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Conservative writers explain why they’re now more skeptical of police

Like any other political issue in America, it’s easy to think of police shootings in a polarized way — Black Lives Matter and its supporters are liberal, and those who defend police are conservative.

But this is a huge oversimplification. Many conservative writers have issues with police officers’ excessive use of force and how it disproportionately hurts black Americans.

In a recent article for the Daily Caller, conservative writer Matt Lewis put it sharply:

In the era of Facebook Live and smart phones, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than the fact that police brutality toward African-Americans is a pervasive problem that has been going on for generations. Seriously, absent video proof, how many innocent African-Americans have been beaten or killed over the last hundred years by the police—with little or no media coverage or scrutiny?

There’s no telling the damage this has done to us collectively, not to mention the specific families and individuals that were victimized. And, of course, the long-term psychic damage transcends the physical. All sorts of negative externalities can be expected of someone who rightly feels he’s living under an occupying army.

Lewis is far from the only conservative to say something along these lines. Over at the conservative RedState, Leon Wolf wrote, in the aftermath of the Dallas shooting:

As the child of white parents who grew up in the rural panhandle of Texas, I was taught that police were there to help, any time I had a problem I should go to them. I should always follow their orders and show them the utmost respect. No one is more important and helpful to your community than the police.

Now imagine, for a minute, that your parents instead grew up as black people in the 50s or 60s in one of the many areas where police were often the agents of — let's call it what it was — white oppression. How might that have changed, for understandable reasons, the way not only those people but also their children and their children's children interact with the police? More importantly, how might it impact the belief that police will ever be held accountable for abuses of their power?

I think the evidence would show that the vast majority of police do their jobs with the greatest professionalism possible. I don't think that's a sufficient answer to the reality of lingering mistrust between police and minority communities, especially in certain areas of the country. And the proliferation of cell phone video recording has really confirmed (in their minds) something they have long anecdotally believed or been taught — that police often interact with minority communities in different ways than they do with the white community.

And here's the most important part: when they do so, they never or almost never face punishment.

Wolf went on to argue that, unfortunately, it’s circumstances like these that lead to something like the Dallas shooting, in which police officers are senselessly killed:

The most important safety valve to prevent violence like we saw in Dallas last night is the belief that when officers do go off the rails, the legal system will punish them accordingly. If minority communities (and everyone else, for that matter) believed that, resort to reprisal killings would be either non existent or far less frequent.

This actually isn’t the first time Wolf has written on this issue, either. After the Justice Department released its investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department, Wolf called on conservatives to acknowledge that there is a serious problem with how policing is done in this country.

All of these pieces are essentially acknowledging the two worlds in which Americans live in. On one side, there are white Americans who were raised to believe that police are good and to be trusted, because most of their interactions with police reflected that. On the other side, there are black Americans who have been harassed by the police for most of their lives over petty infractions, all while police fail to stop many of the more serious crimes that go on in their neighborhoods. (For a great, great book on how police both over- and underpolice black communities, read Ghettoside.)

Not every conservative adheres to this view, and not every liberal does, either. But some and perhaps many do, and finding the people willing to take the other side seriously — and even change their minds! — is part of how systemic, complicated problems are fixed.

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