Some Context Is Needed

Crime Scene Tape

The Background: It’s nothing less than absolutely tragic that two NYPD officers, Liu and Ramos, were killed while on duty in Brooklyn, NY. [NBC]  The assassination brings back an equally unpleasant memory from last June, when two law officers were eating lunch at a pizza place in Las Vegas, Nevada.  However, playing the “blame game” in the aftermath of this most recent assault on law enforcement officers is counter-productive, and highly questionable.  PBA President Lynch should know better than to blame the protests against the use of lethal or excessive force by some law enforcement officers as the ‘reason’ for the assault.  There is a profound difference between calling for the improvement of police tactics and policies, and advocating violence against officers of the law.

Public officials and protest leaders have condemned the killings in the strongest possible language, the President saying: “

“I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City,” the president said in a statement released just after midnight on Sunday morning. “Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification.” [Politico]

The Mayor added:

“These officers were shot execution-style, (a) particularly despicable act, which goes to the very heart of our society and democracy,” de Blasio said. “When a police officer is murdered, it tears at the foundation of our society. It is an attack on all of us. It’s an attack on everything we hold dear.

“We depend on our police to protect us against forces of criminality and evil,” the mayor said. “They are a foundation of our society, and when they are attacked, it is an attack on the very concept of decency. Therefore, every New Yorker should feel they, too, were attacked. Our entire city was attacked by this heinous individual.” [NYDN]

The Issue: So, why the continuing problems between the police unions and the city government?  In this instance we need to hark back to the tensions between Mayor David Dinkins and the police in 1992.  Dinkins at the time was supporting the creation of a civilian review board, and the response by the police unions was remarkably similar to the police reaction to body cameras today: “He never supports us on anything,” said Officer Tara Fanning of the Midtown South Precinct, echoing the view of many in the crowd.A cop shoots someone with a gun who’s a drug dealer, and he goes and visits the family.” [NYT 1992]   Indeed, it’s not hard to conclude after the issues about both the establishment of a civilian review board and the issues revolving around the adoption of body cameras and re-training, that the police unions will vehemently oppose any and all suggestions that they improve the implementation of their public services. [C&L]

The media: The national media hasn’t served the public well in this instance.  The issues are fundamentally about how the police can best enforce the law without risk to their own safety and the safety of members of the public.  The easy, and rather lazy journalistic approach is to pursue the politics of a dispute between the police unions and the mayor’s office.  “He said, and then He said,” journalism which makes for simple headlines, but obfuscates the larger issues involved.   The union commentary, which equates any criticism of police activities with an “attack on officers,” doesn’t address protracted problems related to Community Policing, nor does it contribute to any positive dialogue and cooperation between the police and the communities they protect.  While ‘conflict’ reportage may sell media, and thus advertising space, cooperation is what will improve the relationship between the community and the police department. There are other coverage issues which merit more attention than they are receiving in the current media environment.

It’s not the protesters in the wake of the Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice killings who are calling for the attacks on police officers.  Protesters have called for prosecutions, investigations, changes in training, screening, and recruitment – but they have not called for any violence.  The right wing reaction has been to declare that any demands for police reform may engender ill-will and hence attacks on officers – See, There, It Happened! even if the assassin in the Brooklyn case was evidently a violent, emotionally and psychologically unstable, man. There are, however, some voices which do advocate violence against officers, and who have made threats they carried out. A few examples:

January 29, 1998: An off-duty police officer is killed, and a nurse seriously injured when one of right wing activist Eric Robert Rudolf’s bombs explodes at a Birmingham, AL women’s health clinic.

December 8, 2003: Abbeville, SC Police Sgt. Danny Wilson and Constable Donnie Ouzts are shot to death by anti-government “patriot” Steven Bixby.

April 4, 2009: Three Pittsburgh, PA police officers (Sciullo, Mayhle, Kelly) are killed and a fourth wounded by Richard Andrew Poplawski, a white supremacist when they answered a call about a domestic disturbance. Poplawski explains he fired extra bullets into the bodies of the officers “just to make sure they were dead.”

April 25, 2009: Two Okaloosa County, FL sheriff’s deputies. Bert Lopez and Warren York, are killed by Joshua Cartwright, an anti-government extremist upset by the election of President Obama, who had previously expressed interest in joining a militia group.

May 20, 2010: West Memphis, AR police officers Paudert and Evans are attacked and killed by ‘sovereign citizens’.  [TDB]

August 16, 2012: Louisiana sheriff’s deputies Nielsen and Triche are ambushed by seven people with ties to the “sovereign citizens” movement.

September 4, 2012: California HP officer Youngstrom is shot and killed by Christopher Lacy, an anti-government individual with a large amount of ‘sovereign citizen’ literature on several computers in his home.

June 8, 2014: Jerad and Amanda Miller assassinate two Las Vegas, NV police officers Soldo and Beck,  who are having lunch.  The killers leave a Gadsden flag on Officer Beck’s body.  Weeks earlier the assassins had been present at the Bundy Ranch.

June 10, 2014: A Forsyth County deputy Daniel Rush was wounded by white supremacist, ‘sovereign citizen’ Dennis Marx who was attempting to ‘lay seige’ to the court house.  [AJC]

September 12, 2014: Eric Frein, military re-enactor ambushes state police barracks in Blooming Grove, PA, kills Officer Byron Dickson, and seriously injures Trooper Alex Douglass. [LeVNews]

November 22, 2014:  Leon County, FL sheriff’s deputy Scott Angulo was ambushed and killed by “anti-government/anti-establishment”  Curtis Wade Holley, who set fire to his home and vowed to kill as many first responders as he could.  [USAT]

The ADL has been keeping track of violent incidents between extremists and police:

“In the past five years alone, from 2009 through 2013, ADL has tracked 43 sep­a­rate vio­lent inci­dents between domes­tic extrem­ists (of all types) and law enforce­ment in the United States. These inci­dents include sit­u­a­tions in which shots are exchanged between police and extrem­ists (shootouts), sit­u­a­tions in which extrem­ists have fired at police but police sub­dued the extrem­ists with­out hav­ing to return fire, and sit­u­a­tions in which offi­cers had to use their firearms to pro­tect them­selves against extremists.

Of these 43 inci­dents, fully 39 of them involved extrem­ists sport­ing some sort of extreme right-wing ide­ol­ogy. White suprema­cists took part in 21 inci­dents, while anti-government extrem­ists were involved in 17 more. An anti-Muslim extrem­ist was involved in one inci­dent (the other four inci­dents included one with a left-wing extrem­ist and three with domes­tic Islamic extrem­ists). In these shoot­ing inci­dents, the extrem­ists shot 30 offi­cers, 14 fatally. Many other offi­cers sus­tained non-gunfire injuries dur­ing some of these encounters.” [ADL] (emphasis added)

Let’s assume that we can all walk and chew gum at the same time.  It is not impossible that reforms can be made in even the most recalcitrant police forces that improve the relations between the department and the communities; and, it’s not impossible that we can – and should – pay greater attention to those who actually DO advocate violence against law enforcement officials.  It was not until April 2010 that the FBI issued guidance to local law enforcement about the sovereign citizen threat.  We simply need to have a adult discussion, enhanced by better informational context, and to stop shouting and start talking.

*SPLC “Terror from the Right”  The Daily Beast, “Sovereign Citizens are America’s Top Cop Killers.” Media Matters, “How Fox News Covers Right Wing Cop Killers.” ADL, “Officers Down: Right Wing Extremists Attacking Police at a Growing Rate.”  Crooks and Liars, “Rudy Guiliani Knows Exactly How to Spark a Police Riot – he’s done it before.”

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