Politics & Policy

Justice Is Bigger Than Narrative

(Stock image: Ntsmedia/Dreamstime)
Two incidents in Texas advance two very different narratives about police and the use of force.

The story out of Balch Springs, Texas, is horrible. Based on the available evidence (always an important caveat), it began like countless stories in suburban America. A mom left town, and her son made the mistake that kids tend to make — he threw a party. The party got loud, and the neighbors called the police. When the party-goers learned that the police were on the way, they did what teens have done since time immemorial. They scattered.

Sounds normal, right? But in this case, there was a deadly, horrific twist. As the party broke up, gunshots rang out. Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards (Jordan is black) got into a car with his brother and three other kids; they backed out of their parking spot and started to leave the party. None of them had been drinking. There were no weapons in the car.

At that moment, they heard cursing, there were more shots, and Jordan was shot in the head, straight through the passenger window. Witnesses said that his “forehead was smoking.” The shots came from the police.

The story gets worse. Initially the police reported that officers fired on the car after it backed towards them in an “aggressive manner.” Then they watched the body-camera footage, and the account changed. The car was actually driving away from police when the shooting started. Now the police chief says that he doesn’t believe the shooting met the department’s “core values.”

In a polarized nation, our political lives are dominated by narratives. We hold on to the stories that advance our narrative, discard as aberrations the stories that contradict the narrative, and press forward — armed to the teeth with tales of outrage. While only the most crazed radicals believe that their side is always right, the contradictory stories tend to disappear. Conservatives are quick to know that “hands up, don’t shoot” was one of the lies of the year. They tend to be quick to forget men such as Walter Scott or don’t know anything at all about Demetrius Hollins.

The leftist commitment to narrative is legendary. The Black Lives Matter movement is still deemed “peaceful” even as its rallies keep turning violent, and its supporters have gunned down cops in the streets. The “hands up, don’t shoot” mantra is still on activists’ lips in spite of all available evidence. And, as the disruption of Heather Mac Donald’s speech at Claremont McKenna College showed, even questioning BLM’s statistical claims and allegations is considered somehow anti-black.

There is only one way through the tribalism of competing narratives, and that’s through a commitment to justice. No, not “social justice.” True justice — the quest for evidence, the search for facts, and the dispensation of punishment without regard to race, creed, class, or religion.

We live in a complicated country, and simple narratives can’t tell its story.

For conservatives, that means leaving the reflexive defense of the police to the police unions and police lawyers. It means not having a “rooting interest” in any given case aside from rooting for the truth to emerge. It also means grieving with fellow Americans who’ve suffered unimaginable loss, a loss compounded by the horrific realization that it came through the hands of the state — the very people who are supposed to “protect and serve.”

None of this means that conservatives shouldn’t examine each case and each allegation with a skeptical eye. Early reports are often wrong (remember when Charlotte, N.C., erupted in riots because of unfounded rumors that police shot Keith Lamont Scott when he was merely holding a book?), and the mainstream media often shares the far Left’s narrative. But it does mean that the skepticism shouldn’t be limited to the “other” side. Radical activists aren’t the only liars in American life. A depressing number of cops lie with depressing regularity.

We live in a complicated country, and simple narratives can’t tell its story. Yesterday, in Dallas — not too far from Balch Springs — Derick Lamont Brown, the former chairman of the New Black Panther Party in Dallas, reportedly shot a paramedic and a neighbor, leaving them both bleeding in the street. When police arrived, Brown opened fire, and multiple officers risked their lives to drag the wounded paramedic and neighbor to safety.

That’s two Texas incidents, and they advance two very different narratives. In one, cops risk their lives to save lives while a black radical commits an act of vicious violence. In the other, a cop fires into a car full of black kids for apparently no good reason. We have to remember them both. We have to grapple with them both. Any other approach forsakes truth for the tribe. Any other approach elevates politics over people. Seek justice. The narrative is the lesser concern.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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