The police departments like the one in Ferguson are one of the great moral challenges of this Republic. We can argue endlessly about the analysis but even the police in Ferguson agree they harass and brutalize citizens of color. How much of the abuse of police power in Ferguson, Missouri is a function of racism? How much is hatred of the poor? How much is “mere” abuse of power? In a way these academic questions are distractions: Nobody argues that the police in Ferguson are not deeply troubled and act in manners incompatible with conservative political and Christian moral values.
Things must change in Ferguson, Missouri: rapidly, transparently, and effectively. Ferguson should have a civic power controlled by residents and using a minimum of force to maintain order. The police do not exist to collect taxes. They do not exist to harass citizens. They do not exist to “balance the budget.”
The facts (forget the interpretation) of the report should sicken the Christian who reads it. Dogs were let loose on residents, disproportionately African-Americans. Fines were levied as taxes and then fines were multiplied for people who could not paid the original fines. The rich could pay while the poor (disproportionally African-American) were fined again.
A first value of conservatives is hostility to intrusive government. Whether Tolkien’s distrust of “sharers” in Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis bemoaning “cutting the red tape” in the use of police power in That Hideous Strength, Christian conservatives instinctively distrust expansive police powers. The residents of Ferguson are not represented on the police force. The police force uses excessive force. The police force targets African-Americans disproportionately.
These are the facts and they are unacceptable in a free society.
A second experience of Christians is the knowledge that police power is dangerous. We hid from the Romans. We are being killed by governments across the world. Christians stand in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed everywhere. The prophets thundered against unequal application of justice to the poor and favoring the rich. We know beyond a doubt this happens in Ferguson.
Finally, given the history of the United States and of Missouri it is highly implausible that these abuses fall mostly on African-Americans accidentally. The power structure in Ferguson is white: the powerful do not face multiple fines and harassment by police. In the lifetime of people I know terrorists organizations burned African-Americans alive and the police did nothing or aided the terrorists. I grew up as a friend of a man who was used by the State of New York for psychological experimentation (the joys of secular science!) because he was an African-American male and a ward of the state.
With that history in mind does any person of goodwill doubt that race plays a role in the evils of the Ferguson police department?
I believe in order, not riots. I support police as much as possible: they have horrifically difficult jobs. The evils of departments like Ferguson, departments that exist over this entire nation, undermine the support of good people for the police and threaten to precipitate the very revolutionary disorder they “attempt” to halt.
As a conservative, I repudiate strong-armed policing that piles up fines and is out of touch with the locality it polices. I repudiate the militarization of the police and the use of unnecessary force. I repudiate using the police to collect revenue. That is disgusting in a republic.
As a Christian, I abhor the abuse of the elderly and the weak that has happened in Ferguson beyond doubt. It is the job of the Christian to stand in solidarity with the poor against the powers of the age. A Christian must cry out against the racist “humor” of the (now fired) police officers who felt safe to “joke” in ways offensive to the people they (allegedly) served.
Selma happened in my lifetime but I was just baby. I am man and police forces like Ferguson exist: there is a duty to speak up and demand justice.
The devils will come in the details about what to do, but angels know something must be done. I would not agree with my “left-of-center” friends on all their proposed solutions to Ferguson, but surely all Christians can agree that the police culture of Ferguson was and is sick and must change. The elite of Ferguson have not fixed the problem and the state of Missouri has ignored it. It is time for the Department of Justice to act.