There have been debates, going back to the 90s, at least, over whether ideologues and political figures should be held responsible for violent acts with which they can more or less plausibly be associated. Clinton strongly suggested that right-wing talk radio bore some blame for the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing; more recently and preposterously, many on the left tried to blame Sarah Palin for the shooting of Gabby Gifford (and many others). Of course, people on the right advance this kind of argument as well, for example, holding anti-war protestors responsible for the strength of the Iraqi resistance to US occupation and hence the loss of many lives, Iraqi and American (I plead guilty to that one).
It’s a real question, and the standard rejoinder that only the individual himself is responsible for his actions, while true in a legal and narrowly moral sense, avoids the issue of the discursive environment we are all responsible for creating. Perhaps some people fear the possibility that free speech rights will be threatened by too close a focus on the relation between words and deeds.
Louis Farrakhan recently asserted that the way to fight back against the supposed rash of white police killings of black men is to kill “one of them” for each one of “us”–then, they’ll have to talk. Protestors in NYC, demanding “justice” for Eric Garner, chanted that they wanted dead cops. The very framing of the accusations, in which systematically racist police departments murder black youth regularly and with impunity, is a short step from declaring open season on police. No doubt, most of the protestors and race grifters like Jackson, Sharpton, Holder and Obama, are just “playing”–make some trouble, get some concessions, ensconce your self as “leaders” of the black community, etc. These people thrive on some local, calculated, chaos, but they don’t necessarily want the real thing. But they are playing with fire.
The protestors–who can now apparently take over malls without been stopped or arrested–are following in the footsteps of, and have already been far more successful than, the Occupy Wall Street mob. No doubt many of them are the same people. Maybe there are professional protestors now. I pointed out a couple of years ago that the concept of “occupy” was intrinsically terroristic: the idea is that we are going to shut things down until our demands are met. As Obama himself recently reiterated, people need to be “inconvenienced” a bit in the name of justice. Well, once you say that, the next question is how severe and chronic must the inconvenience be? A severe and chronic as the injustice, presumably; or, more simply, as severe and chronic as “necessary.” Why stop at killing two cops in Brooklyn? We will find out in the coming days, I suppose, how representative Ismaaily Brinsley, the murderer of officers Wenjin Lui and Raphael Ramos, is, but it certainly seems as if he conceived of his attack as revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. And why not? Aren’t we all, and especially NYPD cops, “complicit”? If you think of what you are doing as asymmetrical warfare, police officers are certainly legitimate targets. And why shouldn’t occupiers and inconveniencers think of themselves in this way? What moral principle restrains them? Much chatter on Twitter in the wake of the murders expressed glee and ostentatious indifference, along with some sleazy pronouncements along the lines of “I’m very sorry this happened, but if you are going to let cops gun down black kids indiscriminately, you can’t be surprised…” No justice, no peace, after all–people are just starting to figure out what these cliches really mean, if you take them seriously.
Leading figures in the NYPD have recently declared that they don’t want Mayor Di Blasio at any of their funerals. Unfortunately, they will now be put to the test. I hope they stand by their promise; I further hope that police throughout the country start fighting back against the steady stream of slander and incitement that has been directed at them. The Left relies on the civility of its targets as a cover for its own incivility, and for the police to engage the politics of “policephobia” risks the professionalism they depend on. At a certain point, though, professionalism has to defend itself against forces that wish to make that very professionalism impossible. Perhaps they should themselves bring posters of Lui and Ramos to the anti-police demonstrations they must police. Those of us who prefer the police, with all their human, all-too-human, flaws, to the legitimation of perpetual victimary terrorism implicit in the occupy and inconvenience movement, should at any rate strive to make Brinsley the icon of their movement. They have declared war on the legal system, and the agents of that system, they have insisted that its illegitimacy requires constant pressure from below and forceful intervention from above. So, could they explain why, exactly, killing cops isn’t a perfectly acceptable part of their social justice toolkit? I don’t believe they can, but I’d like to see some of them given a chance to try.
The Brinsley Left supports officially designated victims when they shoot the police.