Too Many Laws: Why Police Encounters Escalate

by Ryan McMaken

The debate over the shooting of Philando Castile has ignited the debate over the way the police, generally speaking, often enforce petty, small-time offenses with often overwhelming force. In the case of Castile, the controversy hinges partially on whether or not Castile was being detained as a suspect in a real crime (such as armed robbery), or if he was being stopped and harassed for a small-time non-violent infraction such as drug possession or a broken tail light.

People instinctively know there is a real difference between the situations. Moreover, it is a safe assumption that in the case of armed robbery, someone has actually requested the services of the police, while it is extremely unlikely that any citizen complained about, or was harmed by, a broken tail light or the possession of marijuana. If it proves to be true that Castile was, in fact, stopped for a small-time infraction, then the escalation to a situation in which Castile was shot dead can be shown to be all the more unnecessary and needlessly violent.

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