I’ve been watching the happenings in Baltimore with interest this week and if you haven’t been, you should be. The protests and sometimes violent outbursts going on there were spurred by the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, in police custody. At some point, is spine was snapped during his arrest and the police made no call for medical help. The issue in this case isn’t necessarily police brutality, but police neglect.
ThinkProgress has put up an article cataloging police indifference which resulted in death. They have four examples where police neglected the health and welfare of their prisoner and it resulted in death. As this article and the Freddie Gray story highlight, there are more problems with American police than just gun deaths and brutality.
But there’s another category of injury and even death that can come from arrest, either during police brutality or even in its absence: Disregard for the well-being of an individual who has now been transformed into a suspect or defendant. This neglect was on full display in the death of Eric Garner. Officers held him in an illegal chokehold. But the real display of callousness came as they ignored his pleas of “I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.” That is a particularly poignant sentence. As the article notes, it is not just neglect that caused some prisoners to die. In the case of Jorge Azuneca, an officer told him, “You can talk, so you can breathe.” That’s not just neglect. That is evidence that these officers do not put any value on the lives in their care. They simply do not care.
What is interesting me today is how some of the biggest defenders of the police are conservative religious pro-lifers. My Facebook feed was full of my conservative friends talking about how the “rioters” are idiots (and worse) and that the victims of police brutality were criminals and therefore didn’t deserve consideration anyway. “If they didn’t want the police to get them, they shouldn’t have committed a crime in the first place.” I had to mute quite a few people so I wouldn’t have to see such comments.
I am distressed by the disconnect between people’s pro-life values and their care for the human lives in police custody. The pro-lifers I know are earnest, good people, but at some level they stop caring. Once a person is born, their value seems to go down. You can see this in the pro-lifers’ support for cutting benefits for the needy, supporting the death penalty and, of course, the way a “criminal’s” life has less value than a non-criminal.
To be clear, not all pro-lifers are like this. There are plenty of movements towards a “consistent life ethic.” ConsistentLife.org is one. There is this letter to Congress asking for politicians to have a consistent life ethic. And there are essays like this one from Christian Ethics Today. Some people are trying to be consistent and they should not be lumped in with those who are not.
The people who should really be outraged at the treatment of Freddie Gray and others are the pro-life crowd. So why are they not? Why do they seem to be supporting the police who have let people die or have killed people indiscriminately? What’s the difference between an unborn child and a born person? Apparently the former is more valuable in the eyes of some pro-lifers.
If ever there was a call for the pro-life movement to stand up and do some good, this is it. This is their issue: the value and the sanctity of human life. It is too bad that they are failing the test of their beliefs when so many lives are at stake.