THE BLOG
12/23/2014 12:00 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2015

When Racism Is Masked as Outrage

In the months since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a nationwide debate has raged over the causes--and even existence--of police brutality. While tens of thousands of protesters have marched and demonstrated around the country against institutional racism, conservative commentators have raged against the "injustice" of being made aware of their own white privilege.

Let's make this clear: the killing of a young woman and two NYPD officers on Saturday night was an act of terrorism, plain and simple. It was not only a tragedy but an assault against all of society.

But what followed immediately in the wake of these killings makes me ashamed to be an American. It took mere minutes for conservatives on social media to blame the killings on Attorney General Eric Holder and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom have spoke out against institutional racism in recent months, particularly the conduct of police toward people of color.

In a live press conference on Dec. 4th, Mayor de Blasio spoke of his personal anxiety as the parent of a black child, how he and his wife had trained their son on how to interact with police because of the rational fear, based on a long and consistent history of police brutality, of the "dangers he may face" in doing so.

This is not a speculative fear. Since 2009, the NYPD has paid out $428 million in settlements over lawsuits brought against the department. A report by the Associated Press released the following year and covering the previous decade found nearly $1 billion paid out in lawsuits over that time.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD systematically targeted black and Latino citizens under their controversial "Stop and Frisk" policy, calling it unconstitutional. Despite blacks and Latinos making up 54.1 percent of the city's population, they composed an astounding 86 percent of those stopped by police, with 90 percent of the detained being released from custody without an arrest or summons. Or in other words, nine out of ten of these stops had no basis in reasonable suspicion.

Two years ago, The Nation released an eye-opening documentary feature on Stop and Frisk, with police officers giving anonymous testimony about the racist machinations behind the program, how the department is pressured to maintain a quota for stops, which is made easier by racial profiling.

New York City clearly has a problem in how its citizens of color are illegally treated by its police department, and because this dynamic has led to the deaths of several unarmed black men at the hands of the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio and his wife Chirlane did what any rational parents would do: they took the necessary steps to protect their child, and this meant teaching their son how to respond if stopped by police.

But for Patrick Lynch, head of NYC's police union, the Mayor's acknowledgment of the department's racist actions was tantamount to treason, claiming the NYPD was thrown "under the bus" by de Blasio.

Fast forward to Saturday night, and in the midst of that terrorist action by an awful human being, the union boss politicized the tragedy and claimed the Mayor has "blood on his hands" simply for stating he fears for his black son in a city with a history of police brutality and racial profiling.

And Lynch was far from alone. On Twitter and Facebook, conservatives wasted no time in exploiting the deaths to vent their pent-up anger over the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter protests across the nation. They have been stuck oscillating between claims that racism doesn't exist and even if it does, black men bring it upon themselves by not complying with police officers.

The latter assertion strikes me as particularly interesting since this comes from the same political movement that celebrates white men openly (albeit legally) carrying assault rifles in public spaces to intentionally antagonize authority figures. They speak openly about protesting "gun control obsessed liberals" and hoping to be challenged by police, so they can declare the legality of their actions.

Were one of these white men to be asked by a police officer to hand over their weapon, the outrage in conservative media would be immediate and histrionic. And were that white man to refuse complying with the officer, he would be celebrated for spurning government overreach.

And if a pattern emerged of white male members of the NRA being harassed by police, there would be an armed March on Washington, to say nothing of "roving mobs" of white men carrying assault rifles and occupying public spaces to further antagonize authority figures.

But black men unreasonably stopped and searched by police officers? They are criticized by the same people for not complying, for not simply doing what they're told. It would seem the concept of "government overreach" has no merit in cases concerning people of color.

When Mayor de Blasio arrived at a police conference Saturday night, hundreds of officers silently turned their backs to him in an organized protest presumably led by Lynch and presumably inspired by de Blasio's voiced concern for his son and children who look like him.

Early Sunday morning, the hashtag #TurnYourBack emerged on Twitter to take that protest against the Mayor online. And yet, it's easy for white men to turn their backs on acknowledging racism when they don't have worry about getting shot from behind by people who are supposed to be protecting them.

These two innocent and honorable NYPD cops and Eric Garner have this in common: they were killed by others based on their existence. Both instances are inhumane. Both instances are tragic and inexcusable and carried out by people who lack humanity.

But where protests followed Eric Garner's death to change how people of color are treated by police, protests by conservatives following Saturday night's killings seem to be borne out of pettiness and an abhorrent attempt to capitalize on tragedy. This was not about the lives of the slain officers but about moving quickly to push a political agenda.

Hell hath no fury like an ignorant, racist conservative with limited insight and unlimited access to a computer. Because Obama. Or Islam. Or socialism. Or hoodies. Or hip-hop. Or pants hung too low. Or something--anything--other than white privilege.