Conservatives aren’t Racist. It’s Worse than that.
What happened to Mike Brown and what is happening in Ferguson, and what happens all across the country when a Police officer encounters a Black man, is about race. However, it’s not just race. What’s happening is also about the ideological differences between Progressives and Conservatives. That’s why Conservatives are so upset. Some of them are racists. But all of them believe that Mike Brown was shot because he did something wrong. What Conservatives don’t understand is that what Mike Brown did wrong was being born a Black man.
It’s important to try and understand how Conservatives think when it comes to race, crime, social strata and the justice system. We’ll have to cook it down to its essence first. Conservatives believe that we are personally responsible for our lives. The decisions you make dictate what will happen to you. If you make mistakes, you are responsible for those mistakes. You are also responsible for your safety. That’s why Conservatives believe in gun ownership. You should also be responsible for your future (why Conservatives don’t like Social Security) and your health (why Conservatives don’t like Universal Health Care). This idea works in a world where you are in the middle of a prairie, killing buffalo and living off the land. It doesn't work as well when you live in a city of a million people, sharing resources (Why many Conservatives don’t like cities).
Progressives believe in Social responsibility. We are all in this together. That’s why, for Progressives and Liberals, Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and Universal Health care, that all makes sense. To a Progressive, pooling our resources and working together is the smart thing to do for our long term security.
The problems we are facing, why our political leaders can’t agree and why nothing ever gets done, are because these two concepts don’t fit together. You can’t believe that you are personally responsible for your actions and live in a society where we collectively work together to achieve results. You can’t believe that you are responsible for yourself and then be forced to pay taxes for programs you never use. Your brain hates contradictions and will actively fight them. It’s one of the reasons why our political system is a mess. You have people doing things they actually and truly don’t want to do. Don’t get it twisted; no one likes paying taxes. However, Progressives understand that paying taxes is a need, that it helps the collective good of our society. Conservatives are pissed there’s a collective society in the first place.
When Progressives see what happened to Mike Brown, they understand that our policing system, that our entire criminal justice system, is rotten and broken. Progressives see a dead Black boy and understand that the system can not be working properly because, if it was working correctly, Mike Brown would have been arrested, not murdered. Progressives also see a pattern. Mike Brown isn’t the only unarmed Black man that has been killed by police and he won’t be the last. Progressives believe that, if we reform the system, if we actively work to fix it, it will be fixed. Progressives try and pinpoint obvious flaws in the system and, because of the data, racism is an obvious cause of Mike Brown’s death. It’s not the only cause, but it was a part of it. Add to the the lack of indictment against Darren Wilson and you have a place for Progressives to point and say, here, look, this is broken. Let’s fix it together.
Everything I just said goes against every belief Conservatives have. For Conservatives, Mike Brown died because he committed a crime, didn’t listen to a police office and (allegedly) attacked a police officer. To them, if Mike Brown acted differently, he’d be alive. For Conservatives, the unarmed, Black teenager is responsible for whether the armed cop will kill him or not. To most Conservatives, it is impossible for them to believe that race influences people’s decisions. If that was the case, their entire world view would completely shatter. If Black people are subjected to a life that treats them as second class citizens, not as equals, then the system is a lie.
This idea that a Black man is solely responsible for the actions of authorities has been expanded to the concept that Black people are solely responsible for themselves. Rudolph Giuliani said this on “Meet the Press.”
“The white police officers won’t be there if you weren’t killing each other. Why don’t you cut down your crime so so many white police officers don’t have to be in black areas? Ninety-three percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We are talking about the exception here [in Ferguson] … I would like to see the attention paid to that — that you’re paying to this.”
