Mike Brown, Rest in Peace
It is disappointing to me to see conservatives like Steve King ignoring an important conservative principle in discussing the situation in Ferguson. In fact, Heritage Foundation lists it as the very first conservative principle among ten.
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.
This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of o rder: the inner order of the soul and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but-even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conserva tives ever since conservative became a term of politics.
Our twentieth century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order.
It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society–whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society–no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be. For confirmation of the latter argument, we have merely to glance about us in the District of Columbia.
The moral order is “enduring.” Human nature is “constant.” Moral truths are “permanent.” This is why limited government works best.
Steve King said, among other things:
But I will say this: he is innocent until proven guilty. But what’s happening is the community, the people that are doing the looting down in Ferguson, Missouri have concluded that he is guilty or else they concluded that it’s a good excuse to do what they’re doing.
King sees no moral order whatsoever in rioting and looting. Neither do I. Steve King sees no moral truths expressed in rioting and looting. Again, neither do I. But human nature is still constant, and I do see human nature at work in the rioting and looting. Why would people riot and loot? King thinks he knows.
But they’re burning the community, they’re looting the businesses in the community and they’re rioting, they’re punishing their own community for something that they think, or at least allege, that a police officer did inside their community. That is irrational and it should not happen in this country and it doesn’t happen with rational people.
It is certainly irrational to riot and loot, but is it their intent to “punish their own community?” No. Is it excusable to riot and loot? No. Is it understandable that people would riot and loot? Yes. The reason it is understandable is something we learn about in another conservative principle listed by Heritage:
Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent–or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerable ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk.
The restlessness and rebelliousness of the human person is exacerbated when civil authorities become lawless, and the people of Ferguson believe civil authorities have become lawless, hence some (not most) have rioted and looted. Whether you agree that the civil authorities in Ferguson have acted lawlessly, the citizens believe they have, and that is enough to cause a reaction of lawlessness. It’s not exusable, but it is understandable. It is desperation more than it is hatred. Human nature tells us this. It is not “black nature.” It is human nature. Human nature also prompted Cliven Bundy to react as he did. It is not excusable, but it is definitely understandable for anyone who has an ounce of compassion for people who are frustrated and hurting by the actions of civil authorities.
King is right to be critical of what he calls “race hustlers,” but is it practical? Will it change anyone’s mind to do that? I don’t think so. What has to be done is to understand that there is a certain moral basis for the frustrations felt in the community where it is becoming more and more common for young black men to be gunned down by police. You see, the rules of engagement on the streets have changed over time. The law allows deadly force to be used when a policeman believes he is under threat of attack, and it seems that policemen are using deadly force even when it is not necessary to kill in order to protect themselves from the threat. Take a look at the video of the shooting of Kajieme Powell by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He was murdered. In fact, it appears that he committed “suicide by cop.” When policemen are using deadly force simply because the law says they can, even when it is not necessary, young black men are murdered. Yes, murdered. Too often, it seems they kill not because they must, but because they can.
Read Killed By Cops:
This summer ColorLines and The Chicago Reporter conducted a joint national investigation of fatal police shootings in America’s 10 largest cities, each of which had more than 1 million people in 2000. Several striking findings emerged.
To begin, African Americans were overrepresented among police shooting victims in every city the publications investigated.
The contrast was particularly noticeable in New York, San Diego and Las Vegas. In each of these cities, the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population.
Mind you, the statistics might say the same about Christians. Maybe the percentage of Christians killed by police was “at least double that of their share of the city’s total population.” We don’t know if no one studies it, but what matters is the perceptions of people in these communities. They believe they are being targeted disproportionately, and they have statistics to back it up. You may come up with “reasons” for it to be so, but expressing that you don’t even care about what they very seriously care about is not going to win anyone over to your point of view. The conservative response is the pro-life response: that no one should be killed who does not have to be killed as a matter of self-defense in response to an attack. Unfortunately, I am not seeing outrage from conservatives about the killing of Kajieme Powell which was clearly videotaped and which was clearly a case of murder, morally speaking.
Many in Ferguson believe that Mike Brown was murdered because they have good reasons to believe so. Namely, there are eyewitness accounts. You may not believe the eyewitness accounts, and it is your right to disbelieve them, but many people do believe those accounts. They see the autopsy reports and see something consistent with those reports. Again, you may believe them or not believe them, but the idea that they are frustrated because they are anti-cop or are anti-white is not reasonable. Yes, one might say it is irrational to think that protesters in Ferguson are just hateful people. They are anti-murder. At least give them that much. They are moral people in the sense that they are anti-murder, whether or not you personally believe a murder was committed. Give them props for being opposed to what they view as a murder.
Another conservative principle is that the law teaches (seat belt laws result in people wearing seat belts, for example), and this principle itself explains why people rioted and looted. Just as the law teaches, so do civil authorities teach through their behaviors while on duty. When civil authorities are lawless, the people will react with lawlessness out of frustration. There is no moral order if people are rioting and looting….but it must also be said that there is no moral order if cops are murdering people. If you are generally a law-abiding person, you might be tempted to stop being law-abiding when a representative of the law (a police officer) murders someone on your street, especially if you believe he murdered someone who looked like you and that he did so specifically because he looked like you. Again, you may disagree that this was a murder. You may disagree that the officer used excessive force. You may disagree that the actions of the officer were racist, but if that is what they believe, you need to respect that they are operating from a moral position of being anti-racism and anti-murder. They have been frustrated by the example they believe has been set by the police department. When the police come out in full riot gear, that only adds to that same perception of lawlessness on the part of civil authorities. It really is like throwing gasoline onto a fire. The example that should be shown is not one of force but of a desire to understand the legitimate concerns people have and to work toward regaining their trust. They need to know that the police are looking out for them because the police respect their basic human dignity and desire to protect them for that reason. This does not occur by militarizing the police force. In fact, the opposite occurs. Having said that, it is not evil for the police to militarize. It’s just stupid and counter-productive.
I have a great deal of respect for Steve King. I do not believe his remarks were “wrong,” per se, but they were lacking in an understanding of the proper way to handle these situations. I believe with all my heart that people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are operating at least partly from a desire to do good for people for the sake of human dignity. I believe the very same about Steve King. Both sides, however, are saying some very unhelpful things that do not really solve the problem. The way to solve this problem is to be more understanding of the people who are rightfully frustrated by what they see (rightly or wrongly) as a culture of police brutality against people of color. Accusing the protesters of bad motivations is no different than a “gay rights” activist calling a pro-marriage supporter a “bigot.” Accusing them of bad motivations is the very same as accusing the cop of being a “racist” for shooting Mike Brown. The accusations are the same thing. And yes, they are marks of irrational discourse.
One final note. I have lost friends because I have opined that I believe the officer used excessive force and is likely guilty of second-degree murder. I stand by that, no matter how many friends I lose. I will not get caught up in being told what to believe by people who generally agree with me simply on the basis that they generally agree with me. My mind is free in seeking God’s will regardless of what anyone else may think. It’s my conscience and I have to be able to sleep at night. One can’t sleep well at night if one is following the crowd rather than one’s own heart and mind. My heart is truly with the people of Ferguson. I see people in pain and that gets to me. Anyone caught rioting or looting should be prosecuted, but peaceful protesters have my heart in this and I pray they will find a sliver of peace in knowing that. The law should treat everyone as innocent until proven guilty. I have heard conservatives (rightly) say this about Darren Wilson, but not about Mike Brown, who is dead, and that breaks my heart even more.