A Rare Moment of Almost Agreement

I’m pleasantly surprised that so much of the Right appears to agree that the police in Ferguson were out of control. There was a time that anything cops did in a black neighborhood got an automatic seal of approval, so that’s something.

There also appears to be a broad consensus that it’s a really bad idea to give military surplus equipment to police departments. I learned from TPM that this practice began in 1992, so there’s no point blaming the current crew in Washington about it. But we can demand that it end.

Even though there is broad agreement that militarizing cops is a bad idea, there is still a lot of denial about the root causes of police violence in Ferguson and elsewhere. Rand Paul primarily blames Big Government, for example. (To his credit, Paul does make one mention of “racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”) But it wasn’t Big Government that gave some Ferguson cop the notion that it’s okay to shoot and kill an unarmed black man who, according to eyewitnesses, had raised his hands.

And do remember that the bullets that killed Michael Brown were fired from a standard police revolver, not some military assault weapon. Steve M reminds us of recent and notorious incidents of police brutality in which cops used just their hands.

I’m not going to say it’s all cops or all police departments. But there does seem to be a widespread pattern of racism and, shall we say, poor impulse control in many of our nation’s police departments. And that will still be true if we take away their military equipment.

According to some on the Right, however, we are not to speak of race or engage in dialog about problems based in racism at all, because doing that is just shameless pandering and politicizing. Power Tool Paul Mirengoff says,

[Rand] Paul uses the occasion of the Brown tragedy to say that “given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.” But Paul makes no attempt to show that the disparities in question — presumably pertaining to conviction rates — are the result of “government targeting,” as opposed to disparities in the commission of crimes. Blacks may feel targeted, but U.S. Senators shouldn’t lend credibility to that feeling by disparaging our justice system unless they provide meaningful analysis to back it up.

The fact that we’ve seen several recent incidents of white police harming and killing black men who were not committing crimes seems to have escaped Mirengoff’s notice. Or else he think the actions of “bad cops” don’t count as “government targeting.” But police are agents of government, and in too many police department there’s a pattern of police engaging in racial “targeting” behavior and not being held accountable for it. So in my book, government ultimately is responsible.

And that means we are ultimately responsible.

Yesterday Governor Nixon finally acted and turned command of the police over to the head of the state highway patrol, Captain Ronald Johnson, a native of Ferguson. By all accounts Ferguson is now less militarized and more peaceful.