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A Mind-Boggling Divide Over Police Shootings

I’ve been writing about race and police shootings since October of 2014. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the divide on the issue. Liberals say that police frequently shoot blacks without justification. Conservatives say that, overwhelmingly, the disparity in police shootings stems from higher black crime rates, not racism. I tend to come down on the side of the conservatives, though there’s a lot we have left to learn about this issue and I am open to suasion.

A Twitter exchange last night between Sean Davis of The Federalist and Lois Beckett of The Guardian made me wonder if I have the whole thing wrong.

Things got started with this tweet from Davis, a reference to some speakers last night at the Democratic convention. (The tweet he’s quoting says, “No matter your politics, mothers grieving for their lost children is deeply moving and affecting.”)

I understand where Davis is coming from. As the son of a police officer I was deeply offended to hear that a major political party was honoring Michael Brown by having his mother address its convention. The hands-up-don’t-shoot narrative was a lie. Brown was shot because he viciously attacked a cop. If there is racism in police shootings, Brown is not an example of it. Full stop.

But that ire should be directed at the DNC, not at women who lost their sons. And the tweet paints with too broad a brush; other mothers who spoke saw their children killed under very different circumstances. Davis later clarified that he wasn’t referring to all the mothers, though he insisted readers of his original tweet should have known that.

(On a side note, Davis objected to the appearance of Trayvon Martin’s mother, not just Brown’s. Here I’m less offended. However the eventual confrontation unfolded between Martin and George Zimmerman, the shooting would not have happened had Zimmerman not decided—while carrying a concealed handgun—to get out of his car and chase a teenager he found “real suspicious.”)

But now we get to the part where Beckett said some things that boggled my mind. To preface this, Beckett is easily one of the best, if not the best, journalists writing about criminal-justice and gun issues today. She’s patiently explained in the New York Times why fixating on assault weapons is stupid. (If only the editorial board of that rag had listened.) She’s highlighted violence-prevention programs with proven results. When she writes positively about gun-control policies, it’s the ones that actually stand a chance of helping.

But she tweeted this last night:

I’m not a mind-reader, but this doesn’t come off as purely descriptive to me. She’s arguing with Davis (see the whole exchange for context) and defending this way of seeing the world. She added a similar comment this morning, arguing with someone else:

I really, really thought we were all on the same page that when we talk about police shootings of black people, we need to make distinctions based on whether said black people were attacking the cops who shot them. This assumption of mine was buttressed when some high-profile writers publicly conceded they were wrong about the Michael Brown case. But apparently, to some liberals, the true story doesn’t really change things:

If the view Beckett outlines as that of “the left” is common, the divide is much, much deeper than I thought.

Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative.

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