Why Black Lives Matter to true conservatives

Note: I started writing this when news of Freddie Gray’s death was still fresh in the national mind. I never finished it. The trends in the news have moved on, but the principle still applies. Black lives matter to true conservatives.

Politically, I’m a conservative committed to principles of limited government and the founding principals of America. And it breaks my heart that Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown are dead.

It also breaks my heart that those two attitudes are almost contradictory today. In the aftermath of these men dying during or after encounters with police, the conservative blogosphere has exploded with invective against the deceased. Content to let the left be the only political philosophy affirming that “Black Lives Matter,” conservatives have devoted most of their comments on the issue to the demonization of the dead and defending—without question and without suspicion—the officers involved in the deaths.

When a man dies and you focus on his rap sheet, his attitude, and his seemingly limited contributions to society, then your response to “Black Lives Matter” is a collective, “So?” This is not a conservative response.

True conservatives led by traditional conservative values ought to react differently to these situations because, first of all, life is a sacred right; and, second of all, the government is never more powerful than when its agents can take life without consequence.

A different reaction to these incidents does not mean we approve the riots that have raged through Ferguson and Baltimore. It does not mean we support any or all of Barack Obama’s actions as president, or that we condemn police officers, or support all tactics used by protesters who happen to say “Black Lives Matter.” But it does require that we actually believe some basic principles of conservatism.

Black Lives Matter

The sacredness of life is one of the cornerstones of conservative thinking. This belief has been a part of America from the beginning, when Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Life was one of the inalienable rights which the document asserts we receive from our Creator—not at the whim of a government official, but from God himself.

…all men are created equal, [and] they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This belief underpins many aspects of the conservative movement. Our belief in the sacredness of life should not only move us to sadness at the loss of life, but also to an enthusiastic affirmation of anything that supports a culture of life.

Some conservatives have responded to “Black Lives Matter” by saying “All Lives Matter.” It’s entirely true—all lives do matter. But if All Lives Matter, then certainly Black Lives Matter, and we should have no problem with affirming that. If it gives you heartburn to say that Black Lives Matter, or if your response to that phrase is “So? Look at his rap sheet,” then, no, you don’t truly believe that All Lives Matter.

Life is sacred. Neither the color of a person’s skin or the length of the list of his sins detract from the sacredness of God’s gift of life to that person. All Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter.

Government’s role is to secure rights, not to trample them

Not everyone accepts life as sacred. So for centuries, humans have formed laws and governments—ranging from rudimentary to complex—to preserve rights. The Declaration of Independence reminds us:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

And what happens when government does not measure up to that purpose?

whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

Conservatives argue what our Founding Fathers knew: when the government gains too many powers, or is unchecked and unbalanced in its use of power, then it is likely to destroy its citizens’ rights moreso than protect them. So many conservatives view government with a certain amount of suspicion, and we insist on adherence to the constitution, which prescribes the checks, balances, and limitations designed to keep the government from developing enough power to trample God-given rights.

If you look at the grievances that the Declaration of Independence listed against the British monarchy, and if you read the Bill of Rights, you can get an idea of what was on the minds of this new nation. Many of the statements centered on due process of law. The Bill of Rights limited the government’s ability to impose severe punishments, search or seize property, charge people for the same crime multiple times, postpone trials indefinitely, and more.

Our Founding Fathers were concerned about the prospect of government depriving us of our rights under the guise of enforcing law and order.

Therefore, shouldn’t we be concerned if a government employee deprives someone of life without checks, balances, and consequences?

When a police officer takes someone’s life, or seriously injures someone, we owe it to justice, to the deceased, and to our  belief in limited government to thoroughly investigate the matter. The investigation needs to be unbiased, with checks and balances in place to ensure that no agent of the government is allowed to deprive an individual of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness without due process of law. Regardless of the skin color or personal history of the person who is dead, if the officer is found to have acted improperly, there must be some form of punishment.

I wholeheartedly support police officers. They work more than most of us would like for less pay than most of us would prefer. They are vital in enforcing law and order and protecting our rights. And I believe that in many cases the officers will be found innocent of wrongdoing.

But so far, conservatives have tended to believe the officer’s story before the investigation is complete. They show little or no sympathy toward the family of the deceased, and they spend so much effort maligning the deceased individual’s character that you’d think he was running for president as a Democrat. The only exception I have noticed involved video evidence showing a merciless slaying in Charleston.

I find it hard to fathom that people who view IRS audits and school lunch programs with vigilante suspicion would not do the same when a government official guns down an individual. We can support law enforcement while supporting the protection of the rights with which we are endowed by our creator.

Still a conservative

In today’s polarized political landscape, agreeing with “the other side” on one issue brands an individual as a member of the other side. But the assertion that Black Lives Matter and that we need to protect against the potential for corrupt hearts behind a police badge is entirely consistent with a conservative world view.

I’m a conservative. I believe that government should have only limited powers that are subject to checks, balances, and the consent of the governed.

I believe that America has a vast spending problem and that the federal government is overly bloated.

I believe that religious freedom is one of the paramount freedoms guaranteed in the constitution.

I believe free markets result in greater economic well-being, the (un)Affordable Care Act was a disaster, left-wing math doubles the national debt in the attempt to cut it in half, and all sorts of other ideas that would irritate liberals.

I believe that life is sacred.

And black lives matter.