In an ideal world, there would be no contradiction between support for police and opposition to bad policing. But after the cold-blooded murder of two police officers in New York, some people find it dangerously easy to confuse one with the other.
In social media, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a mentally disturbed career criminal, declared his intention to commit the senseless killings out of some sense of revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner of New York. He later shot and killed himself as he was pursued by police.
With no more of a link to the killings than his disjointed messages, Brinsley nevertheless gave critics of the protests a new excuse to blame the tragedy on politicians and the protests and their sympathizers -- and ignore the issues that the protests were about.
Patrick Lynch, president of the city's largest police union, angrily attacked Mayor Bill de Blasio a day after the killings, saying that "there's blood on many hands tonight" and "that blood on the hands, starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor."
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Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani later on Fox News called Lynch's "blood" comments an "overstatement" but proceeded to criticize de Blasio, President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Rev. Al Sharpton (on whose MSNBC program I have been an occasional unpaid guest) for contributing to "an atmosphere of hate for the police."
Those startling comments came after Lynch and a number of other officers physically turned their backs on the mayor as he entered the hospital where slain offices Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos had been taken. Imagine soldiers visibly turning their backs on the president and you have an idea of the stunning gravity in that moment.
What did de Blasio do to upset the police unions? The answer is part political and partly traditional. Every mayor in memory has had sharp conflicts with the city's police, as police commissioner William Bratton reminded reporters. Even under Giuliani, a similar funeral-boycott protest was suggested through fliers in 1997 during tough union contract negotiations.
It doesn't help police morale these days that they have been working without a contract for four years.
De Blasio's rise to office this year followed his strong opposition to the stop-and-frisk policies that disproportionately affect black and Hispanic males. After a federal judge found the department's policy to be unconstitutional last year, the number of stop-and-frisks plummeted in the last quarter of 2013 by more than 80 percent, according to department records. Yet the rate of arrests-per-stop increased to 12 percent from the 6 per cent rate of the same period a year earlier. Crime did not soar.
De Blasio rankled police again when he said during a recent discussion of the Garner case that he had counseled his biracial son to be wary and deferential if he was stopped by police. It is the sort of talk that is delivered by many parents, but with a special urgency for kids who are most likely to fit the racial profiles that police may use, consciously or unconsciously.
None of these controversies is new in New York or, as we have seen recently, other cities and states. But it doesn't help matters to polarize the issues further with hot rhetoric. It is possible to support police while opposing excessive use of force and other questionable policies, especially when those policies damage relations between police and the communities they are supposed to serve.
Stop-and-frisk, for example, grew out of Bratton's "Broken Windows" approach. In essence, it directs police to attack minor crimes before they lead to larger disorder. Broken Windows has mostly worked, but videotape of Garner's death shows how it can run amok. A chokehold-related death is a morbidly huge price to pay for Garner's alleged crime: selling untaxed cigarettes on the street.
The death of the two police officers in the nation's largest city throws a dark cloud over a generally encouraging development: On-duty police fatalities have plunged dramatically in recent decades. We can make even more progress when police and community residents work together and don't just shift blame.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.