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Conservative commentator, Reihan Salam, in a recent column written for Slate Magazine pointed out how different the reactions of conservatives were in the case of Eric Garner compared to Michael Brown. The stance of supporting police actions conservatives normally take turned to anger when the grand jury failed to indict police officers for killing Garner.

In the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, conservatives and liberals found themselves taking familiar stances. Those on the right were by and large inclined to give a local police officer the benefit of the doubt. Those on the left maintained that use of lethal force against Brown was unjustified, and that the failure to indict Darren Wilson reflected the deeply ingrained racism of the American criminal justice system.

The case of Garner has met with a strikingly different response from conservatives, as Tim Lee of Vox recently observed. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, a man known for channeling the populist id of older white conservatives, somberly expressed his horror at Garner’s death on Wednesday night. More pointedly, Tim Carney, a leading light of the conservative intelligentsia and a columnist for the Washington Examiner, pointed to Garner’s death of an illustration of the dangers of an unaccountable, excessively strong government.

Although conservatives have joined liberals in their outrage over the case, Salam reports it is for very different reasons. Liberals point to racism as being the cause for police brutality. Conservatives say it is a result of government expansion and overreach.

Salam says there is hope for conservatives and liberals to come together to address the over-incarceration of black males.

There are grounds for optimism. In 2012, Steven Teles and David Dagan described how a coalition of conservative policy entrepreneurs and GOP elected officials had set out to reduce incarceration levels, having grown troubled by the ugly moral consequences of separating fathers, boyfriends, and husbands from their families. This impulse needs to inform every aspect of policymaking around criminal justice.

What government routinely fails to do is account for the costs the criminal justice system imposes on the civilians who get caught in its web. Mark A.R. Kleiman, a public policy professor at UCLA and author of When Brute Force Fails, made this point vividly in a Democracy Journal essay published last spring. Instead of fixating on the dollar costs of running the criminal justice system, he asks that we also account for “the suffering inflicted by arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration, including all of the residual disabilities that go with the label ‘ex-convict,’ and the fear created by overaggressive policing.”

Salam gives three initiatives conservatives should push:

  • Establishing a punishment budget
  • Greater transparency on policing activities
  • Localized approach to criminal justice

He feels these steps are necessary to reduce incarceration levels.

2 Responses

  1. Jesse

    Politicians and pundits alike are chanting for changes. The only thing that is going to change is that the police will be wearing little cameras on their person. Everything else is already in play . Then there is the goofy stuff will hurt the police and citizens. In the situation with Eric Garner. You can’t spend all day talking to a guy. Talk wasn’t going to work with this guy. Maybe if a different police officer came to talk to him who was different than the ones that were there then it might have worked but I doubt it. Then they still had to do what they did. It was unfortunate but YOU CAN’T STAY ALL DAY MESSING WITH THE GUY. You got 15 minutes then he should be already in the back of the squad car. Eric was huge , he resisted, so the police had to use force and a lot of force due to his size. It was an accident. The Jury said no indictment for a reason. Just accept that. Now because of all these protests about killing cops, there was an incident in WATERLOO, IA a couple days ago where a black man involved in a disturbance, he left the area, came back and rear ended a police car with such force he totaled the police car forcing it into a tree but not before it ran into another police car and injuring police officers. The afro- american said ” Oh, I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody.” Really ? Driving 60 mph to hit a police car on a dead end street. Maybe the cops should start wearing off-duty tee shirts: I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. It seems appropriate since all evidence by foolish protesters is being ignored.


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