President Obama, addressing the nation after yet another shooting, said on Sunday:
Regardless of motive, the death of these three brave officers underscores the danger that police across the country confront every single day. And we as a nation have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement. Attacks on police are an attack on all of us and the rule of law that makes society possible.
Regarding the killer’s motive, we know the African-American shooter from Kansas City wasn’t at all interested in black lives. Clearly black lives didn’t matter to him. He wasn’t part of any movement to make black lives better. Among the dead on Sunday was an African-American officer who had movingly expressed his concerns about both being an officer who was not appreciated and, out of uniform, being a black man who had to live with some cultural anxiety. So, the killer, despite his rhetoric in days leading up to his cowardly act, wasn’t interested in affirming the value of black lives.
What the killer was interested in doing was the same thing that other anti-government sociopaths want to do: destroy the fabric of civilized society. As President Obama said, violent attacks on police officers are attacks on every single one of us, those of us who want to live in something called “society,” defined as a group of people committed to living together under rules and laws that respect the rights and dignity of all. The cop killer in Baton Rouge was, apparently, involved to some degree in the anti-social “sovereign citizen movement,” a group of creepy people who hate government and claim laws don’t apply to them or other Americans who declare themselves independent of those laws.
I must confess that up until the last few weeks, I mostly associated such lawless movements with small pockets of angry white people, like those who started the horrific Posse Comitatus movement in the 1960s, which featured members who would later kill law enforcement officers who dared enforce the law against them. Now, though, we all know that the sovereign citizen virus has infected a tiny, but increasing, minority of black people, too.
Way back in 2011, the Southern Poverty Law Center posted an article (“‘Sovereigns’ in Black”) describing how the sovereign citizens movement was starting to gain some adherents of color. The article described,
a growing number of black Americans who, as members of outlandishly named “nations” or as individuals, subscribe to an antigovernment philosophy so extreme that some of its techniques, though nonviolent, have earned the moniker “paper terrorism.” Communicating through social media and learning from an ever-expanding network of websites and online forums, they perplex and often harass law enforcement officials, courts, and local governments across the country.
With the killing of officers in Baton Rouge on Sunday, we can see how quickly paper terrorism can turn into the real thing. Ideology has its consequences. And nasty hate-filled ideology has its nasty consequences. When you expose a disturbed mind to such disturbing and dangerous ideas, and when you make firearms easily available to those with disturbed minds, you will eventually have a Baton Rouge.
We need to remind ourselves, and our family, friends, and neighbors, that the African-American killers who targeted police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge were not representatives of any movement created to help secure promised civil rights and equal treatment for black people. Those killers were not interested in furthering the interests of any society, black or white.
Nevertheless, there will be people, some in positions of responsibility, who will use the latest murders of police officers to attack groups like Black Lives Matter, a movement that focuses on systemic racial discrimination in America, including but not limited to in our criminal justice system. The attacks have been ongoing, but they ramped up last night with the appearance, on CNN, of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke—an African-American—who had a heated exchange with Don Lemon, saying,
This anti-police rhetoric sweeping the country has turned out some hateful things inside of people that are now playing themselves out on the American police officer.
I watched as he called Black Lives Matter “purveyors of hate.” Apparently, Sheriff Clarke thinks police officers are above criticism and their behavior should not be subject to scrutiny. Apparently, to him you are “anti-police” if you dare question some officer for seemingly shooting in haste an unarmed black man. Apparently, Sheriff Clarke thinks, oddly, that law enforcement is above any attempt to hold it accountable.
Sheriff Clarke also suggested President Obama was part of the problem. Of course. Everything, essentially, is Obama’s fault to these folks. Steve Loomis, head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, went so far as saying that Obama “has blood on his hands” because in addition to condemning the killing of the police officers in Dallas, the president also noted that police departments aren’t “entirely immune” from bias. How dare the president tell such an obvious truth.
Loomis went on:
The president of the United States validated a false narrative and the nonsense that Black Lives Matter and the media are pressing out there to the public. He validated with his very divisive statements and now we see an escalation.
