Why Cops and Republicans Are Blaming #BlackLivesMatter Protests for a Double Murder
On Saturday, a man with a lengthy arrest history allegedly shot his ex-girlfriend, used her phone to Instagram threats against police–"I'm putting wings on pigs today"–then carried out the murders of two New York police officers. He tagged his picture with the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men killed this year in encounters with the police. Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot at 3 p.m.; the gunman quickly turned the weapon on himself.
Five hours later, the official Twitter account of the Sergeants Benevolent Association reacted by blaming Mayor Bill be Blasio.
Political figures, on the right, took that as permission to pile on "anti-cop" Democrats. New York Governor George Pataki, the state's forgettable former Republican governor, tweeted that the killing was "a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio." Greg Ball, a Republican state senator from the suburbs north of the city, went on Facebook to explain why de Blasio was to blame.
"The Mayor is directly responsible for their safety or lack thereof," wrote Ball. "This Mayor brings all new meaning to 'I didn't know you could stack shit that high.'" Again, this wasn't from a Twitter troll. It was from a key New York state senator, who leads the state Homeland Security committee in the expanded GOP majority taking office in two weeks.
In this age of Twitter outrage, it's easy for a couple of rumblings from anonymous people to craft a "narrative." That's not what's happened in New York. No need to elevate scattered Internet agitators; Police unions and key Republicans spent the weekend linking the killings of two cops to the protests that began in Ferguson this summer and accelerated after a grand jury didn't indict the police whose encounter with Staten Island man Eric Gardner ended in his death.
Americans had been divided on the Ferguson story, but the Garner story, which was fueled by cellphone video of the man gasping "I can't breathe" before he literally couldn't, was something else. By a 3-1 ratio, most Americans thought the grand jury made the wrong call.
The Saturday/Sunday backlash to the cop killings effectively retconned the backlash. They were no longer gatherings of concerned people representing the opinions of most Americans. They were violent campaigns against cops. Video of the crowds surging through Manhattan were sifted through again, for the moments when some protesters chanted "What do we want? Dead cops!" Even the protesters who'd ignored or shouted down those chants were suspect.
"The protests," fretted former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, "even the ones that don't lead to violence—a lot of them lead to violence—all of them lead to a conclusion: The police are bad."
Giuliani knew this turf. He narrowly lost a 1989 campaign to David Dinkins, the city's first (and so far only) black mayor. In 1992, Giuliani joined the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association at a rally protesting Dinkins's proposal of a civilian review board to investigate allegations of police misconduct.
"We're not going to get an impartial panel from the mayor because the mayor is basically anti-cop on every issue," said Officer Jorge Gautreau to a reporter from Newsday.
"He never supports us on anything," said Officer Tara Fanning to the New York Times. "A cop shoots someone with a gun who's a drug dealer, and he goes and visits the family."
The civilian review board was created anyway. A year later, Giuliani defeated Dinkins. New York didn't elect a Democrat to city hall for 20 more years. So there's precedent for the current police criticism of de Blasio, and precedent for the politics. Murders in New York City are down 85.2 percent this year from the same period in 1993, according to the NYPD's own statistics. Still, the current leader of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association was out on Saturday, talking about "blood on many hands tonight," from "those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day."
By a solid margin, most Americans had disagreed with the grand jury's decision to not indict the officers involved in Eric Garner's death. In retrospect, and with intent, they were being called accomplices to a double murder. There's a bit of score-settling going on here; some of the conservative media voices calling out the #BlackLivesMatter protesters say they're applying the "collective guilt" rules that unfairly linked Sarah Palin to the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
Giuliani, Ball, Pataki et al are not interested in that. They are amplifying the anger of police officers, who feel disrespected by de Blasio as they once felt disrespected by Dinkins. They want the skepticism and second looks at police tactics to stop.