Another shooting, another GOP rant without solutions

Forgive me for yawning; I can’t help it. This is getting tiresome.

As you know, a 62-year-old drifter wounded 10 people on a New York City subway last week. Police quickly arrested him, and we know he has a dozen prior misdemeanor arrests. He’s almost certainly mentally ill, but was able to legally buy a gun because he has no felony convictions. (More details here.)

Now let’s shift our gaze to former GOP Rep. Peter King (bio here), who represented Long Island from 1993 to 2021. He’s the kind of Republican who supported bailing out Wall Street but opposed the Obama stimulus that helped avert a depression, opposed abortion and LGBQT rights, and is unabashedly pro-police. So temper your expectations; when he speaks, I can just about guarantee you’re going to be disappointed.

The Hill published an op-ed written by King on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022, in which he exploits last Tuesday’s mass shooting to attack police reformers and Black Lives Matter. You can, and I think should, read it here (even though I conclude below what he has to say is a waste of your time; I’m suggesting you read it for another reason, i.e., it’s instructive of how GOP discourse on public issues has become an intellectual desert).

He begins by mischaracterizing the George Floyd protests as an “anti-police mood that set in across the nation.” This is simplistic and omits the material qualifier that the protests were against police brutality, not police per se. He also describes the protests as “riots … against the police,” which they were not. As I posted here, 96% of the more than 11,000 such protests were peaceful.

King then goes off on “demands to defund the police.” Yes, some people fed up with gratuitous police violence against people of color talked about that, but it was little more than a slogan, and never got serious traction (as for Biden, he explicitly opposed it). Nearly everyone realizes it’s impractical to disband police departments, because that would turn our streets over to criminals.

Finally, King concludes with this:

“How unfortunate that it took a violent crime wave, one that has victimized thousands of Americans of all races, including many children, and a violent attack that wounded subway riders of all races and ages, to bring many officials and politicians to their senses. It is time to stop viewing society’s ills through a flawed racial prism — and, especially, to end the mindless attacks on the men and women in blue.”

What he’s done here is jump from a specific crime to a vague “crime wave” which victimizes “children” to shove in your face the following arguments:

  • Bring politicians back to their senses (implying they’ve lost them)
  • Stop viewing society’s ills as racist in nature (even though we have race problems)
  • Ignore criticisms (he calls them “mindless attacks”) of police (and, impliedly, calls for police reforms)

King’s essay is dishonest on every level. He falsely labels the George Floyd protests as violently “anti-police,” falsely represents fringe “defunding” rhetoric as a mainstream policy idea, and appeals to emotion rather than reason by dragging children into the crime discussion. He’s also wrong about the facts. There isn’t a “crime wave”; while murders are up, overall crime is down. And he’s seemingly blind to American society’s very real (and pervasive) racial ills (not limited to blacks, but also including Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, and other minorities).

By all appearances, King wrote this essay to criticize police reform efforts. It is, therefore, a tacit endorsement of an unacceptable status quo. Those efforts are legitimate, badly needed, and long overdue. While he misleadingly focuses on “defunding,” the real focus should be on removing bad cops from the streets, recruiting the right people for police work, improving training and supervision of police, and wresting control of police discipline away from the police unions. King says nothing about that.

His essay is merely a mindless kneejerk reaction to protests against illegitimate police violence and demands by millions of concerned Americans for change. Mass shootings like last week’s subway incident are common occurrences in our country. Most of the random attacks on strangers are committed by mentally ill people who have easy access to guns. It follows that any solution, if there is one, must focus on the two prongs of mental illness and access to guns. Instead of addressing that, King rants against police reform and brushes off the very real problem of racist policing.

As a citizen and voter, I want political leaders to solve problems. I want candidates to show me how they’re going to solve them. In that respect, King’s essay wasted my time.

Since he generalizes, I guess I can, too. Lack of intelligent discussion from Republicans tells me that we won’t solve problems by voting for them. I wish it was different, because we need political competition to bring out the best ideas and policies, kind of the same way a free market in goods and services makes them better. We don’t have that anymore, and I’d like to get it back.

I also wish editors, at The Hill and other media outlets, would demand more than this of guest writers by asking tough questions and making them justify their remarks in the pre-publication editing process. This op-ed is just plain lousy writing. The world needs more thinking, not more polemics.

By the way, I hope I’ve done at least a little better here, and that this posting hasn’t wasted your time.

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