Law enforcement officials are frustrated by the Obama administration’s failure to address the “anti-cop” rhetoric coming from the Black Lives Matter movement, and some fear it’s promoting a climate of violence against police officers that may have contributed to Friday’s fatal ambush of a Houston sheriff’s deputy.
Noting that President Obama and other administration officials have quickly spoken out after shootings involving black civilians, Ronald T. Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said officers are yearning to hear similar support when officers are targeted.
“Where are their voices today? Who is going to be the adult in the room to pull these groups together?” Mr. Hosko said. “Somebody needs to do it. I don’t see and hear from the president when a cop gets shot and killed.”
Mr. Obama previously worked to balance his tone by praising the work of police officers while acknowledging tensions within the minority communities they serve — particularly while participating in events during National Police Week this year.
On Monday evening, Mr. Obama issued a statement condemning last week’s cold-blooded shooting of the Texas deputy, calling the killing “an affront to civilized society.”
The president also called Kathleen Goforth, the widow of Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth, while on Air Force One en route to Alaska. Deputy Goforth was shot 15 times while pumping gas Friday night, and investigators believe he was targeted simply because he was a law enforcement officer.
“On behalf of the American people, I offered Mrs. Goforth my condolences, and told her that Michelle and I would keep her and her family in our prayers. I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that police officers show in our communities every single day,” the president said in a statement.
But the days of silence from the administration after Friday’s killing, followed Saturday by a Black Lives Matter protest in Minnesota that struck a nerve with officers, is reinforcing the feeling of many in law enforcement that they have been abandoned.
“Sadly, my sense is that the Black Lives Matter movement is almost entirely an anti-cop movement, and the conversation has to be bigger than that,” Mr. Hosko said. “Those proponents for Black Lives Matter should be bigger than that.”
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has also been critical of Mr. Obama, saying actions by the president and former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. are akin to engaging in a “war” on police.
“It’s open season right now. No doubt about it,” Sheriff Clarke told Fox News this weekend in comments similar to those he made last year after a fatal ambush of two New York police officers.
Anti-police chants by a group of Black Lives Matter protesters at the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday — the day after Deputy Goforth was gunned down — also added to the discord. A contingent of about 300 protesters marched to the fair, at times chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.”
“It’s just outrageously offensive. It clearly promotes a climate of violence against cops,” said Dave Titus, president of the Saint Paul Police Federation.
About 75 St. Paul police officers were assigned to escort the demonstrators as they headed to the fair, he said.
“We understand that people have valid messages,” Mr. Titus said of the national Black Lives Matter movement, which is seeking reform in the way police interact with communities of color. “This is not one of them — promoting violence against police officers — especially hours after that deputy in Houston was killed.”
Mr. Hosko said part of the problem with the Black Lives Matter movement is its decentralized approach, which he said allows the loudest and most vocal in a community to dominate actions rather than those with the most thoughtful approach.
Black Lives Matter activists have sought to defend the movement from accusations that it is to blame for the deadly attack in Texas.
“It is sad that some have chosen to politicize this tragedy by falsely attributing the officer’s death to a movement seeking to end violence,” prominent activist DeRay Mckesson wrote on his Twitter account. “We protest not to affirm the worth of our lives, but to expose the depth of the evil we face.”
Rashad Turner, an organizer of the Black Lives Matter protest at the Minnesota State Fair, said it was unfair to compare rhetoric from the demonstration with the slaying in Texas.
“I don’t think it’s fair that we need to be responsible for the actions of individuals who, first of all, don’t represent our movement, don’t represent our values,” Mr. Turner said during an appearance Monday on CNN. “To associate us with someone who committed such a heinous act [as] murdering a cop — murdering anyone, period — we don’t want that. We are not promoting violence.”
On Monday authorities said during a court hearing that Shannon J. Miles, the black man accused of killing the white deputy, fired 15 rounds and shot Deputy Goforth in the back of the head. Although prosecutors have not identified a motive in the killing, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman was quick to link it to heightened tension between black communities and police.
During an emotional news conference on Saturday, Sheriff Hickman said a “dangerous national rhetoric” is putting law enforcement officials across the country at risk.
“Our assumption is that he was the target because he was wearing his uniform,” he said. “This rhetoric has gotten out of control. We’ve heard Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. Well, cops’ lives matter too.”
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund lists 84 police line-of-duty deaths as of Monday, including 25 firearm-related deaths. That’s a 15 percent increase in police deaths as of the same time last year.
Mr. Obama addressed the issue of improving community and police relations in his weekly address Aug. 15, noting that he’s met with rank and file to hear their ideas.
“I convened a task force on community policing to find commonsense steps that can help us drive down crime and build up trust and cooperation between communities and police, who put their lives on the line every single day to help keep us safe,” the president said.
And this summer, newly appointed Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch strove to mend strained relations between the administration and local law enforcement while rallying public trust for police during an appearance at the national conference of the Fraternal Order of Police.
But it’s not enough for law enforcement officials who see protesters’ rhetoric as a roadblock to rebuilding relationships between police officers and minority communities.
“We would love to hear someone come out and say ‘enough is enough,’” Mr. Titus said. “This needs to stop — this rhetoric — it’s accomplishing nothing, just making great divides.”
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.