by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage
It is both valid and poignant to ask if conservative-types in the US hear the contradiction in their reactions to police brutality when held against their small government credo; right wing commentary on police shootings, after all, often betrays strong government sympathies as they decry hostile feelings towards authority and demean the “thugs” with no respect for it. The answer, however, is likely not as beholden to political dogma as it is human evolution. Bias is strong in our species; even in the face of facts.
The increase in our ability to cover deadly police encounters has led to a heightened awareness of this sort of police tactic. When we, as humans, know something is occurring, when we can see tangible evidence of it, we’re more likely to respond. On it’s face, this sounds great because even though the metrics are muddy, and the estimates conservative, our society has a problem when it comes to deadly police encounters.
If it is a societal problem, though, why is there reluctance to address the issue? Why can only half of America seem to grasp certain civil rights issues at times?
While Texans are foaming at the mouth over a make-believe government takeover that will never occur, the residents of Baltimore, Maryland are airing out their grievances over actual state-sanctioned oppression. Oppression that has 400 years of weight behind it. Even Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has added his “understanding” of why Texans feel like Obama is going to send the military marching down their Main Streets any day now. Meanwhile, from the canyons of Wall Street in New York, to the strip malls of Ferguson and the inner-city of Baltimore, showdowns with militarized police increasingly make their way onto the evening news. People in these communities are actually fighting something more than rumination. Something that can actually mean life or death.
If anxieties over state violence do pop up in those right of center, why then do they apologize for it when the boot comes down on the face of those whom they do not share experience with? When it crashes down on those seeking the agency that was granted to others at birth? It’s all a matter of worldview. This is why abuses of police power are summed up with rhetoric such as “If you don’t want to get shot by police, don’t break the law.”
It makes sense to the majority of people whose experience in the US has included a beneficial relationship with law enforcement. Those who see the police as an extension of the nation they know and identify with. For people who place emphasis on shared experiences and have a stronger tendency to group society into more rigid classifications.
But what about those who were targets of abuse for generations? Those for whom being a particular skin color is reason enough for police to detain them (read: stop and frisk)? The people in neighborhoods more frequently policed than other neighborhoods? Those who actually fear police? While it’s understandable that some people make bad decisions, the numbers indicate externalities which oblige society to consider more than an individual’s bad decisions.
On the topic of the Freddie Gray incident, Maryland’s total population is 29 percent Black, but Blacks comprised 69 percent of those who have died in encounters with police since 2010. In Ferguson, the DOJ investigation into the Michael Brown shooting found that Blacks comprised over 90 percent of traffic ticket fines. At 12 percent of the total US population, Blacks are 36 percent of the prison population. Blacks are more likely to be sentenced for drug crimes than whites. They’re more likely to serve mandatory minimum sentences. This list can continue for a bit, and there’s been a lot written about each of these already.
Outside of crime, police patrol inner-city neighborhoods more frequently than affluent residential ones. Is there truly more crime being committed, or are there just more police around to catch people breaking laws? Are minorities targeted because they’re less likely to put up a fight in court or file lawsuits for wrongful arrests?
One thing is for certain, Black America’s view of the US is fundamentally different than that of whites. By and large, conservative-types either do not want to understand this or simply cannot because they don’t even realize what they do not realize. This is how majority culture works. The US is a country which has held up barriers for Blacks throughout its history from citizenship, to voting, to jobs, to housing, to the justice system.There is a culture that the majority overlook. It’s a culture of repression, stereotyping and second-class reservations that is centuries deep. Many times, the bar with which conservative-types measure success is set by their own individual experience, or by racial outliers like Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey.
Conservative-types tend to look for linear meanings in things (right, wrong; good, evil), they appeal to the simplest denominator in an issue. Being fair, not “simplest” meaning “dumb”, but plain old simple. They are more averse to ambiguity.
There’s been a persistent narrative in right wing media which posits that Baltimore is explicitly a problem of Democrat policy. That type of argument may be less about criticizing Democrats than it is seeking a more linear cause. For what anecdotes are worth, I’ve flat out been told with issues relating to race that certain variables I associate with today’s problems, those were “years ago” and this “is now”. For me, that’s hard to swallow, not only because my background in history taught me to critically seek out the connections between events and ideas, but because I am pre-disposed to think more about as many causes as I can come up with.
Further, it has also been suggested that because there were Black officers involved in it, there was no racial component to the Freddie Gray incident. That’s going to make sense to some people. That’s going to make others, not limited only to Blacks, cringe.
Those of a more conservative persuasion are more likely to look at these incidents as isolated events of police interaction with criminals as opposed to systemic, historic conflict between Blacks and the police. And it is blatant in their concerted effort to only offer benefit of a doubt to police officers, even when they shoot twelve-year-olds within seconds of arriving on the scene of a call-in.
They also have more identified variables which shape their world view, and among those is authority. An easy way to put it, and what illustrates a fundamental difference from liberal-types, is that conservative-types concern themselves with who, what, where, when and how. Liberal-types pursue the why — which explains this author’s misstep in analyzing police brutality.
Some people hear this and think that it’s pejorative of conservative-types because of the association of “small” and “limited world view” with negative stereotypes of people, but the science behind political and economic opinions is growing and there’s much more nature in the picture than previously thought. But, there’s no attempt to be condescending here. Conservative-types are best suited for small communities where their concerns do not reach far past the immediate care of their families/neighbors.
Liberal-types simply have broader concerns, objectively speaking. They decry abuses of power in other countries, they seek reform to systems that violate rights of others. Liberal-types tend to screech about the First amendment. Conservative-types, the Second. This, too, illustrates a divide; everyone owns a voice, not everyone owns a gun. This is a reflection of values for both types of thinker; a voice is often referred to as speaking for the many, a meme of the collective. The gun is an American hallmark of “rugged individualism”.
As mentioned, there are shades of grey all over. Rand Paul can be seen as a conservative-type who admits, timidly at times, from a GOP standpoint, that there is an issue with police brutality which requires attention from all Americans. Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to the Department of Justice’s findings on Ferguson PD policy also stands as evidence that those who operate on a more right wing level aren’t explicitly immune from digging below the surface of complex social issues; they are simply more inclined to take a position which finds one definitive answer to a problem.
So when there are deadly encounters with police all over the news, we shouldn’t be surprised that conservative-types rarely agree with liberal-types on what leads to any given incident. That’s predictable. Reaching a point where action can be taken to mitigate deadly police encounters may live or die on recognizing factors which influence the views of such large sectors of the population.