When it comes to assigning culpability for crimes by disturbed individuals, it depends on who the victims and perpetrators are.
Following fatal school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and elsewhere, liberal politicians and editorialists blamed the National Rifle Association and other pro-Second Amendment groups.
In 1995, after Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, numerous liberal commentators blamed “anti-government” rhetoric by Newt Gingrich, House Republicans and Rush Limbaugh.
In 1998, many liberal media personalities, including Katie Couric, floated the idea that a gently worded newspaper ad campaign by pro-family groups offering hope to homosexuals who want to change was “hate speech” that led to the beating death of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.
In 2011, when a young gunman killed six people and seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, and 12 others in Tucson, officials and media quickly assigned wider blame. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a Democrat, pinned it on talk radio’s “vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the bigotry.”
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz fingered the tea party, lamenting that “the discourse in America, the discourse in Congress has really changed. And I can tell you, I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it take a very precipitous turn toward edginess and lack of civility with the growth of the tea party movement.”
CNN’s Jack Cafferty weighed in this way: “Is there a link between this inflammatory rhetoric and the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others, six of whom are dead? Bet on it. Many are pointing fingers at Sarah Palin, who makes incendiary and irresponsible comments with some regularity.”
Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor Eugene Robinson advised Mrs. Palin to shut up and get out of public life altogether.
No such dots were connected when a young homosexual activist attempted a massacre on Aug. 15, 2012, at the conservative Family Research Council, later telling police that he was inspired by the “hate map” on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website. Law center founder Morris Dees said the “hate map,” which still lists Christian groups alongside skinheads and neo-Nazis, “doesn’t cause anybody to attack.”
Mr. Robinson and others on the left similarly are singing a different tune when it comes to assigning blame for the execution-style slayings of two New York police officers on Dec. 20.
For weeks, protests against police erupted all over the country over the deaths of teen robbery suspect Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and untaxed cigarette seller Eric Garner in Staten Island, who died of a heart attack in a hospital in July after police subdued him with a chokehold. Some of the protests turned violent, with full-scale rioting after a grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. A New York grand jury also declined to indict the officer who applied the chokehold to Garner.
On Dec. 13, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is President Obama’s unofficial adviser on racial matters, led thousands in a protest march in Washington. In New York, the Millions March Day of Anger participants chanted, “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now!”
The chanters got their wish less than a week later, when Maryland gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley drove to Brooklyn and shot Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car.
With the nation outraged, liberal commentators scrambled to dump their “hate speech” theory and instead began insisting that only the gunman was to blame. Technically, they’re correct. He was the one who pulled the trigger. Individual responsibility is paramount in our system of justice. It’s not unreasonable, though, to ask whether nonstop vilification has any bearing on violence aimed at police.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani connected lots of dots: “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.” New York police sergeants union President Ed Mullins went further, saying, “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands.”
In a Dec. 23 column, “Blood on whose hands?” Mr. Robinson fired back: “It is absurd to have to say this, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, activist Al Sharpton and President Obama are in no way responsible for the coldblooded assassination of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday. Nor do the tens of thousands of Americans who have demonstrated against police brutality in recent weeks bear any measure of blame.”
Not even the hundreds yelling that they wanted “dead cops?”
About the only saving grace in this heartbreaking calamity was provided by Emerald Snipes, daughter of Eric Garner, who died after the police chokehold. At the New York City Police Memorial, she placed a memorial candle and reached out to the kin of the slain officers.
“I just had to come out and let their family know that we stand with them, and I’m going to send my prayers and condolences to all the families who are suffering through this tragedy,” she told ABC News. “I was never anti-police. I have family that’s in the NYPD that I’ve grown up around, family reunions and everything, so my family, you know, we’re not anti-police.”
If sanity breaks out, it will be because of people like Emerald Snipes, of whom Jesus said nearly 2,000 years ago, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
• Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.