Shortly after last week’s ambush of police officers in Dallas, many of my followers on social media were imploring me to control my rage.
But, as the son of a cop who spent 37 years on the job, I pushed back and asserted my right to be furious.
After all, I’m no Bobby Kennedy. During an appearance this week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” columnist Mike Barnicle recalled the extraordinary and impromptu speech that the 1968 presidential candidate gave in April of that year – on the night that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
“There is no one like Robert Kennedy standing up on a night in Indianapolis after MLK got killed,” Barnicle said. “There is no one in our political leadership who can lower the flame, the collective flame in this country, and speak to these ills.”
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He’s right. I don’t see anyone like that in the world of politics. But I’m not sure it would make much of a difference anyway. That is, I don’t believe those on either end of the divide would listen to anything a politician had to say.
Politicians believe in the redemptive power of reinvention.
Last week, Vice President Joe Biden urged Americans to “act with unity, not division” after the Dallas killings. In 1994, Biden was in the Senate where – in a fact usually downplayed by the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and the liberal media – he authored a bill called the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The legislation – which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and championed by Hillary Clinton as a way of combating what she later called “super-predators” – put more cops on the street, toughened sentencing standards and contributed to the mass incarceration of African-Americans. The end result? Less unity, more division.
None of this was on my mind Thursday night, as I watched in horror the images out of Dallas. After 25-year-old Micah Johnson, an African-American Army Reserve veteran, slaughtered five officers and wounded seven others, all I could think about was what was coming next – thousands of fellow officers saluting flag-draped coffins, the haunting sound of bagpipes, children growing up without their fathers all because of something absurd.
Racism is always absurd, no matter who practices it. Dallas Police Chief David Brown told reporters that Johnson was upset at recent killings of African-American men by police and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.” And while Brown said that Johnson was not affiliated with any group, the chief did say he shared the anger of the Black Lives Matter movement.
And while the media are going the extra mile to try to exonerate Black Lives Matter in the killing of the police officers, it’s not that simple. Not when leaders in the movement advance the inflammatory accusation that police are “hunting” African-Americans and marchers, some of them affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, call for “dead cops” and chant “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.”
So, as you can see, like a lot of Americans, I have much to be angry about. And I expressed some of it on social media.
In response, one person wrote: “Your anger is justified, but it’s time for light not heat.”
I’m all for light. But there is a time for heat. If activists – no matter what their cause – didn’t believe that, they wouldn’t do what they do.
Another person wrote: “You also have a responsibility to tone down the hysteria. These urgent times call upon us to create the space for dialogue and understanding. Demonizing will only get us closer to the abyss.”
Now we’re getting to what it was about these comments that bothered me. As an opinion writer, I don’t have a responsibility to tone down anything. Look around. Do you see many people in my business toning down their rhetoric, on any topic? I don’t.
So I wrote back:
“Hear me now. I am not your priest. I am not your mayor. I am not your leader. I am not your social worker. I am not your teacher. I am a JOURNALIST – an OPINION journalist, in fact, whose job is to challenge you and everyone else, on the right/left/center to confront things you don’t want to confront.”
One thing I must confront is unfair expectations. As the son of a retired cop, it’s not up to me to create a space to understand cop killers.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.