The Cost of Freedom

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The Cost of Freedom

When recalling the recent controversies in the public eye and memory, the New York

cases regarding the death of an unarmed Eric Garner due to inappropriate use of police force as

well as similar cases of police misconduct leading to the injustices in Ferguson exist as examples

around which fervent debate and contention arise. In less current news, the Trayvon Martin case

functions as a contemporary reference point in regards to the new brand of civil rights violations

and race conflicts between minorities and the police force. One of the key questions at the center

of such controversy lies in which institutions or individuals are culpable for these crimes, deaths,

and unfortunate circumstances. This paper offers a brief justification for the state and existence

of regulations by the police using some excerpts from Rousseau’s famous work The Social

Contract. Additionally, this paper asserts that the institutional structures, protocols and rules

exist as instruments of safety for the safety of citizens, and that the abuse of power does not

originate from commonly cited factors such as racism or profiling.

Primarily, to understand and justify the existence of institutional, and by extension,

societal rules, we must first understand the necessity of a society. When individuals agree to live

in a regulated, ordered society for the benefit of all members of that society, it is necessary for

individuals to give up certain rights in order to live harmoniously. The restriction of freedom as

individuals choose to live in society is in place to ensure that an individual does not have the

capacity to freely violate the rights of another individual. If such freedoms – such as the freedom

to kill, steal, cheat, and so forth – were granted to the populace, then trust between individuals

would be impossible since there would be no system of punishment or regulation in place to

protect individuals or their property. Such a state where each individual retains all their

rights and freedoms, including those normally associated with criminal acts, describes

Rousseau’s conception of the “state of war”. The justification for this natural freedom is

preservation, “His first law is to provide for his own preservation, his first cares are those he

owes to himself…” (Rousseau 3). A world consisting of individuals only concerned with their

own self-interest implies that growth on a social scale would be impossible. The alternative that

Rousseau offers society, “Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the

supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as

an indivisible part of the whole” (6). In other words, all individuals in a society agree to be

bound by a set of rules out of their own free will, and protection is afforded to all individuals

who observe that contract of obeisance. The conclusion that can be deduced from this fact is that

the stability of society and the advantages it brings come as reliant upon the obedience of the

people towards the law. Understanding agents of the law and the power of the law as “racist” is a

fundamental error in the sense that the observance of law itself is a precondition to one’s

existence in society.

Moreover, with such a claim, it then follows that the basis of society depends on the

sacrifice of freedoms and obedience to laws decided by a central governing body representing or

directly composed of the will of all its members. The sacrifice of those freedoms and the

requirement of obedience then extend to institutions such as law enforcement, and individuals

such as police.

The establishments of strict police protocols that guide the behaviors of agents of the

institutions which enforcement the law, then, implies that the actions of the police are just. Of...
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