Tragedy and Blame

I managed to screen out virtually all news during a weekend of bicoastal travel, shopping, and relative visitation. So now encountering the maelstrom over the murder of two New York City police officers by a crazy person is sad and confusing. But at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has the right reaction, particularly in terms of the bizarre blame game being played in New York right now:

Early reports suggest that both police officers were well-liked in their communities, though their killings would be tragic and worthy of condemnation in any case. And they are, in fact, being condemned by nearly everyone commenting on the case, which is no surprise: opposition to the murder of police officers is as close to a consensus belief as exists in American politics, culture and life.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a group that claims to represent “approximately 12,000 active and retired sergeants of the NYPD,” would have us think otherwise. “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio,” the group declared in a statement that attempted to exploit these murders to advance their political agenda. In a similarly dishonorable statement, “the president of the city’s largest police union, Patrick Lynch, blamed Mr. de Blasio for the tragedy. The officers’ blood ‘starts on the steps of City Hall,’ he said, ‘in the office of the mayor.’”

And Howard Safir, a former NYPD commissioner, wrote this in Time: “When Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley brutally executed Officers Ramos and Liu he did so in an atmosphere of permissiveness and anti-police rhetoric unlike any that I have seen in 45 years in law enforcement. The rhetoric this time is not from the usual suspects, but from the Mayor of New York City, the Attorney General of the United States, and even the President. It emboldens criminals and sends a message that every encounter a black person has with a police officer is one to be feared.”

Notably, none of these intellectually dishonest statements quote or link to any actual rhetoric spoken by Mayor de Blasio, Eric Holder, or President Obama. That is because none of them has uttered so much as a single word that even hints that violently attacking a police officer, let alone murdering one, would be justified. Suggesting that their words are responsible for this murder is discrediting. Even the weaker claim that their words “embolden criminals” is absurd, both as a matter of logic and as a statement made amid historically low crime rates.

With regard to the particular crime of killing police officers, “the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty-that is, killed with felonious intent by a suspected criminal-plummeted to 27 in 2013, its lowest level in decades.” That is the Obama/Holder record on this issue. We needn’t speculate about whether their rhetoric has proved dangerous for police. We know for a fact that it has not.

Perhaps police officers everywhere (including the New York union officials who have been engaged in tense contract negotiations with representatives of Mayor de Blasio) feel the need to express solidarity with Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo and treat them as identical to Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. That’s disturbing, but at least understandable. But expecting elected officials to do so–to violate their oaths in order to show unconditional support for The Team without regard to the circumstances–is inherently objectionable. As for the pols who are exploiting this situation for partisan purposes and seeking to encourage the police to view themselves as besieged and persecuted and owing no allegiance to civilian authorities? They are disgusting and lawless people promoting true anarchy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.