It has been very widely publicized that Eric Garner made a living by selling loose black-market cigarettes, or “loosies,” on the street. The NYPD’s official explanation for the argument leading to his homicide is that he was being placed under arrest for selling loosies, although there is a separate, contradictory account of his having been confronted by NYPD officers for breaking up a fight. Even if the official story about untaxed cigarettes is disinformation, NYPD officials clearly regard it as a strong mitigating factor in his homicide; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be publicizing this account.
What has been much less widely reported is how selling loosies on the street came to be the least bit lucrative in the first place. Tobacco is one of the most widely sold products in the United States. In many neighborhoods, especially poor ones without large immigrant populations like Garner’s, it’s easier to find cigarettes than fresh produce. In almost any American jurisdiction but New York City, peddling loose cigarettes on the street would look like a really poor business model: the vendor is forced to stand on the sidewalk, exposed to the elements, cold-call passersby like a carnival barker, and offer them a product that they could find in greater variety at any corner store, a product that can be legally bought by anyone at least eighteen years of age in every state in the Union.
There’s one thing that’s missing from this equation: taxes. New York City has the highest cigarette taxes in the United States, at $5.85 per pack. Again, this isn’t the total price per pack; it’s the combined municipal and state tax amount per pack. $1.50 of this amount is levied by the City of New York, an unusual arrangement in a country where few municipalities exercise a local option to collect cigarette taxes.
By American standards, this combined tax amount is stratospheric. It works out to over 50% of the cost of cigarettes. By comparison, the state tax rate on cigarettes in Missouri, the state with the lowest taxes, is $0.17 per pack, less than three percent of the combined municipal and state taxes in New York City. In Virginia, whose portion of the Washington metropolitan area can be reached from the southern end of Staten Island within three and a half hours in good conditions, the statewide tax rate is only $0.30 per pack. Even New Jersey, a state with relatively steep cigarette taxes, only charges $2.70, and it’s connected to Manhattan by two subway lines, not to mention Chris Christie’s favorite piece of infrastructure, the George Washington Bridge.
Of course there’s a black market for cigarettes in New York. How the hell could there not be one? Wanna smuggle the Devil’s cabbage in from the Joysey? Let me count the ways: Outerbridge Crossing, Goethals Bridge, Bayonne Bridge, Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, George Washington Bridge, PATH to the Battery, PATH to Midtown, NJT/Amtrak to Midtown, and a bunch of ferries that you’ve never heard of because they don’t go to Staten Island. Wow Much Transports.
But let’s say that Jersey is too pricey for your tastes and you want to long-haul your product. Practically the only things you have to worry about are the costs of trucking. You’d be at some risk hauling cigarettes in a noncommercial vehicle if the cops have a thing for you, racial or otherwise. Commercial motor carrier inspection, on the other hand, is hardly even a thing in most parts of the country. All kinds of shit can be put in a commercial trailer without the authorities having a fucking clue. As long as none of the combination is overweight or blatantly falling apart and the driver’s license and logbook appear to be in order, there’s little chance of inspection for any sort of contraband at weigh stations.
This is a country that allows 80,000-pound trucks to be driven on its public highways on fucking retreaded tires. You can shed that crap all over the Interstate at 70 miles per hour, spitting it violently into the paths of other, smaller vehicles, and the highway patrol is just kinda like, oops. A real eager beaver might issue a fix-it ticket. A trucking company of any size has lawyers on retainer to sandbag the courts on motor carrier citations, so unless a statie wants to cause a real scene by impounding a truck for safety reasons, spot checks for sketchy-looking commercial vehicles aren’t worth the effort. If you don’t like weigh stations and heavy highway patrol presences, there are all sorts of country roads where no one, cop or otherwise, will give a shit about your big rig as long as you don’t have a crash or get it totally stuck. I once saw two truckers from Eastern Europe get their FedEx Ground double stuck on Old Highway 99 during a snowstorm, apparently because they were trying to avoid a chain control on Interstate 5 approaching Siskiyou Pass. There is no legitimate reason for through trucks to be on that road unless the Interstate is closed. So these guys bogged their fucking double down in heavy snow on a five percent gradient, right on a curve, and kept telling a friend of mine that there was no need to call ODOT or the police, they were just gonna chain up and roll out. After probably twenty minutes of these guys cluelessly trying to chain up, my friend called the ODOT regional office and reported their truck as disabled. These guys finally figured out tire chains and cleared the scene less than ten minutes before a state trooper showed up. I happened upon an ODOT gravel truck driver who was conferring with the state trooper and told him that the truck had just cleared the scene. He had a few more words with the trooper, not lasting fifteen seconds, and the trooper drove off, away from the original scene.
