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It has been several days since video was released showing how Mesa Police murdered an unarmed and innocent man while he crawled on his knees crying and begging for his life.
Daniel Shaver, reported for showing off his pellet gun in his hotel room, was noticeably intoxicated when the cops arrived in force with AR-15s and body armor. Shaver tried desperately to comply as the aggressive, power-tripping officers shouted a list of contradictory and pointless commands. Rather than detain Shaver as he lay submissively on the ground, they decided instead to play a sadistic game of Simon Says, threatening multiple times to kill him if he “makes a mistake.” They forced him at various points to lie down, kneel, put his hands up, put his hands out, cross his legs, and crawl. He was shot dead while crawling on the floor like a dog — by an officer with the words “You’re f*cked” scrawled on his rifle — because he “reached” for something. But, as my friend Buck Sexton points out, he was only reaching for his dignity, attempting to pull up his pants so that he didn’t have to crawl around naked in front of them. For that, he lost his life.
It is easily the worst police shooting ever caught on film, yet there have been no protests. Daniel’s name has not been a top trending topic on social media. It has gotten very light coverage by the news networks. There has been more of a public outcry over a kid getting bullied at the lunch table than an American citizen being gunned down by police for no apparent reason. I wonder why.
I’ve already speculated that the relative mainstream media silence, and the lack of the sorts of marches and riots that have accompanied other police shootings, has a lot to do with Daniel Shaver’s white skin. But that only explains why one side of the political spectrum might be hesitant to rally around this story. There has also been a notable silence from conservatives (though not all), and it hasn’t gotten any more attention from right-leaning networks than it’s received from left-leaning ones. How can this be explained, especially from people who are allegedly skeptical of government and sensitive to its abuses?
I think some of the angry emails I received may shed light on this mystery. I haven’t seen many prominent conservatives defend the cops in this case (most of them have just stayed silent on the issue), but I have read a great many defenses from my conservative readers. Here’s a sampling:
“Matt, I am a long time reader but no longer. If you have never been in their shoes, you have no place criticizing police officers who are doing a very difficult and thankless job.”
“I have read my last Matt Walsh article. Your slanderous attacks on law enforcement officers are shameful. They do a very dangerous job as best they can. You should be embarrassed.”
“Do you think police should just offer themselves up to be killed? The officers in the Daniel Shaver case couldn’t take any chances. If you don’t comply, they shoot. It’s that simple.”
I want to respond to each of these objections because they seem to be representative of much of the feedback I’ve seen over the past couple of days:
First, I absolutely reject the notion that an American citizen should not criticize agents of the state unless he is also an agent of the state. Not only do I reject it, but I find it pitiful, gross, and profoundly un-American. I do not need to “walk in the shoes” of law enforcement to know that law enforcement ought not shoot unarmed men who pose no discernible threat to them. I have both a right to point this out and a duty. These are public servants. We pay their salaries. We must give them room to do their jobs, but we don’t give them carte blanche. And, in the end, they should answer to us. They work for the government and the government works for us. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s certainly the “conservative” point of view, anyway.
Second, I know they do a dangerous job. But we expect them to do it well. If they are not able to do it well, they should find a different job. “Yeah these cops were incompetent but being competent is hard.” Sorry, not good enough. You wouldn’t shrug your shoulders and just accept the consequences if a surgeon botched a routine operation and your child ended up dead because of it. You wouldn’t defend an airline captain who panicked at a bit of turbulence and accidentally plunged his aircraft into the Atlantic. Yes, being a surgeon is hard. Being an airline captain is hard. That’s why we need extremely qualified and well trained people in those positions. Someone who accepts a difficult job, despite lacking the ability to perform the duties it requires, ought to face the consequences when his inevitable failures lead to catastrophe.
Third, I don’t accept this idea that police officers “can’t take any chances.” If you don’t want to take any chances, don’t become a police officer. We shouldn’t require them to take unreasonable chances, but the officers who responded to Daniel Shaver were not being asked to take an unreasonable chance. Shaver was literally crawling on the ground in submission. The chance was exceedingly slight that he would suddenly pull a gun out of his basketball shorts and fire a shot at police officers who have AR-15s trained on him from 10 yards away. But these officers would sooner kill an innocent man than take a very slight chance with their own lives. That is not acceptable.
Every time a police officer interacts with a member of the public, there is a slight chance that the person may turn violent. But does that mean they can just put a bullet in your face if you so much as twitch your hand during a traffic stop? That’s the only way that they can avoid taking any chances. Such a system cannot be tolerated in a free society. The operating philosophy cannot be: “Better for an innocent man to die than for a police officer to accept even the most minimal risk.”
Yes, police officers need to take some chances. The only other option is tyranny.
What’s revealed in all of these types of responses is a reflexive and unthinking instinct to defend police, no matter the circumstances. It seems this instinct has gotten even more immediate and even less thoughtful as the opposite instinct has gotten more extreme on the other side of the political spectrum. To one group, the cops are always wrong. To the other, the cops are always right. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that one group finds it politically expedient to operate as if the cops are always wrong, while the other finds it politically expedient to operate as if they’re always right. This may not always involve rank dishonesty, but just a willingness to ignore cases that fail to properly support the narrative. Which, on second thought, is rank dishonesty.
What’s lost, as usual, is logic and principle. For conservatives, the particular principles lost are the two that should most define our movement: our belief in the value of human life and our skepticism of government.
We cannot treat a dead man as just a little “mistake” that “armchair quarterbacks” exaggerate. The taking of innocent life is a travesty and injustice that should provoke the righteous fury of anyone who appreciates its value. And we cannot look with blind faith at government agents who have the power to carry guns and lock people in cages. They must have this power to do their jobs, and their jobs must exist if we are to have a just and ordered society, but we should recognize, as we do with any other government employee, the corrupting influence of such power. It’s a strange thing to worry deeply about abuses of power among everyone except the very people whose abuses have the potential to be the most immediately dangerous to us. Your congressman does not have the authority to legally gun you down in a hotel hallway. Police do. That doesn’t mean they all would abuse that authority — or even that a very sizable percentage would — but they could. And so we should be on the watch and ready to cry out loudly whenever those abuses occur.