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Dear Conservatives: We Need to Be Outraged About Police Violence, Even When Accidental

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Sometimes I lose my cool on my Twitter followers.   Yesterday was a case in point.  As I was scrolling through my feed yesterday, I came across a ton of tweets where people were justifying the shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright.  Most of them suggested that he was a criminal and therefore deserved to be shot.  Others were suggesting he shouldn’t have resisted.  Still others, and much more alarmingly, suggested that the accidental shooting was necessary to “make a point.”

While certainly, there is a time and a place for this discussion, (and likely another piece I will author at another time), I felt I first must address the issue of feeling like police (see also: Government) are justified in killing someone simply because they resist arrest.

Our country was founded on certain principles.  Among those principles is that no matter how much of a total prolapsed a-hole you are, you still have a right to a trial before your peers.  Of course, there are times that we all feel like the justice system doesn’t do justice.  Trust me, few people on this planet know more than I do, the shocking and disgusting truth behind that statement.  But, despite its flaws, our criminal justice system is still among the fairest and most equitable in the world, WHEN, and only when, it is practiced according to the Constitutional principles under which it was founded. That means that a system that inherently favors wealth and ethnicity IS NOT based upon the Constitutional principles as intended.

Certainly, when this country was founded, there were systemic issues, like slavery and denying women the right to vote, which have since been rectified on a Constitutional scale.  The issue that needs to be understood is that certain laws which are enforced in this country, carry with them a penalty that targets minority communities and individuals.  For instance, the penalties for the possession of crack cocaine, are several times higher and enforced more frequently than the penalties for possession of cocaine in powdered form.  Chemically, there is very little difference between the two, however, one is primarily used in minority communities.  We need to realize that the “records” that many of these young men from minority communities end up with are due to the disproportionate enforcement of laws which they, unfortunately, often lack the resources to defend.  That means their white counterparts are less likely to be charged under the same circumstances and even if they are charged, are more likely to have the resources to defend those accusations and charges in court. I’ve witnessed this first hand.

Many conservatives feel that not “backing the blue” amounts to a hatred of police.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, it should be considered patriotic to question our government and the practices that disproportionately affect minorities.  I, too, once believed that police should have that unfettered power; that is, until that power was unrighteously exercised against me.

Do I think that what occurred in Brooklyn Center amounts to murder?  No.  I think that it is a terrible tragedy, which could have been de-escalated long before it resulted in the death of a 20-year-old man.  What I do have a problem with is the lack of action to hold police accountable when they exercise poor judgment even in the case when that poor judgment is completely an accident.  There’s a word for neglect or mistakes that lead to the unintended death of someone:  Manslaughter.

Minnesota Penal Code defines manslaughter as:

609.205 MANSLAUGHTER IN THE SECOND DEGREE.

A person who causes the death of another by any of the following means is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than ten years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both:

(1) by the person’s culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another;

We have to realize that police in the United States live under a veil of qualified immunity — that is, they are immune from prosecution as long as they are acting within the bounds of their expected duties and are reasonably exercising that power in a way that would result in a safe and preferable result.  Certainly, criminals do not abide by these rules, which creates this predicament where we immediately question what someone may have done to justify a violent reaction from police officers.  Sometimes (and more often than any of us want to admit), the answer to that question is absolutely nothing.  The immunity that police enjoy is qualified.  We should defend police when they act within the boundaries of that qualification, and vilify them (and convict and imprison them) when they do not.

Often conservatives question why minority communities react violently to unjustified killings like George Floyd and Eric Garner.  The answer should be pretty evident:  When police, who clearly act outside of department policy and accepted practices, are still shielded by immunity to which, by the very definition, they are no longer qualified. Do I believe that Derek Chauvin intended to kill George Floyd?  No, but his actions were not the policy of the department and therefore should have immediately made him persona-non-grata to anyone and anything.  That doesn’t mean he should not have his own day in court, but the debate on what George Floyd was on or what his record was, is, in so many ways, completely and totally irrelevant.

So perhaps, conservatives should begin asking themselves this question:  If the person was as pure as the freshly driven snow, would I be outraged at this behavior?  If George Floyd’s interaction with Derek Chauvin was his first interaction with police, would I be infuriated by Officer Chauvin’s actions?  If the answer is yes, then you’d have to make a very large leap from infuriated to supportive between no record and having a record, and that argument would have to include advocating for killing people who resist arrest or have a criminal past.  If the answer is no, then you’ve got a pretty jacked-up moral compass and you need Jesus.

Instead of making a compelling argument to minority communities that the entirety of the problems they are enduring is sourced from the government, we make it an “us vs. them” debate about whether or not “they” need to fix the way “they” deal with police.  Look at the outrage from the right about a mandate to wear a mask.  Now imagine if police were able to kill people who didn’t wear a mask or resisted putting one on?  Just who do you think the government is going to send if they begin outlawing certain types of firearms?  Should we not resist that?  Should our own murders be justified if we do?  The issue isn’t whether or not someone should comply with the police.  The issue is whether or not we can all unite in rejecting the abuse of government power.  The issue needs to be our own disgust with police becoming judge, jury, and executioner (accidental or not), on the streets of Minneapolis.

This isn’t virtue signaling.  This is the fight for the very principles we hold dear.  If the government acts improperly (accidental or not) that results in damage to life, person, or property, we should all stand shoulder to shoulder to ensure that it is rectified.  The question shouldn’t be what Daunte Wright did or didn’t do to deserve being shot, UNLESS Wright’s actions were an imminent danger to life or person of another.  Expecting criminals to act rationally is not something we can ever control but if we expect police to be the better angels amongst us, expecting them to act flawlessly, is.  We don’t care about the extenuating circumstances of a pilot’s life before he hops into the cockpit.  We expect him/her to act within the bounds of their training and in a way the results in all passengers arriving safely.  Expecting the same standard from police, and withdrawing support when that expectation is not met, is not, and should not be a bad thing.