Any conversation about the murders of two New York City Police officers this weekend must start by acknowledging the ordinary heroism of law enforcement personnel that puts them in harm’s way every day. We should then acknowledge that all those who have criticized police actions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York after the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not responsible for the slaying of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. We don’t know yet who or what may have influenced the reportedly mentally disturbed shooter, who was apparently bent on “revenge” for Brown and Garner. But we do know this. After four months of non-stop condemnations of the police and the justice system for both racism and deliberately targeting African Americans for violence, it is time for the race hucksters and their political enablers such as President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the campaign of incitement against the police.
Conservatives know very well that attempts to politicize violence on the part of the mentally ill is deeply unfair. They know that liberal claims that either the Tea Party or conservatives such as Sarah Palin were somehow responsible for the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was sheer slander. If some angry supporters of the police now try to say Obama, Holder, or de Blasio approved or countenanced the actions of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, they are just as wrong. Obama, Holder, and de Blasio have all rightly condemned the murder of the two officers.
But once we acknowledge that, we cannot ignore the fact that the discussion about race and the police in this country has gotten out of control in recent months and that these same political leaders who should have been seeking to restrain the public from drawing extreme and general conclusions about two very extraordinary cases instead kept the pot boiling for political advantage.
Even worse than that, they have empowered and legitimized racial demagogues like Al Sharpton who have sought to profit from exploiting these tragedies to promote their own agendas. In turn, Sharpton and those like him who are given prominent air time on networks like MSNBC and CNN have encouraged protesters who have not only engaged in violence but often openly called for the killing of police, a stance that has been openly endorsed by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and other radicals.
The act of a single possibly mad gunman does not mean that Americans must never question the actions of police or ponder broader issues about race. It is misleading to claim that those who have raised such questions have given a green light to the murder of police officers. Yet those who have sought to take two very different and quite unusual incidents in Ferguson and New York and weave them into a neat narrative of racism and anti-black violence by police have done very much the same thing. The difference between the two is that the media spent much of the last four months seeking to establish that wrongheaded narrative as a fact while they will, quite rightly, give no credence or air time to those who will blame Obama for cop killers.
The narrative of incitement against the police in recent months was based on two misnomers.
One was the unquestioning acceptance of the narrative of police wrongdoing and racism in the killing of Brown and the far more questionable death of Garner by both the media and political leaders. This involved not only the willingness of both celebrities and lawmakers to treat myths, such as the claim that Brown had his hands up when he was shot, as fact. It also involved the casual acceptance of the charge of racism on the part of ordinary cops around the nation in the absence of any real proof as well as the shouting down of those like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who sought to defend the role of the police in defending the black community rather than attacking it.
Just as reprehensible was the willingness to ignore the calls for violence against the police on the part of so many of those who took to the streets about Ferguson and Garner. While stray comments on the part of a handful of Tea Partiers became the foundation for conventional-wisdom dismissal of their movement as racist or violent, the anti-police chants at mass demonstrations were largely ignored, rationalized, or excused. The same is true of comments like those of Farrakhan delivered in Baltimore where the killer of the two policemen lived.
But just as the murder of two cops doesn’t necessarily excuse the actions of the police in the Garner case, neither should we forget that all too many public figures have accepted with very little evidence the assumptions about racism and violence that have done so much to besmirch the reputation of the police. Rather than working to connect the dots between the comments of the president, the attorney general, and the mayor to a murder that none of them wished for, sensible observers should instead be unraveling the even shakier narrative these figures helped create about police misbehavior and racism.
The unraveling of the false narrative of incitement against the police should not give rise to another that is also mistaken. But what happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, and the assassination of two police officers should teach us that simplistic, easily manipulated narratives that serve the interests of a few race inciters and politicians don’t deserve any more respect than conspiracy theories coming from the other end of the political spectrum. If there is any reproach today that should be laid at the feet of Obama, Holder, and de Blasio, it is that by helping to foster one false set of assumptions, they have now left themselves vulnerable to questions about their own willingness to accept and exploit calumnies against the police and the justice system.