OPINION: Addressing Policing Injustices Need Not be Political

Jay D’Ercole (‘23)

Written by: Jay D’Ercole (‘23)

Peer Editor/Consultant: Sarafia Mughwai (‘21)

Note: Opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer, who sought consultation to ensure community-wide sensitivity and to broaden the communicated views.

STANWICH ROAD/REMOTE/OPINION- The unrest and political protests gripping over 70 American cities this spring, including Greenwich, Stamford, and Norwalk, cross party lines and do not represent the typical and all-too-familiar left/right divide.  

Many great things have happened in GCDS’s first year of high school.  However, the respectful co-existence between groups which at least perceive each other as opposites may not be one of them.  In fact, this may be a hallmark of this era which we prefer to forget.

This moment in time, however, does not call for student vs. student opposition.  As a student who identifies as conservative on this campus, I am profoundly disturbed, offended, and saddened by the death of George Floyd in such a callous way in Minnesota, and similar, obvious race-related injustices anywhere and everywhere.  

We both care about the country and the welfare of the people who live here.  This outrage against the policing practices that have left people dead and support for peaceful protesting against it isn’t in spite of my conservatism – it is a result of it.

It is not “liberal” to believe that a person, particularly a person of color given America’s racial history, should not die for an alleged counterfeit scheme (Mr. Floyd) or allegedly selling “loosies” [untaxed cigarettes] like Eric Garner or for traffic stops (and rather than quibble about numbers, we could all agree that even one is wrong).  These are only “liberal” beliefs if we choose to label them as such.  In fact, they are common and obvious.  They are also why body-cams are supported by many conservatives: we too want to know what the police do with their immense authority.

If American conservatism stands for something that’s universal, it is the “self-evident truth” of individual rights and dignity.  Nothing you are born with puts you above – or below – the law.  The tensions between individual interests and group interests are often what separate politically-minded people even on our campus.  American conservatism also says that government should be limited and that’s how rights will be maximized.  In essence, my conservative ideas are for optimizing and expanding the rights of all the people, including the right to protest.

But police wear badges because they carry the authority of the State.  It’s why you pull over for a cop car but not for the ice-cream truck: the badge makes all the difference.  The officer who ignored a human being’s cries for help under his knee was doing it with the backing of his municipality.  This should trouble anyone worried about government power and overreach!  As young people still growing into this world, we should all be concerned about the future. To continue advancing and maturing society, as our generation is destined to do, we must take gradual incremental steps towards solutions on colossal issues like police brutality and climate change. The challenge lies in the question, what do we do next?  

And that Mr. Floyd was a black American, is neither irrelevant nor a minor detail.  Dwight Eisenhower, many learned in American history, sent troops to desegregate schools.  This was necessary because local police couldn’t or wouldn’t.  This was in the 1950’s.  President Eisenhower had led a still-segregated military to free Europe from exactly this kind of racial oppression where the “police state” had all the power.  While hopefully we all agree that American ideals are superior to Hitler’s or Stalin’s which expressly discriminated while Civil Rights Acts and affinity groups were nowhere in sight, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hard work to do.  And it’s all the more reason we need to do better. 

Our generation faces a seemingly more elusive goal than previous ones: to eradicate racism altogether. There is a major difference between the Civil Rights Movement and now: 60 years ago, there were clear monsters to slay: black codes, bus-seating, and other well-known Jim Crow laws which were racist (sometimes proudly!) at their core.  Today the legislation that protestors object to may not specify race, but the intent of the laws and the ease of their passage suggests that race will play a role, and these disproportionately affect communities of color.  These include selective enforcement of drug laws and debatable distinctions in various communities and a 2010 law in Arizona (SB1070) – which was difficult to separate from looking for physical characteristics as it allowed law enforcement to ask for documentation on “reasonable suspicion characteristics before most of it was thrown out in subsequent years.  “Stand your ground” laws may have a similar race-based fear in their passage.  These statutes are more difficult to oppose in terms of their pure language but are often seen as similarly pernicious.

And our generation has social media.  While it can be used for ill, social media is also a powerful weapon in organizing and in many ways bypassing the “gate-keepers” of the old media world.  Our generation is becoming an expert in this tool, and so we are suited perfectly to the task at hand making a new and impactful kind of activism all ours: left, right, or center.  Our ability to communicate may be the great equalizer!

Yes, Americans have twice-elected an African-American president, and yes there have been major gains economically for people of color in America.  That is not in dispute.  But that also doesn’t address the issue as much as skate around it.  Professor Cornel West, a Christian and major American voice on civil rights was quoted recently as saying “I don’t measure black progress in terms of black elites, how many black faces you have in high places. That’s wonderful. That’s beautiful. I’m concerned about the least of these.”  Conservatism like mine wants to lift all boats: the “least of these” Dr. West refers to. 

“The concept of conservatism is often one of a populist perspective,” Sarafia, who reported on the GCDS Vigil and current events for The Chronicle, says during our co-writing.  “This means that a conservative view of the success of a group should be judged by the success of every person, not the ‘exceptions.’ Populism remembers the common person of all colors.”

“There’s no doubt that what we’re having the opportunity to see is the absolute devastation of too many African-American males, over too many decades,” said a Republican Senator.  Tim Scott believes in limited government and policy choices of American conservatism, but he need not hand in his GOP membership card just because he sees what everyone sees.  And “sees” here is literal: according to Senator Scott, the stories of recent abuse and murder of people of color would not have been told if there hadn’t been video.  Mr. Floyd would have been “resisting arrest.”

Efforts toward equity continue and yes, can even take steps backward.  A look at Plessy v Ferguson teaches us that 30 years after the Civil War, the nation can still get it dreadfully wrong.   It isn’t “lefty” or controversial or unpatriotic to say so: in fact the Supreme Court said so in the celebrated Brown v Board of Education case six decades later.  That case was unanimous and had justices appointed by presidents of both parties.  It is patriotic to want to form “a more perfect union” and this does not betray political ideas on either side. 

The militarization of the police is another tricky topic that transcends political lines.  Conservatives, who tend to be closer to libertarians (and down the line, anarchists) than those on the other side (which tends to support a greater role for government) often oppose the tactics and weapons local police forces acquire to “combat” (exactly the right word here) its own citizens.  Support the 2nd Amendment because of fear of government tyranny?  That’s a debate to have!  But if that’s your worry, then why not weaken the government’s firepower as well?

Obviously there is disagreement about which candidate or approach to governing is best during election years like this one.  This article is not meant to gloss over policy differences, role of government in business and personal life, and yes, the fractious personality and practices of the President of the United States in 2020. 

But the current news is bigger than any office-holder or seeker, even if the office of that person is an Oval.  Which party wants brutal cops and that kind of government power?  Which party wants to see cities turned upside down, even for cause?  Any honest approach to governing suggests that there are overlaps among and between us and in this moment of disharmony, finding those common causes and common ground is more essential than ever.  

Jay D’Ercole is a rising sophomore who enjoys sports, friends, academics, and constitutional law.  Jay enjoys a good debate and looks forward to keeping up with hot-button political topics. He also enjoys watching the Dallas Cowboys.  

 

Sara Mughwai is a rising GCDS senior who enjoys the Humanities and global research, participated in the GCDS musical and the GCDS Dance Company “Ambush.” She is a student leader of SHIFT, the US diversity club, and SOCA, the Students of Color Association and she plans to research and write more about current events along with social, political and economic events in our time.