Nobody gives a shit about black market cigarettes en route to the Big Apple. Theoretically, the ATF does, but its agents are probably more concerned about the alcohol, firearms, and explosives. Law enforcement in the other 47 states can’t be bothered to enforce New York’s tobacco laws. If smugglers are buying cigarettes in their jurisdictions, it’s just more tax revenue and jobs for them at the expense of the censorious imperial core, allowing Ken Cuccinelli to blow a hate load on the Bloomberg crowd, and as I’ve described, it’s pretty unlikely that they give a damn about anyone’s non-hazmat truck. Shit, it probably wouldn’t be that hard to get a dilapidated LNG tanker halfway across the country behind a ramshackle nineties Freightliner with an unlicensed driver behind the wheel and not hear boo from the police.
And we’re talking cigarettes. Aside from stray ATF or FBI agents, who are probably as serious a threat as stray moose, the only authorities in the country who give a rat’s ass about the trafficking of black-market cigarettes to New York City are New York progressives and their enforcers in the NYPD. The danger in this business is backloaded to the point of delivery. That’s where the stop-and-frisk fiends show up, just like they do in every black or brown neighborhood in the city and in some white neighborhoods with known drug problems. Their mission in life is to stop crime, and New York City tax policy has risen to such a harebrained progressive fever pitch that cigarettes are now a form of crime.
The problem here is not tax-and-spend liberalism. New York has implemented plenty of that without extra intrusions from the police. The problem is a more specific sort of fuck-the-poors mindset: tobacco is yucky and low-class and a health nuisance whose costs get externalized onto the public budget, so its users should be made to pay through the nose for it and submit to the glorious, benevolent, paternalistic incentivization to quit their filthy habit. This is the sort of village idiot’s logic that passes for a policy interest in their thinking. Notice that nothing of the sort has been applied to chardonnay or cocaine, even though it’s common knowledge that the lower two thirds of Manhattan are stuffed to the gills with alcoholics and cokeheads. But teh sodazs are making the poors all fat, so it behooves us to ban Big Gulps as well.
The mindset here is that we, the refined, shall tell our inferiors how to live. They shall obey our edicts. Of course, someone has to enforce these edicts, but the enforcer class lives beyond the pale on Staten Island, so we needn’t be bothered by the bloody mechanics of this regime. It’s all cool. New York City has one of the most pernicious and entrenched class structures in the United States, one that has endured since the Civil War, generally hardening over time. At the same time, the local elites overwhelmingly fancy themselves scrupulous liberals, not unwashed, uneducated, ignorant bruisers like the cops and firemen who infest Staten Island. They’re liberal, but they’re scared of poor minorities, so they project their fear onto white ethnic cops as righteous scorn and anger. Actually, they project wider than that onto the entire white working class.
This regime is impossible without thoroughgoing cognitive dissonance. It’s limousine liberalism run amok. This was the problem with Bloomberg. He’s a classic progressive in the worst senses of the term. He wants to flat-out tell his constituents–his fellow citizens–how to live their lives, down to the minutiae of soda portions. Father knows best, and father has an army of rough micks and guidos to correct his wayward children at gunpoint.
