Over the last week, many conservatives seemed to be unified around one narrative: Race or racism had absolutely nothing to do with the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings, the protesters had simply made it such and this led to the tragic murder of two New York City police officers.
The shooting of an 18-year-old black male by a white officer in Berkeley, Missouri, near Ferguson, on Tuesday—accompanied by a video that appeared to support the cop’s actions—reinforced this narrative among conservatives. So did the senseless riot that followed.
Many conservatives believe race or racism was never a factor at all in the Brown and Garner cases, or in most of these types of cases. Many insist that the protesters were just making all this stuff up.
Who disagrees with this? Black people.
In poll after poll after poll after poll after poll—strong majorities of black Americans have consistently said that race plays a role in how law enforcement is applied and how the justice system is conducted in the United States.
We know that black teenagers are 21 times more likely to be shot by the police than whites. We know that 1 in 3 black men can expect to go to jail in their lifetime. We know that 1 in every 15 black males in the U.S. is currently incarcerated. We know black offenders receive longer sentences than white offenders. We know that despite the same rate of use of marijuana, blacks are 4 times more likely to be arrested.
Black NYPD police officers give some perspective. Reuters reported on Tuesday:
Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.
The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.
On the Garner killing, Reuters added, “Said one officer from the 106th Precinct in Queens, ‘That could have been any one of us.”
These are just a few of the statistical realities and perspectives black Americans know too well, and through which they viewed the Michael Brown and Eric Garner controversies. It’s almost impossible to imagine them not seeing a racial component.
But are blacks just misperceiving these circumstances as racism, as many conservatives seem to think? Or have black men and women have observed things in their communities for a very long time that many outside their communities aren’t aware of?
Is this even a possibility? Many conservatives: Nope.
Years ago, I used to say inflammatory things as a conservative radio shock jock, “The Southern Avenger,” knowing it would generate a certain animosity, even racial.
I thought it was a badge of honor, that this was my role. I believed part of being a conservative was simply to ignore minority criticism, or perhaps to point to other minorities who agreed with me. Over the years, I’ve changed my mind significantly.
But do many and perhaps most conservatives subscribe to this mindset? I must ask—particularly given recent events and the reactions to them—is part of being conservative just not caring what black people think? It should be noted that there were diverse conservative opinions about the Eric Garner decision.
Conservatives do not need to agree with every criticism made by black Americans of law enforcement and our justice system, but they do need, at a bare minimum, to consider them. They need to acknowledge that they exist.
They need to listen.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul has listened. He even agrees that black Americans have a point about racism and our current system. The conservative reaction? Paul has been called “anti-cop,” accused of “pandering” and worse.
So much for minority outreach.
Politics is tribal. The dynamic of conservatives vs. liberals and Republicans vs. Democrats isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But in the past few months since Ferguson erupted, and the last week in particular, it has felt a lot more like conservatives vs. blacks—that the right thinks African Americans don’t have a point, an argument, or even a side worth considering when it comes to these controversies.
I hope I’m wrong.
Jack Hunter is the editor of Rare.us and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.