No matter what one thinks of police and modern policing, police violence, police racism or lack therefore, the execution of two NYPD officers over the weekend was thoroughly evil. Even if these officers were abusive and racist — and there is no indication whatsoever that they were — this act should still be thoroughly condemned by everyone.
I am not an anarchist. We can see around the world how thin the veneer of civilization is and how easily it is destroyed. Law and order are a huge improvement over the lack thereof, no matter how poorly they are enforced. It’s one thing to criticize police and demand reform and changes. It’s one thing to defend yourself if, for example, cops smash down your door in the middle of the night and you have no idea what’s going on. People can and should oppose aggressive policing and the intrusion of government into their lives. But the deliberate and cold-blooded murder of two policemen is an attack on civilization, on the idea of law and order.
The primary problem we have with policing in the United States is not a bunch of evil cops running around. It is a political leadership that has given them a million laws to enforce, authorized an aggressive war on voluntary behavior, shoved assault weapons and tanks into their hands and chipped away at accountability. The system is failing the police as thoroughly as it is failing the rest of us.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of these vile murders, a narrative has emerged that conflates criticism of policing with the murders. This has been building for a long time. A couple of weeks ago, a paper ran a really stupid anti-police cartoon. This resulted in a union head issuing a scathing letter, demanding (and getting) an apology. But this wasn’t an isolated incident nor confined to idiot cartoons.
McNesby has a history of lashing out at journalists. When Philadelphia Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman broke an incredible story about a Philly PD rogue narcotics unit that was essentially robbing immigrant-owned bodegas, McNesby called a press conference in which he called drug-using police informants “one step above” reporters like Laker and Ruderman. Someone launched a Web site specifically to attack the reporters. The two women later won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.
(Both the state and the Feds cleared the bodega cops despite video supporting the claims of multiple independent witnesses.)
Last week, police officers demanded an apology from a Cleveland Browns player for wearing a T-shirt demanding justice for John Crawford and Tamir Rice, as if being angry about the shooting of two men carrying BB guns was completely out of line. This followed demands for an apology when Rams players made the “hands up don’t shoot” gesture before a game. A police chief in California is under fire for marching with protesters in favor less police violence.
Bill de Blasio has become a lightning rod for this. Shortly before this incident, the PBA said that de Blasio was not welcome at any police funerals for “anti-police” views.
This pushback has only intensified in the aftermath of the murders. During de Blasio’s press conference, police literally turned their backs on him. Union leaders have said there is “blood on his hands” for his “anti-cop” positions, as though a career criminal and violent psychopath only needed to hear de Blasio’s speech to go on a murderous spree. Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Rahm Emmanuel have also been accused by Howard Safir, Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki of fomenting this event from their anti-cop rhetoric and “hatred” of cops.
But as Jamelle Bouie points out, none of this has been anti-cop unless you regard any criticism of police as anti-cop:
Police officers aren’t under siege from hostile elected officials. At no point, for example, has de Blasio attacked the New York City Police Department. Instead, he’s called for improved policing, including better community relations and new training for “de-escalation” techniques. “Fundamental questions are being asked, and rightfully so,” he said at the beginning of the month, after the grand jury decision in the death of Eric Garner. “The way we go about policing has to change.”
Likewise, neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder has substantively criticized police. After a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, Obama appealed for calm and praised law enforcement for doing a “tough job.” “Understand,” he said, “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.”
When directly asked if “African-American and Latino young people should fear the police,” Holder said no. “I don’t think that they should fear the police,” he said in an interview for New York magazine with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid. “But I certainly think that we have to build up a better relationship between young people, people of color, and people in law enforcement.”
Note that Bouie is actually quoting those accused of anti-cop rhetoric rather than making vague quote-free allegations.
Nothing here should be a surprise. Despite what these police organizations and their allies allege, there isn’t an anti-police movement in this country, or at least, none of any significance. The people demonstrating for Eric Garner and Michael Brown aren’t against police, they are for better policing. They want departments to treat their communities with respect, and they want accountability for officers who kill their neighbors without justification. When criminals kill law-abiding citizens, they’re punished. When criminals kill cops, they’re punished. But when cops kill citizens, the system breaks down and no one is held accountable. That is what people are protesting.
