There was a recent Facebook debate and furor over the ethics of cop killing. It was sparked, at least in part, by my stating that killing cops was still murder in a status update. The topic deserves further exploration.

Killing cops is acceptable in self-defense. If a police officer commits an act of aggressive violence against you, you’re entitled to strike back with a reasonable proportionate amount of force. You’re also in the right when you intervene to stop police from say raping or murdering someone right in front of you. If my memory serves me correctly, no one in the debate on Facebook, except a Buddhist, denied this.

The question then becomes whether all cops represent actionable aggressive threats and can be taken down without any immediate threat to you or an innocent third party. This is partially something that can only be answered through empirical research. You can’t really know for sure whether all cops engage in aggressive acts of violence or coercion generally without examining the records of all police officers. This lack of complete evidence makes it preferable to exercise caution when contemplating the use of force against any particular police officer.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that all cops do indeed represent aggressive actionable threats. That still doesn’t answer the question of whether shooting them on sight is acceptable behavior. This kind of tactic would basically be the use of extrajudicial execution. A practice especially favored by the previous and current head of the U.S. empire. It would really be sad to see anarchists adopt the moral standards of the state or government they wish to overthrow.

It also basically creates a warlike situation where different rules and procedures may apply. Left-wing market anarchists strive to abolish war and replace it with the rule of law enforced by competing protection associations or at least one cooperative community based one. This means that due process and trial by jury are processes that preferably matter to us. An extrajudicial killing dilutes all this and is only just when faced with an immediate threat of aggression to you or an innocent third party. You can also use defensive force to arrest a cop guilty of aggression in spite of a lack of an immediate threat to you or an innocent third party.

There is also a practical side to the ethical questions posed by cop killing. It’s not very effective for small numbers of people to go out and kill cops. They are likely to be isolated by both society at large and the government or state they fight against. In the context of a revolutionary secessionist movement with mass support, it may be practical to use defensive force against statist elements trying to conquer the newly liberated areas, but that isn’t occurring right now. It just isn’t practical outside of that context to do so, and that has an impact on our ethical judgment of the act. Let’s work towards revolution, but be mindful of human life in the process.