Voice, Loyalty, Exit, and BLM

Like many Americans, I watched the events at the U.S. Capitol last week in disbelief. My husband, an immigrant, commented that what we witnessed was “why [my family] left Venezuela. This doesn’t happen in the United States.”

He and others have also remarked at the stark difference between the police response to the mostly white pro-Trump mob and the predominantly black Black Lives Matter protests across the United States over the summer. Photos emerged of Capitol police taking selfies with protestors as they broke into Congress. A video surfaced of police holding the door as the same protestors left the building.

Compare this to the treatment of BLM protestors who were consistently tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and taken by federal agents in unmarked vehicles.

My co-author Chris Coyne and I have written in a number of places about the origins and perpetuation of militarized U.S. domestic police. We have also written about why minorities are likely to bear a greater cost of this militarization. In his 1970 book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, economist Albert O. Hirschman describes the choices that confront individuals when faced with problems within the organizations to which they belong. This includes governments.

Individuals may “exit” or withdraw from the relationship completely. An alternative option is to “voice” their grievances in an effort to correct the problems. When it comes to the question of militarized police, neither of these options are consistently available to minority communities.

For instance, “exiting” areas disproportionately impacted by militarized police is not easy. When one considers that black Americans are three times more likely than whites to live in poverty, and that Hispanics are twice as likely, moving or “voting with your feet” simply isn’t feasible.

Similarly, “voice” is not a reliable change mechanism for many communities of color. Consider one study that found many black communities are often represented by political leaders who fail to champion or adopt policies favored by their black constituencies. In Ferguson, Missouri, the city that found itself mired in controversy after the 2014 killing of a black teenager named Michael Brown by a white police officer, there are nearly no black political leaders. This is in spite of the fact that nearly 70 percent of Ferguson’s residents are black.

Taken together, the lack of opportunities to effectively use the political process to correct problems within their communities, and the difficulty in leaving areas with heavy-handed police presence, it should come as no surprise that minority communities bear the brunt of militarized police. It may also help to explain the waves of protests throughout the country in 2020. Without other alternatives, people took to the streets.

Militarized policing is just one example of how the government has progressively exerted more social control through the United States. It is clear the costs of these expanded powers are largely born by those unable to effectively leave or give voice to their disappointment and dissatisfaction with their political leaders.

So what can be done to change the status quo? True change requires a major shift in thinking regarding the actions of our government. Rather than viewing government as the solution to the problems it helped create, it’s imperative we adopt a more antagonist stance—or at least some healthy skepticism. This is particularly true if we want to help those marginalized groups who are least able to escape the heavy hand of state power.

Abigail R. Hall is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Associate Professor of Economics at Sykes College of Business at the University of Tampa.
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