The ambush shooting of two Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies Saturday was a savage crime utterly outside the realm of legitimate debate about police brutality. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was right to quickly and forcefully condemn this vicious act — and, importantly, to condemn the anti-police demonstrators who mobbed the hospital where the officers were taken, blocking entrances while at least one yelled, “We hope they die!”
Those who express such venom, like those who loot and burn, are no better than police who abuse their power. Biden must continue saying that, loudly and often, to thwart President Donald Trump’s cynical strategy of painting legitimate protesters and opportunistic criminals with the same broad brush.
The May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has prompted what feels like a turning point in America’s long, fraught struggle with racial justice and police reform. Black Lives Matter has become a mainstream sentiment, despite attempts by Trump and others to misrepresent it as radical. Polls show that strong majorities of white Americans finally recognize that police brutality is a serious issue and that Black Americans are more likely to be victims of that brutality. (They’re right. A recent Harvard study found that Blacks on average are three times as likely as whites to be killed during police contact.)
Most of the protests against police brutality that have arisen around the country in recent months have been peaceful. But small factions have committed violence out of self-indulgent anger, or have used the events as cover for looting and wanton mayhem. Either way, they undermine the legitimate protests and aid those who oppose the reform movement.
The still-unknown assailant who walked up to a parked squad car in Los Angeles early Saturday evening and gunned down the two deputies where they sat is every bit as monstrous as the officers who killed Floyd. The two young deputies, one of them the mother of a 6-year-old, were in critical but stable condition as of Tuesday and were expected to survive.
The protesters who mobbed the hospital not only displayed their inhumanity but risked other lives by blocking entrances. These are not the allies any serious reformer should want, ever. They are enemies of the police-reform movement — every bit as much Trump himself — because they tar what is fundamentally an anti-violence campaign with violence.
Trump and his followers love to obfuscate such nuances, and no wonder: It is the nature of prejudice to categorize people into broad groups whose causes can be easily denigrated and dehumanized. Bad cops dehumanize when they treat Black people differently. Protesters dehumanize when they cheer the shooting of two deputies they knew nothing about.