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Matt Lewis: Smartphone Era Challenges Americans' Established Perceptions On Race And Policing


How we perceive what's happened over this past week has a lot to do with who we are and where we come from. Our next guest is Matt Lewis. He's a senior contributor to the conservative news site, The Daily Caller. In a post just two days ago, he wrote - it's called "A Confession" - about how his views on the police and his interactions with black Americans have changed. Matt, thanks so much for coming in.

MATT LEWIS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You wrote in your piece, and I'm quoting here, "if there's any good to come from this horrible trend, it may be that the scales are coming off the eyes of a lot of well-meaning, if naive, white Americans." And I thought that was so interesting. That's a biblical reference. I mean, you're referring there to when Saul becomes the Apostle Paul, and it's this huge moment. He converts to Christianity. That's what this has felt like to you, that level of an epiphany?

LEWIS: Yeah, I think it is an epiphany, and there's really - you know, video is a game changer.


LEWIS: And we saw this happen during the civil rights movement actually, where you had TV cameras, at the time, that were capturing pictures of, you know, fire hoses being turned on blacks. And I think that, you know, what happens is - look, there are certain people who are never - it - they don't - they honestly don't care what's happening. And so you're never going to change those hearts and minds. But I think there are a lot of people out there, all across America, who frankly didn't realize that this problem was still such a big problem. And it's hard to deny, though, when you have video evidence.

MARTIN: So did you watch the videos of the past week, in particular...

LEWIS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...The one out of Minnesota and - which was gruesome. It was hard to watch. What was your reaction?

LEWIS: Well, and I'm a dad too, you know? And so...

MARTIN: There's a child in the car.

LEWIS: The child in the car. And, you know, in fact, the child trying to calm the mother at one point. And so, you know, I think as we, you know, as we mature, we also - we see things differently. You know, as a father, I see things differently than before I was a dad. But yeah, when you watch that video - and I think we do have to acknowledge, of course, that one of the downsides of this sort of video is that it's anecdotal by definition. I mean, it's a slice of life. And also I don't want to say that it's selectively edited, but whenever the person turns Facebook Live on, we don't necessarily know what happened...

MARTIN: ...Happened before or after, yeah.

LEWIS: ...A minute before. But having said that, it was very difficult, I think, for anybody to watch a video like that and not be moved emotionally. And the problem is we keep seeing these videos. So this isn't an anomaly.

MARTIN: Yeah, so what were your perceptions of the police when you were growing up?

LEWIS: Well, so my dad's a - something I didn't talk about in this post that I wrote at The Daily Caller - my dad was a prison guard in Hagerstown, Md., for about 30 years. My father-in-law used to be a Parks police officer. So I come from an area that is incredibly pro-police. The default was always to assume - you know, I was taught growing up if you have a problem, you go to a police officer.


LEWIS: They'll help take care of it. That's the opposite, I'm sure, of what a lot of young African-Americans are told because they live in a different context than I grew up in. But so that was the default position is that the police are your friends, the police - they have an incredibly tough job, and, of course, they do. And that is the way that we were - that's sort of the - you adopt that world view and, you know, there's the assumption that, yes, of course, in the past, bad things happen, but it's a real minority now, you know?

And you sort of believe what you're told growing up. And I don't want to - you know, there are lots of, I'm sure, heroic police officers out there. But we have to grapple with what we're seeing.

MARTIN: So was it just - when did this change of heart happen? I mean, was it just over this past week? What was the tipping point for you? I mean, was it just this video? Or were there conversations that you had with other people in your life who made a difference in this change of heart?

LEWIS: It's an evolution. I mean, I should also mention that aside from the fact that I grew up, you know, with a dad who was a correctional officer, but I grew up in the context of the 1970s and '80s, where the country was sort of spiraling out of control. And there was a sense that law and order had broken down. And so I think that there was - that was also part of the political context - that we had to restore law and order.

But as a conservative who cares about philosophy - and I think it's a false choice to say you're either for the police or you're for, you know, the activists or the people in the street. I think that it's - they're not mutually exclusive. We should be for ordered liberty - is sort of where conservatives should be and for the truth. And the truth is I started - once I became a young adult and started riding around with Grateful Dead stickers on the back of my car, I started seeing signs that not all police were great. Some of the interactions - I had nothing, of course, compared to what we saw in Minneapolis - but just my own personal experience - my world view changes.

I began to have interactions with police officers, and some of them were very professional and very good people. And some of them, frankly, were not. And - but still in all, I mean, this is an evolution. And, you know, that post that I wrote - I tried to be incredibly honest. And, you know, you keep seeing these videos over time. And I felt like it was time that I write something about it.

MARTIN: Matt Lewis - he's the author of "Too Dumb To Fail: How The GOP Betrayed The Reagan Revolution To Win Elections." And we've been talking about the post he has written for The Daily Caller called "A Confession." Thank you so much for talking with us...

LEWIS: Thank you.

MARTIN: ...And sharing your thoughts on that. We appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.