The Origins of the War on Cops

Then, early Sunday morning, a police car in Daytona Beach was firebombed, though we can be grateful it was unoccupied at the time. The burned car had been parked outside the local Islamic Center as a deterrent against potential backlash following the June 12 jihadist-inspired mass murder in Orlando. As it turned out, it wasn’t the Islamic Center that needed protection, it was the police car. A note attached to a signpost near the car referred to Black Lives Matter and the victims of two recent controversial police shootings, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It closed with a refrain familiar to anyone who has watched any of the recent demonstrations against law enforcement: “F*** the police!!!” Only hours later, Gavin Long took those sentiments to a deadly extreme when he shot six police officers in Baton Rouge, killing three of them.

Where can we place the origins of this fatal discontent? The Black Lives Matter movement originated during the Trayvon Martin controversy in Florida, then rose to prominence following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The facts in both these cases did not support the movement’s founding premise, that American blacks, particularly young men, are daily imperiled by racist police officers waiting for any excuse to gun them down. The fact that George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Martin, was not a police officer did not deter BLM activists from placing blame on the police. Nor were they deterred when Zimmerman was tried for murder and acquitted.

Similarly, the facts in the Michael Brown case did not support the contention that the officer acted unlawfully in shooting him. Multiple investigations proved the exact opposite: that Brown, after robbing a convenience store for some cigarillos, assaulted the officer who confronted him, tried to disarm him, then was shot when he was aggressively charging at the officer. Most of the evidence that vindicated the officer was known the very day of the shooting, and the rest of it was known within a week. But that didn’t stop the BLM activists from propagating the lie – and it was indeed a lie – that Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was shot in the back. So pervasive was the lie that when the truth was finally revealed, some refused to believe it and still do.

For some, it is now taken as a given that whenever an encounter between a police officer and a black person turns violent, the only explanation is that the officer was motivated by racial animus. This view is deeply rooted among people in the media, on college campuses, and in politics, including, sadly, President Obama. Examples of this thinking abound, but I present one that involved criminology professor David Klinger, a friend and former LAPD colleague. On July 8, Klinger was a guest on radio station KUOW in Seattle. Among the topics under discussion was “implicit bias,” which police critics claim influences an officer’s decision to shoot a black suspect when a white one would be spared. Klinger told of his own experience when, as a young LAPD officer, he shot and killed a man who was trying to stab another officer in the neck with a butcher knife. Host Bill Radke asked Klinger how he could be certain that he had not been influenced by implicit bias. “Was race a factor?” he asked.

If you’ve seen Klinger discussing police shootings in his many appearances on CNN, you know he is not easily perturbed. He answers even the most insipid questions with magnanimity and courtesy for reporters betraying their ignorance on national television. But I got the sense that Radke was fortunate the interview was being conducted on the phone rather than in person. Klinger informed him that it was not the man’s skin color that motivated him to shoot, but rather the glint of the knife that was about to penetrate another officer’s neck. Radke seemed dismissive of the claim, and it’s safe to assume Klinger will decline any future invitations to appear on the show.