Saturday’s murder of two New York police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, was as brutal as it was heartbreaking. There wasn’t even a violent confrontation – the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, simply approached the officers’ squad car in Brooklyn and opened fire, before fleeing to a nearby subway station and killing himself.
We also continue to learn more about the murderer, including his criminal background, the fact that he shot his ex-girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson, on Saturday morning, and his brazen boasts before he targeted two NYPD officers.
And while many were still trying to come to terms with such a senseless tragedy, the effort to inject partisan politics into the calamity was almost immediate. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) helped lead the way, appearing on Fox News early yesterday, connecting “four months of propaganda starting with the president” to the slaying.
Giuliani went out of his way to be clear that he’s not blaming a handful of bad apples. He thinks the culprits are everyone protesting police misconduct everywhere.“The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, 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. The police are racist,” said Giuliani. “That is completely wrong. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community in America are the police.”
He was hardly alone. Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), who last week talked up a possible presidential campaign, lashed out at NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Eric Holder. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) pointed fingers at Obama, among others.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blamed the shooter, but only after saying Holder and de Blasio use a “tone” that “incites crazy people.” Even former Sen. Scott Brown (R), fresh off his latest failed campaign, was quick to point fingers at the Oval Office. “I’m not sure what this country will look like with two more years of divisive rhetoric from the White House,” the Republican said, just hours after the slaying.
Assorted far-right voices and media outlets spent much of yesterday condemning their perceived foes; many urged the New York mayor to resign as if de Blasio were directly responsible for the violence of a madman.
I can appreciate how difficult it is to understand such mindless, cold-blooded violence. It’s tempting to find someone else to blame, especially when the gunman himself cannot face justice. But there is no moral justification for using a tragedy like this to score points in a partisan game.
Obviously, everyone will grieve, mourn, and ache in their own way, but 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 the media. Were conservative figures who’d carelessly used the ridiculous phrase partially responsible for the death of the three officers? No, they weren’t.
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 Labor 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.’”
Under the reasoning espoused by Giuliani, King, Pataki, and others over the weekend, 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.