"Don't shoot cops" is a sensible reaction to the recent sniper deaths of five policemen at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. "Don't criticize cops" is not.
In my previous column
I wrote that even after the Orlando shooting, it's possible to defend both the rights of Muslims and gays. Likewise it's possible to criticize the killer who gunned down the police in Dallas and still criticize cops for gunning down a twelve-year-old boy
and other innocent citizens. But as with the Muslim/gay issue, some conservatives insist we can defend cops or we can defend people the cops shoot, but not both.
Former senator Joe Walsh, for instance, responded to Dallas by tweeting "This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out Black Lives Matter punks. Real America is coming after you." Rep. Steve King says that as Obama has criticized police in the past, the Dallas deaths are ultimately his fault. FBI Director James Comey has a different take: criticizing the police makes them hesitate and second-guess themselves which will lead to a wave of uncontrollable street crime as cops freeze at the crucial moment.
Neither argument holds water. If Walsh really thinks that Obama or BLM criticizing police will lead to violence, what about his own tweet? If some "Real American" saw that and decided to shoot down some of the presumably Phony Americans in BLM, is Walsh going to assume responsibility? (Nope. He's already said he's off the hook because he didn't mean it like that)
Or what about King, whose response to a man flying a plane into an IRS building a few years back was to discuss how we should get rid of the IRS
. Anyone think he'd have blamed himself if someone else went Timothy McVeigh on the tax collectors?
What about all the conservatives during the Clinton/Obama years who talked about how right-thinking Americans need to launch a new civil war, reclaim government for Real Americans, overthrow the Democratic tyrant (they dropped that kind of talk during the Bush II years), etc., etc. We've had multiple acts of right-wing terrorism
in recent years, should liberals "come after" everyone who called for right-wing action? Should we "come after" the right-to-life movement for spawning murderers such as Eric Rudolph? (The correct answer, by the way, is "no." Coming after people anything but verbally is a bad idea).
If I were cynical, I'd say screams of outrage from Walsh and King are a double standard. They don't seem to have any problem with anti-government talk and threats ("Watch out Obama.") when they come from the right. And Rep. King supported the Irish Republican Army for years, despite its long history of killing police and British military officers. But when the criticism comes from the left, particularly when it involves black people saying there's racism in America? OMG, how can they be allowed to say things like that?
Comey's argument is just a variation of the "suicide pact
" theory — that if we actually require police to respect our constitutional rights, someone, somewhere will get away with something. And probably someone will but as I said at the link, that's doesn't justify ignoring the Bill of Rights. Likewise it's quite possible that if cops are more cautious about shooting anyone who looks scary, something bad will happen (though not as often
as you'd think). But the Tamir Rice shooting was a bad thing too; if the cops in that case had second-guessed themselves, a twelve-year-old might have lived. Hard to argue that wouldn't be a good thing.
None of this excuses the sniper in Dallas executing cops. Or other Americans who've done the same thing
. But neither do the shootings excuse cops gunning down people unneccesarily.
Like I said, we can criticize both. And that's the way to go.