There are critical similarities between the furious controversy in the fall about the Ebola crisis in the U.S. – that never materialized – and that which has followed the heinous murder of two New York City police officers by an apparently mentally unstable Black man with a long criminal record.
First, in both instances, conservatives ignored “inconvenient” facts in order to spin falsehoods and half-baked conspiracy theories and play the guilt-by-association card. Secondly, conservative politicians and pundits used both developments to bash progressives, especially President Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and stoke anti-Black and anti-Brown bigotry and hatred of undocumented immigrants.
The facts available at the time made it clear there was no danger of either a large- or a small-scale outbreak of the lethal virus. Yet, the conservative echo chamber, and some centrists, insistently tried to gin up a national panic. That gambit – obviously done with the November elections in mind – included outlandish and racist claims that Obama and de Blasio actually favored having the disease take root here.
Those and other “exaggerated claims from politicians and pundits” helped “fear of the disease … [stretch] to every corner of America this fall” and “produced a dangerous and incorrect narrative.” That assessment comes from Politifact.com, an independent fact-checking journalism website affiliated with the Tampa Bay Times. Because those “claims – all wrong – distorted the debate about a serious public health issue,” Politifact’s editors labeled the Ebola exaggerations Politfact’s “2014 Lie of the Year.”
(Politifact’s 2013 Lie of the Year was the Obama administration’s claim that under Obamacare, if individuals liked their own health plan, they’d unquestionably be able to keep it. Obviously, it favors neither progressives nor conservatives.)
The words Politfact.com used to describe the Ebola scare precisely describe the fear-mongering of conservatives in the aftermath of the two New York City police officers’ murders. There’s no evidence that 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who had shot his girlfriend in Baltimore before traveling to New York to commit a second reprehensible crime, had any connection to the legitimate, justifiable protests of police killings of unarmed Black Americans in questionable circumstances – or that anyone significantly involved in those protests had any connection to him.
Yet, from the moment the tragedy unfolded, conservative politicians and pundits spewed the kind of race-baiting, guilt-by-association lies that racists have always used to try to obscure legitimate Black protest.
It is a measure of both the political progress Black Americans have forged, on the one hand, and, on the other, of the persistent virulence of racism in American society that some so-called respectable White current and former public officials, and police union officials labeled the president of the United States and the mayor of New York City as “anti-police” and claimed they bear some responsibility for the murders.
True, the political calculation in such statements from Republicans Rudolph Giuliani, former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (who suddenly see the city’s mayoralty in their sights), and New York Rep. Peter King and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (both trying to position themselves for the GOP presidential nomination) was as glaring as Times Square’s neon-sign wonderland.
And so is conservatives’ racial hypocrisy. Last June, two Las Vegas city cops who had stopped to take their lunch break at a restaurant were ambushed by Jerad and Amanda Miller, a young White couple who had been part of the mob of a thousand armed anti-government extremists who had gathered at the Nevada ranch of government-chiseler Cliven Bundy prepared to shoot to kill federal agents there to collect the fees Bundy had long owed (a potential insurrection that many conservatives supported). In the ensuing effort to capture them, the Millers killed a civilian before being shot to death by other officers.
In October, Eric Frein, a White Pennsylvanian who had long espoused anti-government and anti-police attitudes, ambushed two state troopers as they walked out of their barracks. One died; the other was seriously wounded. Frein, an experienced survivalist who had apparently long planned to murder police officers, then took to the thick woods in the area and eluded a massive manhunt for nearly 50 days before being captured.
As numerous commentators have pointed out in recent days, neither of these reprehensible police-officer murders – in which White men were the perpetrators – drew any interest from the conservative echo chamber. Nor did several other high-visibility police murders in recent years that involved White males’ driven by anti-police or anti-government feelings deliberately ambushing police officers.
Here’s an outlandish suggestion: Should we then conclude that conservative politicians and pundits have no interest in the murder of police officers when their killers are White?
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.