For Giuliani, this isn’t racist. It’s a common Conservative principle. If Blacks took care of themselves, then problems like Ferguson wouldn’t happen as much. Black people are responsible for Black men dying at the hands of the police. I can see the logic that some have pointed out. “Why are you angry about a cop killing a criminal when criminals kill each other and innocents all the time?” It’s the idea that we need to deal with Black-on-Black crime first, then, maybe, we can deal with cop-on-Black crime. Worse, if we were able to stop Black men from committing crimes, then they wouldn’t be gunned down in the first place. The problem with this logic is that crime, any crime, shouldn’t end in death. If Michael Brown did steal something, and if he did attack the cop, does he deserve to die? Many say yes. I say no. A cop should be on a higher standard than a child. A cop is suppose to serve and protect us. More and more, cops are killing us. Black-on-Black crime isn’t the issue. The real issue is that we live in a pseudo-Police state where a police officer has the ability to kill anyone and get away with it. If you think that’s an exaggeration, then you haven’t been paying attention.
To Giuliani and those that agree with him, the idea that the system doesn’t work isn’t even a possibility. Of course the system works! How could it not! “Why don’t Blacks deal with Black-on-Black crime” isn’t the Conservative being racist. Not completely. It’s the Conservative trying to solve a problem. If Blacks didn’t commit crimes, Cops wouldn’t kill them. Conservatives believe in the system so strongly that they can’t, they refuse, they can’t imagine a world where the system is broken and that Blacks are unfairly attacked by the system. The same concept applies to class as well.
“If Poor people worked harder, they’d be rich.”
It also applies to women.
“If she didn’t want to get raped, why did she dress like that?”
“If she didn’t want to get pregnant, why did she have sex?”
Because they don’t understand that the system might not work, Conservatives also don’t understand why people decide to actively protest against it. Even more strange to me, Conservatives don’t understand why some of us have trust issues with the police.
In Bill Kristol’s eyes, we should be ashamed of ourselves that we don’t trust cops. That concept is foreign to him. He spends his time and effort demagoguing those that recognize the possibility for the need to reform because in his head, a system that he actively benefits from has to work and work perfectly. There is no where in a Conservatives mind where a collective responsibility is the problem. Their entire ideology would be destroyed if they even considered that for a second.
So Conservatives might not be racist. But our Criminal Justice system most definitely is.
The systematic murder of Black men, the consistent harassment and incarceration, is a sign that the Criminal justice system believes that Black men are the cause of crime and, thus, need to be dealt with in the strictest way possible. You can be as responsible for yourself as you can be and still be stopped and frisked, accused of wrong doing and singled out by a system that actively hates you. This fact from the Center for American Progress is startling:
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.
When it comes to Ferguson, it’s race and class. Since Black people are more likely to be poor, then they get hit with the double whammy of a racist system that takes advantage of those that can’t properly advocate for themselves, mainly because they can’t afford to. From an recent issue of the Economist:
In Ferguson, bad policies help to explain why distrust turns to anger. Take, for example, the way the town is financed. In 2013 a fifth of Ferguson’s general revenues — some $2.6m, in a city of 21,000 people — were derived from fines and asset confiscation. That is equivalent to $124 a year for every man, woman and child in the city. Paying fines, even for minor traffic offences, can involve queuing for hours. Those who miss court dates can be jailed until they pay, accumulating more fines along the way. Slowly but surely, the justice system has become an elaborate mechanism for criminalising poverty.
So, no, it’s not completely racist. It’s more than that. It’s worse than that.
To a Progressive, all the facts and data clearly show that Mike Brown was killed because he was Black. For a Conservative, that can’t be possible. It’s easy to call Conservatives racist, but we should be more nuanced. Racism isn’t rational and I know plenty of Conservatives that are smart, fun, interesting individuals. They disagree about why the Criminal Justice system hammers the Black community, why the poor can’t raise above their lot, why catcalling and misogyny are real issues for women. Conservatives just don’t think they we have systematic problems. It’s the individual that’s the problem. But, because Conservatives refuse to bend on this, because of their impossible lack of empathy, nothing changes. We keep limping on. More and more young Black men die in the streets. Police officers who kill us will, again and again, get away with it. And, more and more, no one does anything about it.
Update: Gawker has a story listing 76 people of color that have been killed by police. All unarmed.