Everything about this cigarette regime is a seedy, coarse, utterly immoral let’s-you-and-him-fight scheme arranged by the worst of the elite and ultimately undertaken for their exclusive benefit. The cops, heavily Irish and Italian, are turned against small-time black merchants in the ghetto. Licensed and permitted shops selling licit cigarettes under the city’s insane, unenforceable tax regime, many of them run by Arabs, Indians, or East Asians, are turned against streetcorner loosie vendors like Eric Garner. Cops and their apologists raise the specter of organized crime, as if Garner was somehow involved in disappearing his enemies and putting them in concrete boots at the bottom of the Kill van Kull rather than a franchisee for a peaceable tobacco business. The progressive elites and the social climbers trying to ride their coattails have wantonly poisoned New York’s race relations in furtherance of an unconscionable caste system.
It’s conventional wisdom that the cops get a worthwhile positional advantage by enforcing this racial and caste regime, as if it’s a worthwhile accomplishment in life to kick poor minorities while they’re down. Cops tend to like this gloss since it lets the coarser angels of their nature get the same jollies that poor whites in the South first got in the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion, when they were legally elevated above the help. Limousine liberals like it because it fits with their prejudice that cops are a bunch of stupid racists.
What needs to be understood about this particular caste system is that it inevitably leaves the average cop as a second-class citizen. This won’t bother the limousine liberals, who don’t want the working-class ethnics acting like their equals anyway, but it will certainly bother the cops if they pay close attention to the arrangement. They will never be first-class citizens in any caste system in which the aristocrats and high bougies call the shots and send them on bumfights in the outer boroughs. They’re a few levels higher on the totem pole than the citizens they harass in the ghettos and the barrios, but they have to make it well into the brass, probably precinct command level or higher, before they stand a chance of reaching the top. Otherwise, they will remain warriors who attack merchants and tradesmen on command from the brahmins.
And the brahmins will continue to despise them for it. These are entitled people who do not appreciate the loyal service of their little bitches. Nothing they do as cops on the ground will convince the brahmins to treat them as peers. Just as hardline planters and their descendants in the South will always regard the working classes as a combination of pickaninnies and cracker white trash, New York’s brahmins will always regard low- and mid-ranking NYPD officers as a rabble of micks, guidos, and Uncle Toms. This will endure as long and as hard as New York’s caste system does. For as long as this high bougie/Social Register contempt lasts, it will be shit down upon NYPD officers and anyone who might be in league with them, like Italian grocers and Irish carpenters. Why else are they always yelling about their beef with Staten Island but mum about the South Bronx?
This is why “I can’t breathe” and “it stops here” are timely watchwords at the protests. Finally, a wide swath of New Yorkers is valuing the lives of their marginalized neighbors from the projects of Staten Island. New Yorkers, even affluent ones, are finally seeing the limits of positive law, especially in its violent enforcement on poor black residents of their city. Black lives matter, and the cops need to stop going around poor neighborhoods killing people over cigarettes. There’s finally something close to a critical mass of citizens who are fed up with the divide-and-conquer tactics of the NYPD and the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, who are demanding a prompt and decisive end to let’s-you-and-him-fight.
These rarefied American elites don’t believe in natural law. They don’t believe in equity. They may talk a smooth game, but their revealed preferences are for things like race-based chattel slavery, tax farming, and gunpoint apartheid. They are smug in the knowledge that in Soviet County of Richmond, law enforces YOU! They keep it away from their own neighborhoods, of course; when their own asses are on the line, they insist on high justice. Their bargain with the police department is, hey, we own the police, but you guys are the police; maintain our privilege as you’re told and we’ll give you some latitude to maintain the privilege of your own neighborhoods. People on both sides of this bargain are willing to ruin race relations in a city of eight million in order to hold the line against good government. There have always been people who swear that they’ve had enough of it, but lately they’ve been taking to the streets. For a moment, at least, it isn’t just posturing.
Lord have mercy on you, Eric. God rest your soul.