At Altering Convictions we share our perspective about combating police brutality, opposing mass incarceration, and fighting injustice. All of our pieces presume a few basic truths that are inarguable. It is unacceptable for law enforcement to treat certain people’s lives as expendable. Law enforcement should honor everyone’s constitutional rights. And all people should be treated fairly and equitably by the justice system. But in order to understand why the problems we write about are systemic and continue to rise, it is important to note that our basic premises are disputed by the defenders of the broken system—both some media commentators and many of the cops on the street operate with an alternate, false reality.
First, there are mainstream conservative news sources that dispute the civil rights basics outlined above. For instance, Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review, a Fox News commentator, a writer for magazines like Politico and Time, and a frequent guest on Meet the Press. He spouts an offensive alternative perspective that rejects Civil Rights 101. In a hateful Politico piece he titles #SomeBlackLivesDontMatter, he advocates for mass incarceration. Lowry writes, “Let’s be honest: Some black lives really don’t matter. . . .More people need to be arrested in Baltimore [in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death], not fewer. And more need to be jailed. If black lives truly matter, Baltimore needs more and better policing and incarceration to impose order on communities where a lawless few spread mayhem and death.” Even as Lowry acknowledged that there were a “lawless few” causing problems, he called for more incarceration because to him, as he bluntly acknowledged, some black lives do not matter. Once he dehumanizes black people and lumps them all together as criminals, then mass incarceration, wrongful convictions, and even police shootings are no longer troubling. That poisonous perspective is at the root of the indifference to these issues. Mind you, this is not just a fringe voice – this is a prominent commentator whose voice is spread by the mainstream media, advancing a hateful, immoral perspective.
In trying to make sense why some people shrug off police brutality, Rachel Lu at The Federalist explains that conservatives are unfazed by reports of aggressive policing “because they suspect that such tactics are necessary.” The thinking goes: sure, police brutality is happening, but it is probably because the victims deserve it. Again, it is only a profound dehumanizing of the poor, mostly minority victims that can sustain such a belief. The violence is happening – all of the videos make that much clear (as do the steady stream of cases we litigate at Loevy & Loevy). But if the victims are presumed to deserve it, then it is easier to rationalize away the violence and look the other way.
The perspective of many of the cops on the street echo these rationalizations. A Department of Justice study indicates that 84% of police officers report that they’ve seen colleagues use excessive force on civilians, and 61% admit they don’t always report “even serious criminal violations that involve abuse of authority by fellow officers.” Baltimore ex-cop Michael Wood, Jr., spoke openly to BBC News about this culture of unreported violence and the institutional racism linked to it. The cop perspective Wood was taught and followed while he was an officer included express instructions to racially target black men aged 16-24, abuse handcuffed suspects, and routinely search “suspect” people (read: young black men) without any proper basis.
The police brutality, shootings, and civil rights violations that have become so commonplace will continue as long as they are perpetuated by the warped perspective that these are necessary means for enforcing the law. They are immoral, violent tools for subjugating the poor and people of color, nothing more.