to the police will lead to injustice. From the NY Times (boldface mine):

Naturally, many people run if there are warrants for their arrest, fearing that if the police check their names they will be hauled to jail. People might flee because they have drugs and do not want to be in possession of contraband if officers catch them.

Yet some say they also are driven by fear of the unknown. In St. Louis, for instance, young men talk of being caught up in what they call a “free case” — in which, they believe, an officer trumps up charges or plants contraband to meet arrest quotas. Here in Baltimore, residents complain that the police might rough them up during random stops, even if they do not try to escape….

Yet for some, there are very basic reasons to run, even as an adult.

Nelly, a 27-year-old from Baltimore, said that as a pair of officers were preparing to arrest him for having a marijuana joint last summer, he had a quick calculation to make. He had just gotten a new job as a maintenance technician at an apartment complex, so going to jail that night could have meant missing work the next day and possibly losing his job. The officers had a loose grip on him, and he knew he could break free if he wanted. But was it worth the risk?

Yes, he decided.

He bolted and quickly caught a break when one of the officers fell off the curb. Nelly said he cut down an alley, jetted into an abandoned house and lay face down…

The police did eventually catch up with him, about a week later, he said, when the officers who had given chase recognized him and took him into custody. When the arresting officers asked why he had run, he said, he told them: “Man, I had to work. I got three kids, you know. I couldn’t miss no work.”

He did not run the day they took him into custody, he said, because he was outside playing with his little cousins at the time.

“I didn’t want to set a bad example,” he said….

Mr. Davis, who believes that people will continue to flee from the police, said he stopped running in recent years because he felt he was not doing things that warranted legal trouble. Still, he sometimes regrets that decision. He has been locked up numerous times, he said, for what he sees as petty offenses like possessing small amounts of marijuana. One time, it happened when he was smoking a joint in his backyard, he said.

“Those times,” Mr. Davis said, “I should have run.”

These calculations are not ones that most internet commentators have ever had to make.

It bears repeating: if you believe the application of the law is unjust, in a common law sense, you will not respect it, only fear it. At that point, obeying the law simply becomes a matter of weighing the costs and benefits.

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2 Responses to When The Law Is Viewed As Unjust, Running From It Is A Rational Behavior

  1. Reblogged this on The Grey Enigma.

  2. Pingback: The law can be respected or feared | ***Dave Does the Blog

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