The GOP, along with broad swaths of conservative America, is frequently condemned in progressive circles for not backing the Black Lives Matter movement or even understanding why it exists in the first place.
But a draft of the GOP's 2016 platform that party leaders are working on in the build-up to the Republican National Convention contains—whether inadvertently or not—a strong argument that uses the party's own favored terminology to show how conservatives could support one major aspect of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The language can be found in a section that criticizes the overpolicing of minor transactional crimes. Text of the platform draft section was published in the New York Times:
The power of career civil servants and political appointees to criminalize behavior is one of the worst violations of constitutional order perpetrated by the administrative state. We urge an immediate halt to the creation of new ‘crimes’ and a bipartisan presidential commission to purge the Code and the body of regulation of old ‘crimes.’
In other words, the platform authors are worried that too many instances of everyday behavior are being regulated and criminalized, and want some low-level offenses struck from the books.
The passage feels especially potent in the wake of the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. His death drew comparisons to that of Eric Garner in 2014. Both were engaging in small time side hustles to put food on the table: Sterling was selling CDs in front of a corner store, and Garner was selling loose cigarettes.
The statement fits perfectly with the conservative worldview that a smaller government is a better government. It also happens to align almost completely with part of the platform that some Black Lives Matter proponents have put forward. The thinking goes that, either by purging some of these lesser crimes from the books, or by easing up on their enforcement, there is less chance for innocuous situations to escalate. Making these moves would also prevent an untold number of people from getting criminal records for laughably small infractions.
You would think that someone in the upper reaches of the GOP would be jumping at the occasion to underscore this fact—to explain that this conservative approach to lawmaking can help alleviate a repeatedly enraging situation, or that conservative principles can be used to support small-time vendors getting harassed for petty crimes by police on street corners.
It's clear that some people are agitating for this—as the existence of the language in the draft attests. Sometimes, libertarian-leaning Republicans like Rand Paul allude to something close to it. Other times, conservative writers have called for fellow Republicans to clearly object to enforcement of arbitrary laws that largely affect inner city populations.
But it’s also clear that this is not the dominant narrative. Instead, we get presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump declaring that he is "the law and order candidate," in an unlikely echo of Richard Nixon.
“We must maintain law and order at the highest level, or we will cease to have a country, 100 percent,” Trump told a crowd this week, in response to last week's events.
About $2 trillion moves through the "underground economy" each year, according to one estimate. This includes day laborers doing unlicensed construction work, women operating illegal hair salons out of their apartments, fruit vendors standing on busy intersections, and, yes, people selling CDs and loose cigarettes in front of corner stores.
People involved in this shadow economy run the risk of confrontations with everyone from authorities to random bystanders simply for trying to make a living—or, to put in conservative friendly terms, be an entrepreneur.
In one case in early 2015, two teenagers in New Jersey were confronted by police as they were knocking on doors, offering to shovel snow for a small fee after a blizzard. Officers asked them to stop because an existing law prohibited unlicensed solicitors and peddlers.
A video that recently went viral of an older white woman yelling at a young black boy for selling candy outside a Target underscores this reality. She asks to see his license for being there, until a man cuts her off, saying he will buy all of the candy.
It's broken windows policing at its most intrusive, as internalized by a culture at large.
"[Overpolicing] renders poor people’s survival strategies a crime," noted Salon's Daniel Denvir, in a commentary about how broken windows-style policing targets the poor, and often, people of color.
Those same people wind up with a long string of arrests for minor offenses—making it harder, if not impossible, for them to enter the formal economy.
Rudy Espinoza, the executive director of a nonprofit that works with street vendors in L.A., told the Washington Post that most people he works with take these kinds of jobs because they're trying to avoid handouts and create work for themselves. But government programs that might help them turn their businesses into more formally legal entities often require the kind of business experience they don't always have.
“We’re criminalizing poverty,” Espinoza told the paper. “We’re saying you’re super poor, but to get to the next level [as a business owner], you have to have three years of business experience. In the meantime, we’re going to fine you, we’re going to arrest you, we’re going to confiscate your stuff, we’re going to kill you."
It's worth noting that the Arab Spring, one of the largest political upheavals in recent memory, started largely because the Tunisian government was engaging in this style of overpolicing. Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old vegetable vendor, became enraged after police confiscated his vegetable cart because he lacked the proper permit. When he reportedly tried to pay the fine, an officer slapped him in the face. Then, when he tried to appeal to higher-ups for relief, he was denied a hearing.
Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest, in an act that sparked the entire Arab Spring.
The conservative reaction to all of this—in theory at least—is that this kind of petty government interference stands in the way of the path to a more prosperous, free country. And that's not a bad reaction. It's one place where conservatives could easily align themselves with the communities who find themselves on the receiving end of these sorts of arbitrary regulations—sometimes with tragic results.
It's too bad that, instead of focusing more on issues like this where marginalized people could actually benefit from a looser governmental grip, conservatives get the most worked up about regulations in situations where they actually might be warranted: environmental regulations for big corporations, for instance, or regulations of energy consumption and Wall Street.
Even the laudable language quoted above from the GOP's platform draft is preceded by a treatise about the "political second-guessing from federal officials" that makes police officers' jobs harder, and about the need to respect officers seemingly unquestionably. This puts the GOP's official platform in the ironic position of both hating the regulation while blindly loving the people who enforce it.
Perhaps Republicans should listen to their own advice when it comes to deregulation at the street level. For once, they might actually attract people of color with one of their policies.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.