clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The big problem with blaming Obama and Black Lives Matter for killings of police officers

President Barack Obama honors two fallen New York City police officers.
President Barack Obama honors two fallen New York City police officers.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama finally revealed that he really does care about police officers' lives.

"Our law enforcement officers do outstanding work in an incredibly difficult and dangerous job," Obama said at a Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, according to the Hill's Kyle Balluck. "I just want to repeat, because somehow this never gets on the TV: There is no contradiction between us caring about our law enforcement officers and also making sure that our laws are applied fairly."

To most people, this comment might sound innocuous and bland. What kind of politician would say he doesn't care about cops? That's like saying you don't care about the troops.

But his comments are a direct response to the latest conservative campaign against Black Lives Matter, the movement focused on ending racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Over the past few months, conservative news outlets and politicians have attempted to link the movement to the killings of police officers, even though there's no evidence to suggest the two are linked. In fact, during the Obama years and following the rise of Black Lives Matter, killings of police officers have actually continued their downward trend.

Killings of police officers have waned during Obama's presidency

If there really was a rise in violent anti-police rhetoric, as some conservative pundits and lawmakers claim, one would expect that anti-police violence would increase alongside the rhetoric. The statistics don't show that: The Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks police officer deaths, estimates that there have been 94 line-of-duty deaths among police this year — about the same as the same time period in 2014. But gunfire deaths in particular are at 26, down 26 percent from the same time period last year.

This has been the case throughout Obama's time in office. As nationwide homicide rate decline, so too have killings of police officers: The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that on-duty police fatalities in 2014 totaled 117, up from a historic low of 107 in 2013 but down nearly 60 percent from a peak of 280 in 1974.

So since the Black Lives Matter movement rose to national prominence following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a year ago, there's no data suggesting that the long-term decline in police officers' on-duty deaths has stopped. Whatever connection conservatives may see in Black Lives Matter, Obama, and the tragic deaths of police officers, it's not showing up in the data.

Conservative outlets and lawmakers have blamed Black Lives Matter — and Obama — for anti-police violence

Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri.

Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Still, in the past few months, conservatives have continued drawing a connection between anti-police violence and Black Lives Matter. Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly both called Black Lives Matter a "hate group." A sheriff tried to link — without any evidence to support it — the killing of one of his deputies to Black Lives Matter. And the Daily Caller suggested Black Lives Matter activists were planning to attack police officers on the anniversary of 9/11. (The supposed attacks never happened.)

But more recently, conservatives have tried to pin the blame not just on Black Lives Matter, but Obama as well. At a rally opposing the Iran nuclear deal, Sarah Palin said that Obama needs to call off the "dogs" (meaning Black Lives Matter protesters) and told police officers that "we got your back." And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, formerly a presidential candidate, wrote in the conservative blog Hot Air, "In the last six years under President Obama, we've seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. … This inflammatory and disgusting rhetoric has real consequences for the safety of officers who put their lives on the line for us and hampers their ability to serve the communities that need their help."

To be clear, there's nothing linking the Black Lives Matter movement, whose cause Obama has shown some support for, to the recent killings of police officers. The movement is explicitly concerned with reducing the racial disparities found in the criminal justice system. None of its leaders have advocated for killing cops.

There have been some bad apples in the group, including some protesters who briefly shouted "pigs in a blanket" at a recent Minnesota march, but that goes for any large political demonstration that brings together millions of people. As Kevin Drum wrote for Mother Jones:

People and groups have to be free to condemn abortion or police misconduct or anything else—sometimes soberly, sometimes not. And it's inevitable that this will occasionally inspire a maniac somewhere to resort to violence. There's really no way around this. It's obviously something for any decent person to keep in mind, but it doesn't make passionate politics culpable for the ills of the world. We can't allow the limits of our political spirit to be routinely dictated by the worst imaginable consequences.

Simply put, there's a huge difference between a movement as a whole calling for anti-police violence and a few individuals who claim they're part of the movement acting out in violent or inflammatory ways. The Black Lives Matter movement is about eliminating a form of violence, particularly police brutality against black communities. That is an incredibly broad message that is likely to attract all sorts of people, including some who may get the wrong idea — but that doesn't mean those few represent the movement as a whole. (In fact, most Black Lives Matter demonstrations are so peaceful that you rarely even hear about them in the news.)

But the conservative attacks on Black Lives Matter and Obama have continued, even though there's no data or evidence to support their claims.

Watch: Why it's important to film the police

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.