The altar of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is littered with glass and debris after a bomb ripped through the building in Birmingham, Ala., Sept.15, 1963. Windows at right were blown out by the blast. Four black girls were killed in the explosion. (AP photo)

The Democracy of the Dead Includes Philando Castile and Alton Sterling

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” — G. K. Chesterton

As a conservative, I believe in law and order. I believe that police are there to protect and serve and put their lives on the line on a daily basis. As a conservative, I believe we are to conserve what is good. But as a conservative, and as an evangelical, I also share the Founders’ sense that men are not to be trusted with power.

I am a conservative because I am a Christian and because I am a Christian I know that all men are sinners and I want as few in charge of me as possible. I must also understand and recognize that there are bad police officers. The police generally are presumed good. But there are always going to be those who are bad.

On my radio show and both on social media and the comments I accidentally have read while at RedState, I know conservatives understand that because of the high rate of violence among young black men in America toward each other, police have every right to be wary in encounters of young black men. I have long maintained that position.

But I think something else needs to be said and I think I and others on the right need to remember something important.

As a conservative, I value the individual over the collective. It is often said of liberals that they love their fellow man, but hate their neighbor while conservatives love their neighbor, but hate their fellow man. The two great distinctions between conservatives and liberals is first where each puts the balance between liberty and equality and second how each prioritizes the individual or the collective of humanity. Conservatives value the individual and the individual’s liberty.

If this is really true, then I and my conservative friends need a recalibration. While we may be law and order we need to get away from the idea that the propensity of any perceived group reflects on the individual therein.

By that I mean I think we need to get out of the habit of saying the police have a right to be wary of encounters with young black men given the propensity of violence in that demographic. The police have a right and need to be wary of certain behaviors and certain situations, but none of us have a right to be wary of someone just because of the color of their skin.

To be sure, there are times the lines are blurred and people may disagree, but we could all stand to exercise a bit more grace.

If I believe that all men are created equal and that the rights and liberty of men are vested in individuals, then I must shy away from giving law enforcement a pass for treating any of my fellow citizens with suspicion because of their age and the color of their skin. And whether my friends want to admit it or not, I think a lot of us have been giving that pass.

I also think we need to be reminded that we should not assume wholesale that all police are good or bad, but rather consider the merits of the individual police officers. I think we will all be better off if we start seeing each other as individuals made in the image of God than as groups made in the image of perceived behaviors.

Our natural instinct is to cast blame. I think we need to spend much more time trying to reconcile with one another. That does not mean we will always agree. In fact, we will not always agree. In some cases, we will very much disagree. But I think we do need to realize that while I see police as protecting and serving there are many of my fellow citizens who view the police with deep suspicion and they have legitimate reasons for doing so.

Let me ask you a question.

Do you believe that a black person is more likely to randomly get pulled over in their car by a police officer than a white person?

If you answered no, you need to wake up to reality. My black friends are vastly more likely to get pulled over.

If you answered “yes, but,” you might not be treating that hypothetical black driver as an individual, but as a part of a group.

And we can’t do that for any group of citizens anymore than we can do that for the police.

We are always going to have bad people. There will always be violence. There will always be corruption. We will not be free of any of this until that final day when true justice and abundant mercy overflow. But I think we all need to work a little more at bringing the eternal to the temporal and we need to be more willing to break bread with each other.

In Heaven “[t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There will be no black and white either. That picture at the top of this post is from the bombed remains of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It could be any church, except no white church in America has ever had to worry as much about a bombing or a Dylan Roof as a black church. While we cannot be anchored to the past and let grievances prevent our path forward, we should not be so quick to dismiss the lessons of the past in directing our future. The Democracy of the Dead is not just made up of old white men. It includes Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair, the four children killed at that church and the many others killed during that era. The Democracy of the Dead also includes Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

It is the content of an individual person’s character that must count, not the color of his skin or the pedigree of his origins.

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Erick Erickson

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