Let’s have a flashback: In the 1988 presidential race, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush ran an attack ad against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, pointing out that he authorized weekend passes to Willie Horton, a Black male convicted of first-degree murder. During one of those weekends, Horton raped a woman and attacked her companion.
The ad became infamous for race baiting in political campaigns because of the image put forth to scare White voters in to rethinking supporting a candidate who would let a “Black bogeyman” loose to commit more violent crime. The ad worked like a charm. Although the weekend furlough program was something Dukakis inherited from his Republican predecessor, that didn’t matter to voters: Bush sailed easily in to the Oval Office.
Fast forward to this past weekend when, Ismaaiyl Brinsley (pictured), a lone sociopath with a history of mental illness and a long criminal record, shot his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore then caught a bus to New York to kill two unsuspecting NYPD officers. The city was shocked and saddened by such a brazen attack on police. The feeling was magnified because of the intense, but primarily peaceful, protests that have been taking place in response to the deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of cops.
It shouldn’t have been a day for politicians and pundits to use these murders to blame New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio for what happened, despite an entire city being in mourning.
N.Y.C.’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch came right out and blamed not only de Blasio, but all protesters for inciting violence — somehow ostensibly connecting Brinsley’s anti-police social media posts to the protests — saying there was “blood on many hands from those who incited violence under the guise of protest all the way to the mayor’s office at City Hall.”
And he wasn’t the only one.
Former New York Governor George Pataki called what happened “a predictable outcome of the divisive anti-cop rhetoric” that he placed on de Blasio and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. He is said to be “seriously” considering a 2016 presidential run. Another union head, Ed Mullins of the Sergeant Benevolent Association, parroted, “The blood of two executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio.”
Former N.Y.C. Mayor Rudy Giuliani took the opportunity to blame President Barack Obama: “We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the President that everybody should hate the police,” he said on Fox News. At the same time, he said that blaming de Blasio “goes too far.”
For these men and others, Brinsley’s heinous act was exactly what they were waiting for. Peaceful demonstrations, a right guaranteed to the people in the U.S. Constitution, have a long tradition in this country — but so do people who can’t stand them and would do anything to subdue them (remember George Wallace?).
The rhetoric of Pat Lynch, Pataki, and others smacks of something almost as awful as the murders of two policemen: politicizing a murderer. The veiled inference that Brinsley was motivated by the protests, which they insinuate were filled with people who shouted “dead cops” chants across the nation and were anti-police, is actually designed to turn public sentiment against people who have a legitimate issue with unarmed civilians losing their lives at the hands of a government agency: namely the police. The demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful across the nation, with most of the drama coming from civil disobedience, something Thoreau taught us to do and which Martin Luther King Jr. practiced.
None of this means that demonstrators wanted to kill policemen. But let Lynch, Giuliani (who was never a favorite in the community the murders took place), and the others tell it and the protests should never have taken place because they equate people speaking out against excessive police violence.
They also felt that way in Nazi Germany.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley was a sick individual who never got the mental health treatment he should have received. His own family says that. He got a gun despite being arrested 19 times in three states, and in another instance shooting at a woman’s car with a stolen firearm. There’s no question this kid was bad news. Somehow, he got his hand on a .9mm handgun again and ended the lives of officers Rafael Ramos and Weinjun Liu before taking his own.
The gun he used was purchased in Georgia by someone else. It may have changed hands. It may have been sold to him by a private seller. That state does not require background checks for the private sale of firearms. If he was not declared mentally unstable, he would not have gone in to any federal databases, so the possibility exists that he got his weapon the same way Jared Loughner did before he shot and seriously wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others.
This would endanger cops far more than any demonstration would, but we don’t hear about Lynch, Giuliani, Pataki, or any of the others saying guns should be kept out of the hands of potentially dangerous people. What we hear is political rhetoric from people who, once again, exploit Black men, criminalization, and shocking violent incidents to score public political points.
It’s a tired old formula that is easy to see through. Let’s hope there are people out there who are smart enough to realize it.
Madison J. Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based multimedia journalist specializing in urban issues and criminal justice. He writes for NewsOne on the subject of Black males in America. Follow him on Twitter:@madisonjgray