Where Do Republicans Stand On The Michael Brown Case?

by Dish Staff

Protest over the killing of unarmed teen in Ferguson

Notably, Rand Paul spoke out against police militarization with an op-ed in Time:

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement. Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies – where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

Ilya Somin couldn’t be happier:

The op ed should help put to rest the notion – never very plausible to begin with – that libertarians are ignoring these issues. Paul has not gone as far in opposing the War on Drugs and police militarization as I and many other libertarians would like. I would prefer to abolish the War on Drugs completely, not just cut it back and reduce sentences, as Paul has advocated. But he has gone much farther on both than the vast majority of other mainstream politicians, including most Democrats.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Wallace-Wells sees a rare opportunity for bipartisan action:

[T]he conservative perspective on law and order has been subtly changing, most obviously in the strengthening conservative enthusiasm for reforming prison sentencing, a cause embraced not only by libertarians like Mike Lee and Rand Paul but also by more conventional Republicans like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. Even given this recent history, it was still striking today to see Rand Paul, in his statement, turn from more general concerns about the militarization of police to the specific topic of race: “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.” This is exactly the argument that liberals have been making for an awfully long time, but that conservatives have rarely joined. It seems hard to imagine, given how clearly the conversation has turned to militarization, that we won’t hear more of this.

But Dave Weigel identifies a split on the right:

The modern GOP, the one that elected Richard Nixon and built its base in the South and the suburbs, established early on that it was the “law and order” party. The crime waves of the 1960s and 1970s and the crack wars of the 1980s were crucial to Republican dominance, and led to tough-on-crime legislation that’s still on the books. Only recently, as violent crime rates have tumbled, has the libertarian tendency of the GOP reasserted itself. We’ve seen the “Right on Crime” Republican legislators pass prison reform bills; we’ve seen Rand Paul talk about restoring the voting rights of felons, and shrinking the number of crimes that can be classified as life-ruining felonies.

It’s an open question: Which of these tendencies will characterize the conservative response to Ferguson? The law-and-order tendency that assumes the cops pointing their guns at protesters are preventing the outside agitators from doing something wild? Or the libertarian tendency that asks if you really want a photo of the occupation of Crimea to be indistinguishable from a photo of the St. Louis metro area?

Ben Domenech argues, “If you want an indication about where someone sits on the dividing line between conservative and libertarian, sometimes it’s as simple as how they answer this question: how do you feel about cops?

Do you naturally tend to trust them, viewing them as a necessary and needed hedge acting in defense of law and order? Or are you naturally suspicious of them, believing them to be little more than armed tax collectors and bureaucrats with a tendency to violence and falsehood in service of their whims? Are cops the brave individuals who stand between the law-abiding and those who would rob, rape, and kill, or are they the low-level tyrannical overpaid functionaries of the administrative state, more focused on tax collection in the form of citations, property grabs, and killing the occasional family dog?

This isn’t to say that only libertarians are suspicious of cops. There has always been a strain of conservatism very skeptical of government power, and as police forces have become more interested in seizing assets and ignoring complaint, many conservatives have become openly critical of their behavior. Indeed, Mary Katharine Ham has a great response to what we’re seeing in Ferguson, as does Kevin Williamson. But how you answer that initial question will tell you a lot about your political assumptions regarding authority.

Hans Fiene notes, “For many conservatives, especially those of us living in nice, comfy suburbs, it’s hard to apply the “power corrupts” doctrine to law enforcement because we’ve never seen corrupted enforcers of the law”:

We’ve never been wrongly arrested. We’ve never witnessed our children put in jail based on the false reports of police officers. We’ve never seen our neighbors beaten or tazed without cause. And in the extremely unlikely scenario that a police officer drove into our neighborhood and murdered our unarmed friend in cold blood, we cannot possibly fathom a scenario where the justice system wouldn’t be on our side and where that police officer wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in jail. Therefore Michael Brown must have been a violent thug, foolish enough to think he could swipe a cop’s weapon because, in our minds, there’s no conceivable way that a police officer would gun down an innocent man. But just because we don’t see the corruption of law enforcement in our own lives doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Meanwhile, Matt Steinglass wonders where the gun-rights crowd disappeared to:

Curiously, observes Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg View, gun-rights advocates have not used the confrontation in Ferguson as an example of a situation where possession of a gun might have protected a citizen from the illegitimate use of force by a government agent. They have not argued that Michael Brown might be alive now if he had been able to shoot back at the police officer who killed him, or that the demonstrators who fired warning shots when police tried to shut down protests would have been justified in shooting officers to defend their right to freedom of association. No such arguments have been heard with regard to any of the unarmed black men killed by American police officers over the past few years. One wonders what might account for the fact that gun-rights advocates defend the right of a white Nevada rancher to shoot agents of the Bureau of Land Management, but not the right of young black men to shoot police officers.

More Dish on the events in Ferguson here.

(Photo: Demonstrators raise their hands during a rally to protest the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 14, 2014. By Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)