Killings of New York Police Officers Spark Backlash to Protests

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from The Wall Street Journal,

The assassination of two New York City police officers this weekend has emboldened police and their supporters to lash out at weeks of nationwide protest and criticism that they say have left officers more vulnerable.

Police are investigating social-media posts by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the apparent assailant in the point-blank fatal shootings Saturday of the two officers who were sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. In them, he allegedly talked about killing officers in retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner on Staten Island, N.Y., and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., this summer during confrontations with police.

Experts on law enforcement said the demonstrations that followed grand jury decisions not to charge the officers in those cases have strained police morale nationwide, as officers have been forced to defend their tactics, then deploy in big numbers to protests against those tactics.

“This senseless murder of two of New York’s finest further exemplifies the dangerous political climate in which all members of law enforcement, nationwide, now find themselves,” Baltimore police union President Gene Ryan said in a posting on the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police website. “Not since the political unrest of the 1960s have police officers been so targeted.”

On Sunday, a somber-faced New York Mayor Bill de Blasio , who has come under withering criticism from the city’s police union, which contends he has undermined officers, attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, flanked in a pew by his wife and Police Commissioner William Bratton .

“We are in solidarity with you,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told the public officials.

Protest leaders have condemned the killing of the two officers. The protest movement faced its first test Sunday evening, when about 100 demonstrators marched almost silently in Central Park and parts of Harlem to the First Corinthian Baptist Church.

“We realize the sensitivity of this time,” said Tamika Mallory, a board member of Justice League NYC, one of the main organizations involved in the New York City demonstrations.

Elsewhere, organizers defended their demonstrations.

“Who’s targeting the police? Not the peaceful protesters,” said Johnetta Elzie, an activist who has established a leading presence in Ferguson and the St. Louis area. “I have had people tell me that I have blood on my hands, and I didn’t know the shooter or the victims.”

The shootings of the two officers likely would inflame those who have organized responses against the protesters, and could make it politically difficult for elected officials to engage with demonstrators, said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a history professor at Ohio State University who focuses on the civil rights movement.

“This is where it can be really dangerous,” he said. “This is reinforcing the worst thoughts of those who were hostile to the protests.”

Mr. Jeffries saw some parallels with the recent turn of events and the splintering of the civil-rights movement. When protests for racial equality became more militant in the late 1960s and sparked police shootings, some liberals stopped participating and elected officials cracked down on the gatherings.

There have been at least three ambushes this year of law-enforcement officials that garnered national attention.

In June Las Vegas police officers Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31 were ambushed as they sat in a restaurant. One of the suspects in that shooting died in a gunbattle with authorities, and his wife committed suicide.

In September, Pennsylvania state trooper Bryon Dickson was killed and another trooper wounded when a gunman fired on them as they walked out of the Blooming Grove state police barracks.

“If you visited from Mars in the last few months, you would think police do no good in society at all,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “And there’s a complete absence of elected officials, who are the architects of the system, not only not stepping up to defend the police, but sometimes jumping on the bandwagon.”

Of the 27 officers killed nationwide in 2013 as a result of criminal acts, five were ambushed, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Tensions in New York have risen in the past week after a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge escalated into violence and two police officers were assaulted while trying to make an arrest. Police have aggressively pursued suspects in that case, publishing video and asking for the public’s help.

When asked how police would handle their work going forward, Mr. Bratton said it would be a “tough time for the men and women of this department. But they’ll go out and do what we expect of them, because that’s what cops do.”

Some conservative leaders said it was time for the protests to wind down or take a more civil tone. In particular, several cast blame on civil-rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton for his role in the protests.

“One of the best things would be if Al Sharpton would just be quiet and let people heal,” said Ari Fleischer , who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush .

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