At the RNC, Republicans Go All In on Police Impunity

At the RNC, Republicans Go All In on Police Impunity

At the RNC, Republicans Go All In on Police Impunity

As Jacob Blake lay in his hospital bed, Republicans began their convention by defending “the Blue” and refusing to say Black lives matter.


On Sunday night, video was released showing the attempted murder of Jacob Blake on a street in Kenosha, Wis. The video shows Blake, a Black man, walking towards his parked vehicle followed by two police officers who have their guns drawn on him. As Blake reaches his car door, one of the officers grabs Blake’s tank top and holds him in place as he, or the other officer, fires multiple shots into Blake at point-blank range. In the video, seven shots can be heard.

Witnesses say Blake had exited his car not long before to break up a fight between two women. Cops, who were apparently called to the scene, claim that Blake was noncompliant with their instructions when they arrived.

Blake’s three young children were in the car when the police shot him. Blake was taken to a hospital, where he remains in the intensive care unit.

Less than 24 hours later, on Monday, Republicans started their national nominating convention in a crowded, mask-optional room in Charlotte, N.C. Vice President Mike Pence, accepting his renomination to his office, declared, “We’re gonna back the Blue.” Pence, apparently, couldn’t say “Black lives matter.” Not only that, he insisted on elevating the police, which is a profession, to the level of an immutable (if, yes, constructed) characteristic like race, color, or ethnicity. There’s no such thing as a “blue” life. There are just people armed at the behest of the state who are supposed to follow constitutional guidelines while they protect and serve unarmed citizens.

Such was the first installment of the Republicans’ days-long convention-as-culture war, which will cast cops, like the ones who shot Blake, as victims in need of “protection” from an unarmed citizenry. If Blake’s story comes up at all, it will arrive in the form of red-faced denunciations of the protesters decrying Blake’s attempted murder, rather than outrage over the attempted murder of another unarmed Black man.

Pence didn’t even bother to offer “thoughts and prayers” to Blake or his children or family. When it comes to Black men gunned down by the cops, even the usual useless platitudes get caught in Republican throats.

Pence, presumably, isn’t at all sorry that a Black man was shot several times in the back as his children cried out in horror. I imagine he, and most Republicans, think the murder was justified. I can tell you exactly what the cops will say: They’ll say that they thought Blake was “reaching for a gun” somewhere in his vehicle (even though there was no gun). The cops will say, with a straight face, that they shot a man in the back in “self-defense.” And that defense might work. Betty Shelby, the cop who shot Terrence Crutcher in the middle of a Tulsa street when she was surrounded by fellow officers and a police helicopter, was acquitted.

Many Republicans just don’t think gunning down unarmed Black men is illegal. Many of them probably think the Black guy had it coming, for one reason or another. The Republican Party has fully aligned itself with the most violent and racist elements in our society. Everybody from the white supremacists who showed up in Charlottesville to QAnon conspiracy theorists to unashamed bigots like Laura Loomer—anybody, quite simply, who has violent impulses toward people of color—has a home in the modern Republican Party.

There’s a reason the New York Police Union openly endorsed Donald Trump for president. It’s because cops know that Trump and the Republicans will take their side against any Black person they murder. Republicans simply do not want to protect Black people from the police.

Democrats haven’t always been champions of Black lives either. But Republicans have stood, and continue to stand, against every suggested measure to address police brutality. I’m not just talking about the big, structural changes that progressives have been pushing in recent years; Republicans oppose even the small changes that would simply make it harder for cops to gun down Black people with impunity. Republicans oppose measures that would bring more transparency to police forces through the disclosure of their disciplinary records. Republicans oppose a national registry of “bad apples” so that they can’t be shuffled from one department to another. Republicans oppose independent commissions set up to prosecute police. Republicans oppose federal oversight and consent decrees entered into with the Department of Justice, oppose federal use-of-force regulations, and oppose strengthening Fourth Amendment protections to prevent cops from racial profiling or executing no-knock warrants.

It would be possible to support any or all of these positions and still be a “law and order” Republican. Transparency, accountability, and oversight over policing are ideas everybody should agree to, whether they believe that systemic racism infects law enforcement or not.

But you won’t find those kinds of Republicans, or plans, at the convention. Instead of an anti-police-brutality agenda, Republicans have Tim Scott, the Senator from South Carolina who happens to be Black. Scott spoke last night at the convention. Scott’s proposals to address police brutality are underwhelming, but if Scott represented the actual Republican agenda on police violence, it would at least be a starting point.

But Scott’s ideas were not adopted as part of the Republican Party platform. In fact, the Republican Party in 2020 adopted no platform at all. The GOP blamed (wait for it) coronavirus social-distancing rules for preventing it from gathering and agreeing on a 2020 agenda. Instead of adopting actual policies, the Republicans just put out a blanket resolution “enthusiastically” supporting Donald Trump. I’m not making that up. The 2020 GOP is not a political party; it is, officially, a cult of personality set up to support Trump.

If there is one thing we know about Trump and the party that is now forever tied to his existence, it’s that they do not care if people die. Black and brown people are, and have long been, at the top of that list of not caring, but the thing about death cults is that they tend to expand. Today’s Republicans don’t care if people are killed by law enforcement. They don’t care if people die in floods, hurricanes, or fires brought on by climate change. They figuratively shrug their shoulders as our children are gunned down at school. And just a few weeks back, we saw President Trump literally shrug his shoulders and say “It is what it is” when confronted with the reality of the Americans felled by Covid-19 on his watch.

The callousness of Trump and the Republicans is matched only by the nihilism of their supporters. A recent poll found that 57 percent of Republicans viewed the 170,000 (and counting) American deaths from Covid-19 as “acceptable.”

This willful indifference in the face of systemic suffering is the defining feature of the modern Republican Party. By championing a kind of latter-day social Darwinism, Republicans try to absolve themselves of responsibility. They don’t have to come up with a national plan to combat the virus if there was nothing that could be done anyway. Grandma had to die of something, I guess. They don’t have to respond to mass shootings if they act like school shooters are unpredictable lightning bolts from an angry God. They don’t have to address police brutality if Black lives do not matter.

An unarmed Black man was shot seven times in the back in broad daylight on camera on the eve of the Republican National Convention, and the vice president of the United States didn’t even adjust his talking points to suggest that cops are anything other than the victims of the protests against that kind of violence. Two tropical storms will slam into the Gulf Coast, at nearly the same time, during the convention, and the Republicans will not adjust their speeches that portray climate change as a liberal hoax perpetrated by people who want to raise the cost of doing business. And the entire convention will be held in an alternate reality where the coronavirus either doesn’t exist, or has already been defeated, or will be defeated by a miracle cure Trump will present to the nation “very soon.”

The only response Republicans have to the human suffering they’ve caused is to spend a week pretending that the humans who died on their watch never existed in the first place.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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