Given the dangers inherent to being a police officer—and the extent to which most cops are trying to do the best they can—it’s actually understandable that cops are a little angry with official and unofficial criticism. But they should know it comes with the territory. For all the leeway they receive, the police aren’t an inviolable force; they’re part of a public trust, accountable to elected leaders and the people who choose them. And in the same way that police have a responsibility to protect and secure the law, citizens have a responsibility to hold improper conduct to account.
On the subject of de Blasio specifically, Doug Mataconis points out that it is unreasonable to expect the reflexive absolute loyalty to the police that Giuliani exhibited:
Politically, DeBlasio may or may not have bungled his relationship with the NYPD during his first year in office, but that hardly makes him responsible for murder. Additionally, the fact that the Mayor may have expressed some sympathy for the people who were protesting the Garner decision is neither outrageous nor inappropriate. For one thing, it’s worth noting that he is the Mayor of all the people in New York, not just the police officers, and that as the elected leader of the city it is his job, in part, to be responsive to the concerns of civilians who see what they think is an injustice being committed by the police department and the justice system. The argument that being willing to listen to those protesters makes any political leader responsible for the actions of a violent criminal thug who traveled some 200 miles for the express purpose of committing murder is nonsense that ought to be rejected out of hand.
Yes, it is true that there have been some assholes calling for dead cops. Let’s not pretend that element isn’t out there. And people like Sharpton have been disgracefully slow to condemn such rhetoric. But this shooting does not mean the movement for better policing and more accountability is wrong. When a husband-and-wife team ambushed and murdered two cops earlier this year, it wasn’t the fault of the Tea Party. When Gabby Giffords was shot, it wasn’t the fault of Sarah Palin. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Building, it wasn’t the fault of Rush Limbaugh. Arguing that acts of violence committed by crazed extremists discredits an entire movement is the sort of thing I expect out of the Left Wing in this country. Read Ross Douthat’s post on how isolated violent acts have been used throughout history to discredit political opponents. Nick Gillespie:
As the New York Daily News and other outlets are reporting, the apparent shooter was not only violent and unhinged but had bragged via Instagram that he was “putting wings on pigs” and “putting pigs in a blanket.”
The distance between such rantings and, even worse, the act of shooting policemen sitting in a patrol car is so vast that they simply have no relation to legitimate and even impassioned criticism of the militarization of police and the protesting of specific acts of apparent injustice.
To suggest otherwise is not simply disgraceful and cheapening to serious public discourse. It’s all too often the first refuge of people on the right and the left who are afraid to actually engage in any sort of meaningful debate.
This was an isolated incident. Last year saw the fewest cops murdered in seven decades and rates of violence against cops we haven’t seen since the 19th century. 2013 was an unusually safe year for cops and 2014 is likely to return to the 40-50 killings we’ve been averaging over the last decade. Doubtless, this increase will be cast as a “war on cops” by the usual sources. They dragged out the “war on cops” a few years ago when the number of murders went up, then went silent when it dropped back down again. But violence against cops is still at historic lows. As I note every time there is a mass shooting, these incidents are mercifully rare. These were the first NYPD cops murdered in three years.
And it’s worth noting something else: violence by cops is also down. It’s hard to tell how far down since official national statistics are not kept. But for the NYPD specifically, cop shootings of citizens is way down. So there is progress being made. But that progress still leaves us with a thousand people dead at the hands of police every year. That compares to about four a year in Germany, about a dozen in year in Canada and zero in Great Britain. Most of those killings are justified; some are not. But we have a system that has trouble distinguishing between the two.
The reaction to the killings is not unexpected. As I noted above, there has been a sustained campaign by police unions and supporters to delegitimize any criticism of the police (while ignoring provocative speech on their own side.) But let’s not pretend that there is no middle ground between the vicious execution of two cops and concern and criticism over a system that allows for consequence-free bad behavior.
Two good men are dead at the hands of a vile killer, a man who showed no compunction about shooting his ex-girlfriend before this or committing other acts of violence. Let’s not legitimize his deranged excuses by calling it a political movement.