Protests against injustice aren’t protests against police

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 cold-blooded 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.

A disturbed career criminal named Ismaaiyl Brinsley committed this unspeakable atrocity by himself, amid a spree of insane mayhem: Earlier in the day, he shot and critically wounded a woman he had been seeing; later, on a subway platform, he shot and killed himself.

Brinsley’s reported claim to be acting in some warped sense of revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner was delusional and illegitimate. Reasonable people understand this, of course. But we live in unreasonable times.

Not for the first time, one of the loudest and least temperate voices has been that of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said on Fox News. “I don’t care how you want to describe it, that’s what those protests are all about.”

No, no, no. The demonstrations sparked by the exoneration of the officers who killed Brown and Garner were pro-accountability, not anti-police. As I’ve pointed out many times, no one better appreciates the need for an active, engaged police presence than residents of high-crime neighborhoods. But nobody should be expected to welcome policing that treats whole communities as guilty until proved innocent — or a justice system that considers black and brown lives disposable.

New York police officials and union leaders should explain this to the officers who bitterly turned their backs on de Blasio — their commander in chief — as he arrived to pay his respects to slain policemen Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

Yet Ed Mullins, president of the police sergeants’ union, made this inflammatory charge: “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands.” And Ray Kelly, a former New York police commissioner, accused de Blasio of running an “anti-police” mayoral campaign and said there was a “firestorm” of anger within the department over remarks de Blasio made regarding Garner’s death.

What did the mayor do to provoke such ire? During the campaign, he spoke out against the city’s stop-and-frisk policy — a stance validated by a federal judge who found the practice discriminatory against African-Americans and Hispanics. And more recently, in talking about the Garner case, de Blasio told of how he had counseled his biracial son to be especially cautious and deferential in any encounter with police.

Saturday’s execution-style killings were immediately condemned in the strongest terms by Sharpton (who, I should note, hosts a daily broadcast on MSNBC, where I am a contributor). Yet Sharpton later reported receiving death threats, apparently because of his role in calling attention to the Brown and Garner cases and helping organize the “Hands Up” and “I Can’t Breathe” demonstrations.

Those protest rallies were timely and necessary, however, as most police officials across the country seemed to understand. In New York, peaceful demonstrators marched while phalanxes of NYPD officers cleared the way. It should be obvious that hating perceived injustice is not the same thing as hating the police.

Brinsley had a long police record and a history of mental problems. Authorities say that early Saturday morning he went to a gated apartment complex in Owings Mills, a suburb of Baltimore, and shot a woman identified as Shaneka Nicole Thompson; she was critically injured but survived. Brinsley then traveled to New York, announcing via social media his intention to kill police officers. In one post, he wrote, “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours. … .Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner #RIPMikeBrown This May Be My Final Post.”

In Brooklyn, Brinsley walked up and coldly shot Liu and Ramos as they sat in their police cruiser. Neither had the chance to unholster his weapon.

I don’t know the right way to make sense of such depravity. But I am certain that the way not to make sense of it is to blame nonviolent protesters, exercising their constitutional rights of assembly and speech, for the acts of a deranged killer.

Brinsley had somehow arrived at a day of personal apocalypse. He was beyond any rational search for reasons to commit a string of heinous acts. He needed only to give himself an excuse.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

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