Any time a police officer is killed in the line of duty it’s a tragedy, but when there are two slayings in quick succession, the anguish is that much more severe.
Late last week, Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth was gunned down at a Houston-area gas station. And then yesterday in northern Illinois, Lt. Joseph Gliniewicz was killed, sparking a manhunt for three suspects.
It’s against this backdrop that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-Texas) apparently sees an opportunity: the far-right senator wants Americans to blame President Obama, among others, for the brutal gun violence.
“Cops across this country are feeling the assault,” Cruz told reporters after a town hall meeting in Milford, New Hampshire. “They’re feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down as we see, whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all.”
Yesterday, Cruz went further, accusing the president of “silence” on the issue, which the senator described as “completely wrong” and a “manifestation of the divisiveness, the partisanship and of the hostility to law enforcement that has characterized the entire Obama administration.”
The GOP candidate has not yet produced any evidence of the president being hostile towards law enforcement.
Indeed, as a factual matter, Cruz’s rhetoric is simply indefensible. Not only has law enforcement never faced an “assault” from the White House, but the president hasn’t been “silent” at all – Obama personally called Darren Goforth’s wife; he issued a formal statement condemning the killing; and he spoke out against anti-police violence in general, calling it “completely unacceptable.”
Cruz, in other words, is either lying or he has no idea what he’s talking about.
But the Texas Republican isn’t alone in playing a misplaced blame game. When the finger isn’t being pointed at the White House, the right is lashing out at the Black Lives Matter movement, suggesting without proof that BLM activists are somehow responsible for violent attacks on law enforcement.
Can decent people of goodwill agree that exploiting the murders of police officers to score political points is wrong?
Can honest political observers agree that there’s an important difference between occasional criticisms of law enforcement, seeking reforms in the criminal justice system, and being anti-police?
The last time this came up in earnest was in December, when a gunman shot and killed two NYPD officers, prompting Rudy Giuliani, among others, to blame the president, accusing Obama of pushing anti-police “propaganda.” (To date, the president’s critics have failed to point to any actual examples.)
Let’s revisit our coverage from the time, because it’s still difficult to understand such mindless, cold-blooded violence, just as it’s still tempting for some in the political arena to blame their partisan foes.
While everyone will grieve, mourn, and ache in their own way, when someone instinctively thinks, “Perhaps I can use the slaying of police officers to undermine my political rivals,” there is no nobility to their cause. They do their “team” no favors. There is no decency in exploiting murder to advance ideological ends.
It is wrong, it is ugly, and it is incumbent on those who think this way to reflect on what’s become of their moral compass.
There’s also value in having longer memories. In 2008, Jim David Adkisson walked into a Unitarian church in Tennessee, opened fire, and killed two people while wounding seven others. The shooter said he felt compelled to kill liberals because they’re bad for the country, and police later found books written by Fox News hosts in Adkisson’s home.
Was Sean Hannity responsible for these murders? Of course not. Deranged people are capable of horrific acts; their preferred television personalities are not to blame.
A year later, in 2009, Richard Poplawski gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh. He later said he targeted law enforcement because of the non-existent “Obama gun ban” he’d heard about in conservative media. Were conservative figures who’d carelessly used the ridiculous phrase partially responsible for the death of the three officers? By Ted Cruz’s reasoning, maybe, but in reality, no.
There’s no shortage of related examples. Joe Stack flew an airplane into a building, motivated by anti-government sentiment. Dr. George Tiller’s assassin was motivated by his opposition to abortion rights. The Oklahoma City bombers killed 168 people. How much responsibility do mainstream conservative pundits and politicians carry for these crimes? None.
There was also Cliven Bundy’s dangerous conflict with the Bureau of Land Management – which generated all kinds of support from Republican policymakers and conservative pundits – and which “eventually motivated Jerad and Amanda Miller to kill five people in Las Vegas after participating in the Bundy standoff … declaring, ‘If they’re going to come bring violence to us, well, if that’s the language they want to speak, we’ll learn it.’”
Among the anti-government radicals’ victims? Two police officers who were gunned down by their white assailants in Las Vegas.
Under Ted Cruz’s reasoning, the responsibility for all kinds of violence should apparently be extended to every corner of our political world.
Which is largely why this blame game isn’t worth playing. Tragically, lunatics sometimes commit horrific crimes. When it comes to maintaining a healthy discourse in a free society, let’s not connect their violence to political opinions we may or may not like.