NYC police officers killed; GOP exploits. What else is new?
Well, that didn’t take long. Within hours of two New York City police officers being shot as they sat in a squad car, Republicans started blaming — President Obama and other Democrats.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who had several felony convictions and a history of mental illness, shot Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. He had made several threats against police on Instagram, including one with a picture of a gun that read: “I’m putting wings on pigs today … they take one of ours, let’s take two of theirs.” After the shooting and after a police chase, Brinsley then shot himself in the head on a subway platform.
The shooting was roundly condemned everywhere, by everyone. The advocacy group Black Lives Matter, which has organized protests against police misconduct, issued a statement saying, “An eye for an eye is not our vision of justice.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking from the hospital where the two officers died, described the double murder as “an assassination” and a “despicable act.” Obama echoed those sentiments: “I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification.”
Not good enough for the GOP, apparently. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani blamed the killings on four months of “propaganda” and said Obama bears responsibility. “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said in an appearance on (where else?) Fox News. He also accused Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder of spreading “misinformation” and “lying to stoke anti-police hatred.”
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson, who also runs the right-wing website Red State, said that Obama, Holder, and de Blasio “all but encouraged retaliation on the police” after the non-indictments and were transforming America with a “war on police.”
Patrick Lynch, the head of the New York police union, was especially vicious, suggesting that de Blasio had “blood on his hands.” Republican former New York Gov. George Pataki tweeted that the killings “sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric” of de Blasio and Holder. Rep. Peter King (R, N.Y.) said it was “time for elected officials to stand by the men and women of law enforcement and end the demeaning of police officers and grand juries.”
Um, actually, Obama, Holder, and de Blasio never said anything CLOSE to hating police, and every statement they’ve made has praised responsible policing. Every statement the men made on the non-indictments of the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and of the officer who used a chokehold that killed Eric Garner on Staten Island always stressed faith in police departments and condemned any violence and looting that followed the deaths themselves or the grand jury decisions.
“You cannot talk about social change and then commit an act of violence against a police officer,” de Blasio said on Dec. 17. “It makes no sense. It denigrates the cause. It undermines the legitimacy. It’s illegal, it’s wrong, it’s immoral.”
Obama made similar comments after the non-indictment in the Brown case. “Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.”
Holder, as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, didn’t mince words about the killing of the two officers. “This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens. As a nation we must not forget this as we discuss the events of the recent past. These courageous men and women routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line each and every day, in order to preserve public safety. We are forever in their debt.”
A column by Paul Waldman in the Washington Post called out Republicans for their lies and vicious statements. “It’s hard to find words to describe what a despicable lie this is. But here’s the truth: Every single time Barack Obama has spoken about these issues, he has stressed that violence of any kind, even when people are protesting over legitimate grievances, is utterly wrong and unacceptable.”
It has become reflexive for those in the GOP to bash Obama and Democrats over — well, anything. But to accuse Obama, who has gone out of his way to make his responses to these cases measured, is way out of line. Some African-American commentators and elected officials have complained that Obama should have been more forceful in his statements about the Brown and Garner cases.
But remember the uproar when Obama has tried to say anything forceful when it comes to race relations? In the summer of 2009, the last question during a news conference was about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, a friend of the president’s, who had been arrested at his own home in Cambridge, Mass. Gates returned home from an overseas trip to find his front door jammed, and he and his driver tried to force it open. A witness reported a burglary in progress, and Gates was charged with disorderly conduct — charges that were later dropped. At the news conference, Obama answered the reporter’s question with words I’m sure he regretted immediately, even if they were true: that police had acted “stupidly.” Of course, the police had acted stupidly — Gates showed police his driver’s license, with the address listed as the home he was standing in. But the right-wing got into a feeding frenzy, and it was all the media could report on for a week. Obama had to hold a “beer summit” in the White House Rose Garden with Gates and the arresting officer, James Crowley.
Teenager Trayvon Martin, walking home from buying some iced tea and some Skittles at a convenience store, was shot and killed in 2012 in Sanford, Fla., by self-described “neighborhood watch official” George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of the killing. After that verdict, Obama made this point: “When Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” Cue the apoplexy on the right. As if Obama’s statements weren’t true. Any black man growing up in America knows that, and plenty of white ones do, too.
The Waldman column also put some responsibility on the media. “It’s perfectly fine to call people out on their rhetoric. Everyone fortunate enough to have a prominent voice in public debate should be accountable for the things he or she says. But when someone tosses off the accusation that an act of violence committed by one deranged person was a consequence of words someone else spoke, he or she should immediately be met with a couple of questions, the most important of which is: What, exactly, are you referring to?”
I guess the GOP’s gonna do what it always does. It sure would be nice if some of them could take responsibility for their words instead of ramping up the political attacks.
Perhaps basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the son and grandson of police officers, said it best in an essay in Time magazine. Abdul-Jabbar said it was wrong to blame the killings of the two officers on those protesting the recent killings of black unarmed men.
“According to Ecclesiastes, ‘To every thing there is a a season, and a time to every purpose.’ For me, today, that means a time to seek justice and a time to mourn the dead,” he wrote.
“And a time to shut the hell up.”