For people claiming to cherish the idea of limited government as a foundational principle of their beliefs, many who call themselves conservatives don’t seem to apply that principle in situations involving malfeasance committed by police officers. Over the past few decades, the conservative movement has developed a rather odd habit when dealing with corrupt law enforcement officials.
At some point, too many on the right became something closer to right-wing authoritarians rather than actual conservatives. Whenever footage of a violent encounter with police becomes a national story, this authoritarian streak presents itself when right-leaning influencers employ a messaging strategy designed to protect the officer involved. I refer to this strategy as the “Triple D” method: Defend, Distract, and Dehumanize.
One can see this in action with the shooting of Daunte Wright. One did not need a crystal ball to predict how the authoritarian right would react to this story.
As with other cases, the first step was to defend Potter, who recently resigned and is facing a second-degree manslaughter charge. In this case, it wasn’t easy to defend the officer, but at least two right-leaning commentators argued that she should not be punished for her actions.
YouTuber Mark Dice published a video yesterday in which he discussed the Wright case and also that of Army medic Caron Nazario, who was pepper-sprayed by police during an encounter in Virginia. In the video, he insisted that 100% of the blame should be placed squarely on Wright, who was clearly resisting arrest.
Dice went so far as to state that Potter should not be held accountable for her actions. “Should she be charged with negligent homicide? Absolutely not. Should she be charged with anything? Absolutely not. He caused her to have the accident,” he said.
YouTuber Brandon Tatum also made a similar argument, claiming Potter should remain free because the shooting was unintentional. After acknowledging that she “should never be a police officer again,” he said, “I don’t believe that she should be charged with a crime because it was unintentional. It was an accident.”
Of course, it is hard to imagine that either of these people would be making the same argument if an everyday citizen were to make the same mistake. While Potter may not have intentionally killed Wright, she is still responsible for his death and should be held accountable just as any of us would be if we committed the same act.
Next, we have the “distract” tactic. This involves hyper-focusing on another aspect of the case to distract from the deadly actions of the officer.
In the Wright case, they are accurately pointing out that he resisted arrest. Of course, it is worth noting that resisting arrest is a horrible idea, and there is nothing wrong with simply pointing this out. But it is not the most critical part of this story.
Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren seemed to be employing this tactic during a recent monologue on her show. “All of the recent incidents that have ignited a BLM and social justice firestorm, from Michael Brown, to Alton Sterling, to Freddie Gray, to George Floyd, could have been prevented if the suspect would have complied with the officer,” she said.
To be fair, she gave a passing mention to the notion that “police mistakes” should “be called out.” But it was clear that her primary focal point was Wright, not Potter.
The issue isn’t that people shouldn’t resist arrest. There are not many who are arguing in favor of noncompliance and resisting arrests. In the black community, it is a topic that is often discussed. But this does not mean everyone listens. Still, resistance does not rise to the same level of importance as ending a life.
Lastly, the authoritarian crowd will also attempt to dehumanize the victim to kill as much sympathy as possible. This particular tactic is ingenious in that it is not easy to see the manipulation being used.
Ever notice how whenever a story about a black person being unjustly killed by the police becomes a national story, right-wing commentators rush to dig up their criminal history? There is a reason for this, and it has nothing to do with “exposing the left’s narrative.”
If the person who an officer killed is seen as a monster, it diminishes the level of sympathy the story might get, thereby lessening the chance that people on the right might speak out on it. In reality, past offenses rarely have anything to do with the officer’s actions – the crimes they committed prior to the incident have no bearing on the case when assessing the validity of an officer’s actions.
On Tuesday, the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh published an op-ed about Wright’s previous arrest for robbing a woman. In fact, the warrant that he was being arrested for was related to this particular alleged crime. After his arrest, he was released on bail pending trial. In discussing the victims who get widespread media attention, Walsh wrote:
First, a lot of people die every day in this country, often unjustly. Usually they die at the hands of other civilians, but sometimes at the hands of agents of the state. Out of all of that death, all of that misery, all of that suffering, all of that loss, these men in particular are chosen by the cultural powers that be. We are told that we should honor and mourn them more than we honor and mourn the average murder victim. They are the ones who get the politicians weeping beside their golden caskets. They are the ones with the murals and the streets named in their honor.
There are two fatal flaws with his argument. First, the issue at hand is the fact that a police officer unjustly killed an American citizen. His criminal history does not have any bearing on the rightness or wrongness of her conduct.
Secondly, Wright had already been convicted of the crime and would have likely spent time in jail if he were still alive. As stated previously, corrupt officers are seldomly held accountable for the crimes they commit, which is why there is anger over situations in which they kill citizens. If police accountability were not a rarity, these situations would not elicit this level of outrage.
Here’s the bottom line: There is nothing conservative about defending government officials who have been granted the authority to violate our rights when they deem it appropriate.
We should question them. We should scrutinize them. And, we should hold them accountable. If we truly treasure the idea of limited government, we cannot afford to be hesitant about condemning police officers who engage in misconduct. Tyranny in any form is a threat to our society and we should vigorously oppose it, not support it.