Incitement to a Shooting

A suspect has been arrested for the shootings of two police officers during a protest last week in Ferguson, Missouri, and he does not appear to be a white supremacist. There was never any reason to believe that a white supremacist would go to a protest against against a police force accused of unjustifiably shooting an unarmed black teenager in order  to shoot two white officers, but a Democratic Missouri state Senator raised that unlikely possibility rather than admit that the shooting more likely had something to do with the anti-police fervor that he and others have whipped up since a white police officer shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson last summer.
According to press reports, the suspect has confessed to the shootings but insists he was aiming at some rival criminal rather than police. The suspect’s lengthy records of run-ins with the law suggests he just might be stupid enough to attempt a murder of a rival criminal in the middle of a protest rally and wind up striking two of the many law enforcement officers present instead, but the county attorney says that “We’re not sure we buy that part of it,” and it also strikes us as unlikely. Far more likely is the obvious conclusion that the shooter was motivated by an animus toward the police, and that he took the protesters’ chants for the murder of police to heart. Similar chants during the protests in New York City that followed another black man’s death at the hands of police there were answered with the murders of two officers, and those who have been encouraging the protests are understandably concerned that an outbreak of shootings against law enforcements will not win public support, which explains why some of the agitators are reaching for such far-fetched explanations as white supremacists trying to start a race war.
The protests against the police have already taken a public relations hit from the inconvenient facts of the case that started it all. A grand jury and the rest of the American public learned of physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that clearly proved the shooting of the black teenager in Ferguson was in self-defense, to the point that even Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department was forced to concede it could not bring federal charges the officer and had to settle for making a federal case out of the town’s traffic enforcement policies, and the broader claim of an ongoing war by the nation’s police against young black men has proved equally unfounded. Lacking any logic or facts, or even any sympathetic victims whose bloody shirts can be waved, the protesters have resorted to the sort of demonization that can only embolden people who already harbor a murderous rage against the police.
Which is not to allege any blame against the vast majority or the protesters, or anyone who has peaceably argued that reforms are needed to improve the policing of minority neighborhoods in America. Those responsible protesters have hurt their cause by linking it to what turned out to be a justifiable shooting of a rather unsavory young bully who was attempting to kill a policeman, and by their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the high levels of minority criminality that must be addressed by any solution, but they don’t bear any responsibility for the shootings of the police officers. Every protest movement is entitled to even strident free speech, and all attract a few crazies, and it is not conducive to free speech to blame the protest for the acts of an individual.
The anti-police protests, though, have too frequently indulged in rhetoric that seems calculated to provoke the movement’s most violent elements. Not just the recent chants about dead cops and the rap music that has been calling for the murder of police officers for years, but in its embrace of lies about a particular cop in Ferguson gunning down a “gentle giant” who was kneeling with his hands up. This lie was advanced at the highest levels of the federal government, with the White House sending emissaries to the funeral and the Justice Department helping to organize the protesters even as it launched an investigation in the Ferguson police department, as well as prominent print and electronic news organizations. It was a lie calculated to inflame the passions of neighborhoods already rife with violence and criminality, and those who told it share in the responsibility for two more brave police officers being shot.

— Bud Norman