It appears to me that, like the comments of Sheriff Clarke, such criticism contains within it the idea that officers of the law are somehow in a separate class, a class that always gets the benefit of every doubt and who, if they are criticized for questionable behavior, aggressively pronounce the critics guilty.
But such people like Sheriff Clarke and Steve Loomis should think before they speak. They have offered us ample criticism of President Obama, who essentially is our chief enforcer of the law. If, God forbid, someone in law enforcement plotted to kill the president, based on rhetoric coming from leaders in the law enforcement community, would Sheriff Clarke and Steve Loomis take responsibility for it?
Or will Donald Trump? Will he take responsibility for his racially-charged nonsense about President Obama’s birthplace? For the hate-filled demagoguery and racism that has characterized his nasty and dark campaign? Just this morning, responding to Steve Loomis’ ridiculous comments about Obama, Trump once again attempted to appeal to those who think our president is not one of us. Talking Points Memo reported:
In an interview on “Fox and Friends” addressing the fatal shootings of three police officers in Baton Rouge on Sunday, Trump even suggested that Obama was using his body language to implicitly signal support for Black Lives Matter protesters over police.
“I watched the president and sometimes the words are okay,” Trump said, a day after Obamacondemned the “cowardly and reprehensible” attacks on law enforcement. “But you just look at the body language and there’s something going on. Look, there’s something going on.”
“What does that mean, there’s something going on?” host Brian Kilmeade asked.
“There’s just a bad feeling, a lot of bad feeling about him. I see it too. There’s a lot of bad feeling about him,” Trump replied.
Trump repeated the phrase “there’s something going on” five times during the interview, referring at different moments to the Baton Rouge shooter’s unconfirmed links to the Nation of Islam, Obama’s sympathy towards Black Lives Matter and the racial profiling endured by black Americans.
Clearly, by using such devious language, Trump is sending a message to his mostly white audience. Obama is not only not “one of us,” he is working against the interests of “law and order” whites. Obama remains a foreigner. Outside the dominant tribe. His “body language” gives him away, and Trump is suggesting that Obama is somehow conspiring to get cops killed in the streets.
But President Obama, fortunately, will not be distracted by such divisive and destructive talk. Speaking yesterday, he said this:
Five days ago, I traveled to Dallas for the memorial service of the officers who were slain there. I said that that killer would not be the last person who tries to make us turn on each other. Nor will today’s killer. It remains up to us to make sure that they fail. That decision is all of ours. The decision to make sure that our best selves are reflected across America, not our worst — that’s up to us.
We have our divisions, and they are not new. Around-the-clock news cycles and social media sometimes amplify these divisions, and I know we’re about to enter a couple of weeks of conventions where our political rhetoric tends to be more overheated than usual.
And that is why it is so important that everyone — regardless of race or political party or profession, regardless of what organizations you are a part of — everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further. We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric. We don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or to advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts — all of us. We need what we saw in Dallas this week, as a community came together to restore order and deepen unity and understanding. We need the kind of efforts we saw this week in meetings between community leaders and police — some of which I participated in — where I saw people of good will pledge to work together to reduce violence throughout all of our communities. That’s what’s needed right now. And it is up to all of us to make sure we are part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Someone once wrote, “A bullet need happen only once, but for peace to work we need to be reminded of its existence again and again and again.”
My fellow Americans, only we can prove, through words and through deeds, that we will not be divided. And we’re going to have to keep on doing it “again and again and again.” That’s how this country gets united. That’s how we bring people of good will together. Only we can prove that we have the grace and the character and the common humanity to end this kind of senseless violence, to reduce fear and mistrust within the American family, to set an example for our children.
That’s who we are, and that’s who we always have the capacity to be. And that’s the best way for us to honor the sacrifice of the brave police officers who were taken from us this morning.
It remains to be seen whether we are who the president says we are. November will either help validate his optimism or prove him wrong.