“If you want to live, just don’t run!”
That’s a line from a conversation I heard about police killings. It seems to match a common sentiment about Michael Brown: just do what the police tell you. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when they kill you.
From a practical standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. But practical issues aren’t the problem here. From a practical standpoint, “just follow the rules” works just as well in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or in the areas of Mexico controlled by the drug cartels. “Just do what they tell you. Don’t cause any trouble.” This is the advice given to people in a hostage situation. It’s a way to try to maximize your survival when you find yourself under the control of an evil, violent person.
That is no excuse for police brutality, and it’s certainly no valid response to the protests against such brutality. In a free society, the police are not supposed to be an evil organization of thugs that we have to deal with in such a practical way. In a free society, you should be able to break the rules without being summarily executed (which is not to say there should be no consequences). “Just don’t run” is nothing more than an excuse for tyranny.
The response I hear from many conservatives to the events in Fergueson bothers me. Not necessarily the fact that conservatives want to support law enforcement, since that’s a standard conservative position, but how far they’re taking their support for law enforcement, and the way they seem to be making this another partisan issue.
The conservative position on law enforcement makes sense based on their principles of respecting law and order. So I won’t fault them for that at the moment. But surely there’s a possibility of the police going too far–going beyond upholding the law to forcing their own will on others? In fact, conservatives frequently seem to assume that that’s the case for federal law enforcement. Why does local law enforcement get a pass?
I mean, if the police started confiscating guns from concealed carry permit holders in the area of the protests, wouldn’t conservatives go berserk? So why don’t they care about violations of the First or Fifth Amendments, guaranteeing free speech, freedom of the press, and that no person will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process? Why aren’t they troubled about journalists getting (reportedly) harassed and threatened by the police? Why aren’t they concerned about the (reportedly) massively disproportionate force shown by the police against protestors and people who violate curfew? Why aren’t they upset at the police for (reportedly) failing to protect businesses from looting while harassing and threatening people engaged in lawful protest?
It’s not only liberals who suffer from an overly aggressive and excessively armed police force–a fact that conservatives understand at some level, because of their suspicion of federal law enforcement. By making this a partisan issue and showing lock-step support for the police in Fergueson, conservatives are hurting themselves as well. Conservatives and liberals should be able to stand together on issues of common interest, and a police state is, in principle, something that neither one of them is interested in.