Modern Bounty Hunters, Posses, and Deputies

Health Care Human Rights


Missoula         In yet another fragmenting of the power and responsibility of the state, we’re seeing repeated issues where our very modern, post-scarcity, technocratic state is a version of a wilder West, being torn asunder in yet new deputization to unqualified citizen posses and vigilante groups.

The front page example is the battle over citizen-enforcement of the latest effort, branded in Texas and potentially running roughshod over red-states elsewhere, that asks citizens to report any of their neighbors who might be seeking an abortion or doing anything to assist someone from obtaining an abortion.  The credit for this mischief and mayhem is going to a conservative lawyer who devised a way for states to keep from being enjoined to maintain Roe v. Wade standards, by claiming the state is not a party in enforcement; the citizens are.  Isn’t this near the height of neoliberalism, where public services and responsibilities are being not only privatized but atomized to nameless citizens, advocates, and nonprofits on both sides of the issue to somehow sort it all out?

Ride-hailing services, masters of the exploitive gig economy, tried to get some favorable press by saying that they would pay the legal fees of any of their drivers who might be caught in this snare.  This was a somewhat gratuitous commitment on their part, because although they are right that a driver would have been clueless about where somewhat crawling in the backseat might be going, the company is still throwing the driver to the anti-abortion vigilantes, just saying that they will be somewhat behind the scenes to support their so-called independent contractor.

We’ve discussed the modern bounty hunters before.  They include the way that the SEC can compensate whistleblowers who uncover corporate malfeasance with a percentage of the fines if a company is held liable.  Other programs also require citizen action to report hospitals not submitting their pricing data on their websites, consumers filing with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau on an array of issues, all of us who report violations of wildlife and fish rules, and many other instances.

It’s a fine line we’re walking.

We want citizen participation and involvement, but to deputize citizens as the primary, if not only, enforcement mechanism goes too far. We don’t want a situation where the state is abdicating its responsibilities, and, worse, reducing its capacity, by sluffing the whole thing off on the citizenry, often incapable of handling the weight.

Recently, friends fell into a conversation about the various ways that airlines and their flight attendants were being asked to force compliance with federal and airline mandates on mask-wearing.  The airlines have made vaccinations mandatory for their staff, so they are clear about their priorities, but that doesn’t mean they are protecting them as mask police on flights.  More than 700 incidents are being investigated by the FAA now and there are 4000 reported passengers who have refused attendant directives.  On a flight though, the individual attendant has to decide the risk-and-rewards of enforcement without a change in pay or grade.

Is this citizen-deputized society really where we want to go?  Are we going to like what we find when we get there?