Why are conservatives soft on police brutality?

Law enforcement is challenging by nature, but it’s especially hard when the police are expected to serve as a flood gate against the consequences of a million bad policy decisions. That insight largely explains the conservative reflex to sneer when liberals decry oppressive law enforcement. In the eyes of law-and-order conservatives, the police have effectively been tasked with containing the squalor created by decades of liberal folly. Nitpicking the way they go about this nasty job just seems like a bridge too far.

Perhaps the most stalwart defender of this type of view has been Heather Mac Donald. Over many years of commenting on this topic, Mac Donald has been particularly assiduous about arguing that apparent evidence of “racial bias” on the part of policemen really just reflects disparate levels of lawlessness. Young African-American males are indeed disproportionately likely to be stopped, arrested, shot, or killed by the police. That’s because the former are dramatically more likely to be engaged in criminal activity. According to Mac Donald, there’s good reason to think that the police are actually less likely to shoot or kill black suspects, if we adjust for disparate rates of criminality.

Whether or not this is generally true, one thing surely is: America’s cities are home to a deeply dysfunctional urban culture. This is not just the consequence of bad policing. Decades of infantilizing liberal policies have undermined family and community structures, leaving a hideous legacy of illegitimacy, addiction and criminality. Conservatives stick up for the police because they understand how dearly liberals would love to make law enforcement into their scapegoat. And that just isn’t reasonable. There’s no nice or happy way to deal with this level of social breakdown, and if you aren’t willing to discuss the deleterious effects of the welfare state and the sexual revolution, you’re in a poor position to criticize the police.