Rich Lowry has noted the “bitter irony” that Michael Brown would almost certainly be alive today if he’d actually raised his hands and said, “Don’t shoot.”

The death of Eric Garner, which has also inspired protests, is different. It does appear that excessive force may have been used by the police—still, I wasn’t there and a video can distort.

What we do know for sure, however, that Garner died for the pettiest of petty crimes: selling loose cigarettes. George Will writes:

Garner died at the dangerous intersection of something wise, known as “broken windows” policing, and something worse than foolish: decades of overcriminalization. The policing applies the wisdom that when signs of disorder, such as broken windows, proliferate and persist, there is a general diminution of restraint and good comportment. So, because minor infractions are, cumulatively, not minor, police should not be lackadaisical about offenses such as jumping over subway turnstiles.

Overcriminalization has become a national plague. And when more and more behaviors are criminalized, there are more and more occasions for police, who embody the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence, and who fully participate in humanity’s flaws, to make mistakes.

Will cites civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate’s book Three Felonies a Day, which shows how easy it is for a regular person “fall afoul of America’s metastasizing body of criminal laws.” About 70 percent of American adults have unknowingly committed a felony, according to another source cited by Will. One estimate puts the number of federal regulations that can be enforced by agencies with criminal enforcement powers at 300,000.

Eric Garner fell afoul and died because of a petty law designed to raise revenue for a rapacious state:

Garner lived in part by illegally selling single cigarettes untaxed by New York jurisdictions. He lived in a progressive state and city that, being ravenous for revenues and determined to save smokers from themselves, have raised to $5.85 the combined taxes on a pack of cigarettes. To the surprise of no sentient being, this has created a black market in cigarettes that are bought in states that tax them much less. Garner died in a state that has a Cigarette Strike Force.

Do you ever have computer problems and go to Kinko’s to use one of their public computers? If so, you know that before you can logon, you have to agree to a long, unreadable list of legal requirements. I always click that I agree—and then wonder what I have agreed to. I’m hoping that by being honest and not plagiarizing, I’ll be safe from the computer police. But I should not be confronted with paragraph upon paragraph of legalese whenever I have to use a Kinko’s printer. This is but a very small manifestation of the overregulation of our daily lives that killed Eric Garner.