Fingers of blame have been pointing in all directions following the violence of the past week, which saw two more black men die at the hands of police and the murder of five police officers in Dallas. Of course the right did what the right always does — they largely ignored the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and focused in on the Dallas attack, fixing blame on both Black Lives Matter and President Obama.
Speaking from Spain on Sunday morning, the president had some truthful words for critics of Black Lives Matter, the group that is getting blamed for stirring up anti-police sentiment. He told reporters,
One of the great things about America is that individual citizens and groups of citizens can petition their government, can protest, can speak truth to power. And that is sometimes messy, and controversial, but because of that ability to protest and engage in free speech, America over time has gotten better. We’ve all benefitted from that.
Who can argue with that? If those words had been spoken by a Republican president, conservatives would be thumping their chests and yelling about “American exceptionalism” to anyone within earshot. But don’t expect that kind of reaction to remarks coming from the man they angrily call the “divider in chief.”
The president continues by recalling some of the issues that spawned past protest movements, and how sometimes activists in those protests “engaged in rhetoric that was overheated, and occasionally counter-productive.” The president says that the protests that are taking place now are part of the American tradition.
He’s exactly right. Protests of the past have often been ugly. Witness the anti-war marches of the Vietnam era that many of us saw firsthand, where sometimes a small group of agitators turned an otherwise peaceful demonstration into a clash with law enforcement. Or the civil rights marches, where southern police forces initiated violence by turning dogs and water cannons on protesters.
But President Obama also had stern words for those whose warped thinking leads them to believe that adding more violence to the mix is somehow going to make things better. He continued,
Whenever those of us who are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system attack police officers, you are doing a disservice to the cause.
Obama goes on to say that not only is violence against police “reprehensible,” but rhetoric that lumps all police officers together to place blame for the actions of a few is also counterproductive. He says that if those calling for improvements in the relationship between police and minority communities don’t recognize that the vast majority of police do their job properly and well, “then we’re going to lose allies in the reform cause.”
But the moment of pure genius that will certainly put his critics on the defensive comes near the end of his statement, when the president says this:
In a movement like Black Lives Matter, there are always going to be people who say things that are stupid or are imprudent or are overgeneralized or are harsh. And I don’t think that you can hold well-meaning activists who are doing the right thing and peacefully protesting responsible for everything that is uttered at a protest.
That is exactly what critics of Black Lives Matter want to do. They want to blame the entire group for the behavior of a few, or for the behavior of people like the Dallas shooter, who was not even connected with the movement.
The president, as usual, is right on the money. You can’t have it both ways. Conservatives cannot acknowledge on one hand the simple fact that rational Americans agree on — that police responsible for violence against black people are a small minority — and then turn around and lay the blame for violence against the police at the feet of an entire group.
Here are the president’s remarks, via MSNBC:
Featured image via MSNBC screen shot