The disturbing events in Dallas excepted, the public response to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile has been fairly predictable: an outpouring of sympathy and outrage on social media, followed by large-scale Black Lives Matter protests across the country. However, the commentary surrounding these most recent police-shooting deaths has been notable for me in at least one regard, in that there has been a deafening silence on the part of conservatives regarding a phenomenon that should alarm them as much as anyone.
Following police shootings such as occurred recently in Louisiana and Minnesota, the loudest voices from the right seem to be naysayers whose only contribution is to insist that race is not a real factor in these incidents. The irony here is that conservatives, who often seem eager to accuse liberals of an obsession with skin color, have allowed the issue of race to blind them to the broader importance of these events. Don’t get me wrong — race is certainly and inextricably tied to the treatment that Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile (not to mention Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and Michael Brown, among others) received at the hands of police officers. However, even without mentioning race, the situation remains alarming to the extreme.
When an officer kills a defenseless person or a person in police custody, and when the courts refuse to hold the officer accountable, the result is in effect a state-administered, extra-judicial execution, of the kind explicitly forbidden in our country’s Constitution. Again, race need not even enter the conversation for us as a community to realize how problematic this is. Every time a court of law fails to convict a police officer for the preventable death of a suspect, a grim legal precedent is set. I have to wonder: how can those on the right, who are so often critical of government overreach, fail to raise their voices in protest as the police and the courts continue to violate the Constitution with impunity?
The deaths of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile are not merely horrific tragedies. They are evidence of a deeply flawed and oppressive justice system, and proof that the ability of the governed to enforce accountability upon the government has been severely curtailed. It is disturbing to observe the silence of conservatives in the face of brutal — and thoroughly unconstitutional — violence perpetrated by agents of the state. It’s past time to reexamine our ethical codes with clear vision and realize that these extra-judicial executions should be intolerable to all Americans, no matter our color, no matter our politics.