Police Brutality: It’s Time to be Conservative When it Counts

I consider myself to be a libertarian conservative, rooted in a few fundamental principles. As I have studied the conservative movement, I have noticed a substantial divide in conservatism. This is a divide between opposing change because it is change and opposing change because it violates a fundamental conservative principle. The modern conservative movement has seen this divide throughout the past half century, first shown between Barry Goldwater’s principled support of some early civil rights measures and rejection of the Civil Rights Act and the racist conservatives who rejected any civil rights legislation as unwelcome change. While I might not agree with Goldwater’s vote, it was nonetheless one rooted in his interpretation of timeless conservative principles. This divide reared its ugly head again when George H.W. Bush claimed Ronald Reagan’s principled free-market economic plan was “voodoo economics.” Both of these cases show two types of conservatives: defenders of liberty and defenders of the status quo. When I refer to the status quo, I am not referencing the policies of a Democratic president but rather the accepted political norms that have existed throughout American history. Because America is a nation rooted in a Constitution designed to preserve liberty, these two groups often appear to be one and the same. While there is a decent argument that Trump supporters represent the latter group, the 2016 election will not be the focus of this piece. I could also use this premise to make the conservative case for the legalization of marijuana, but that is not my focus here either.

As a conservative and as a human, I sometimes wonder whether I would have fought against slavery had I lived in antebellum America. While I certainly hope I would have, far too many otherwise decent men watched slavery occur and even perpetuated the abhorrent institution with little intent to resist it. It is obvious to the modern conservative that the fundamental conservative principle of a human right to liberty should have led every conservative of that time to resist slavery in every way possible. Why did the vast majority of pre-Civil War conservatives do nothing to fight such a blatant violation of conservative principles? This train of thought leads one to consider the question, “What is today’s slavery?” “What is the institution or policy that future generations will look back on with horror?” While illegal slavery still exists (see the End It Movement), it is now universally rejected legally and culturally in the US. “What is the cultural norm that future generations will universally resist?” When I ask myself this, abortion comes to mind immediately. Virtually all conservatives are united against abortion.

Last night, my eyes were opened to a conservative cause that the “status quo conservatives” are loudly fighting against: curtailing police brutality. When I saw the video of Alton Sterling’s murder, shock and anger filled my mind. I could not believe that such an event could occur in 2016 America. Later last night, I replayed the videos of the Tamir Rice and Eric Garner videos in my head. It is a fact that Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Alton Sterling should be alive today. While there was no evidence of intentional wrongdoing in the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray cases, one can’t help but ask if any evidence of wrongdoing would have been discovered in the first three aforementioned cases had they not been captured on video. I understand the conservative impulse to defend the police, as they do have an extremely difficult and often thankless job. Likewise, I wholeheartedly agree with those conservatives who claim that establishing the rule of law is necessary to lift a community out of poverty.

However, it is preposterous to suggest that taking action to curtail police brutality in any way necessitates disrespect toward police officers or an abandonment of the rule of law. If one believes in conservative principles, one should seek to curtail police brutality. It is amazing to me that conservatives can rail against big government but see no problem with the Alton Sterling video.

Conservatives believe that men often abuse their positions of power and therefore must be checked. Why is the police force any different? How can we not seek to put checks on police power, yet we beg for checks on our politicians? Conservatives believe in upholding the Bill of Rights. Within 30 seconds, the officers who killed Alton Sterling violated the 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments. Conservatives believe in the value of human life. Apparently, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Alton Sterling don’t count.

Status quo conservatives will continue to defend the indefensible. Principled conservatives will take a stand. I only know of one leading conservative politician who has taken a stand against this: Senator Rand Paul. Senator Paul’s willingness to defend his principles, even when unpopular, consistently prove that he is the future of the conservative movement. Finally, it is worth noting that I don’t have all the answers and there is plenty I don’t know. I don’t know which, if any, of these incidents were racially motivated. I don’t know what the political solution to police brutality is. But I do know that conservative leaders must devote thought and resources to finding a political solution.

EDIT: I realize that Alton Sterling may have been reaching for his gun, in which case the shooting may have been justified. The police were still abusing their power, however, as evidenced by screaming an f-bomb at him. Other examples of police abuses that conservatives must vocally oppose are the Henry Davis incident, Daniel Holtzclaw, Walter Scott, and Laquan MacDonald. For an exhaustive look at police abuses, I recommend visit the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Newsfeed.