“We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.”
— Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, FOX News Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014
Giuliani made headlines after his statement on Fox News, which he repeated the next day on CNN. His remarks were unusually sharp-edged, but he was not alone in making them; a handful of other current and former lawmakers took to the airwaves to denounce the “anti-cop rhetoric” that they said has spread after the fatal shooting of a teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
That rhetoric, Giuliani and others said, led to the assassination-style killings of two New York Police Department officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos on Dec. 20.
Is Giuliani correct in saying that President Obama started a propaganda campaign four months ago that “everybody should hate the police”?
The two officers were sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn when the alleged shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, walked up to the car and shot them. Police said Brinsley posted messages of hate toward police on social media prior to the shooting, making references to two African American males recently killed by police: Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner on Staten Island.
The relationship between local police departments and the communities they serve — especially the residents who are racial and ethnic minorities in those communities — has been an issue of much heated and emotional debate in recent months, after Brown’s death in Ferguson.
Giuliani consistently has been outspoken on issues of race and police brutality, especially in the past month. In November, we checked his claim about black-on-black crime. (It’s to his credit that after The Fact Checker pointed out comparable statistics for “white-on-white” crime, he has talked about both figures in subsequent interviews.)
Giuliani did not respond to The Fact Checker’s multiple requests to his spokesperson for an interview for this fact check.
But we were able to glean his thoughts from his CNN interview, where he expounded on the point and was asked about his claim that the president engaged in “propaganda.”
“What I’m saying is, over the last two to three months, the hate speech about police officers has created a propaganda that police officers are racists. That is not true. The main problem is crime in the black community,” Giuliani said. “When you start doing this stuff that the [New York] mayor [Bill de Blasio] is doing, the president is doing, the attorney general is doing, they are perpetuating a myth that there is systemic police brutality. There is systemic crime. There is occasional police brutality.”
“What do you think the president has done? I know that you’ve said that you think he has been part of this propaganda. What has he said?” the anchor asked.
“The president has shown absolutely no respect for the police,” Giuliani answered. “All the president has done is see one side of this dispute.”
Although Giuliani would not respond to our queries, his view reflects a more pointed version of a critique among Republicans.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said Obama, de Blasio, Al Sharpton and those in the media need to “stop the cop bashing and anti-police rhetoric.” Obama sent Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson before the investigation was complete, which indicated a premise that there is a problem with law enforcement and that the “black community is under siege,” King told The Fact Checker.
“The entire narrative was that something had gone wrong, the police officer was wrong, and the police department was wrong,” King said. When asked about statements by Holder and Obama that offered respect to police officers, King said those were perfunctory comments said in an obligatory way.
Sending Holder to Ferguson furthered that narrative, and “that, to me, was taking sides in a case before there’s any evidence,” King said. Officer Darren Wilson, who killed Brown, was never invited to the White House after the grand jury didn’t indict him — yet there were White House aides at Brown’s funeral, King said.
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin echoed this sentiment: “Obama used his bully pulpit this week to bemoan the ‘real issues’ of discrimination by some police officers. But he said nothing about the murderous strain of racial animus against America’s men and women in blue.”
Former Congressman Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) has been tweeting on this topic. In an e-mail to The Fact Checker, Walsh said he believes de Blasio, Holder and Obama “have the blood of those two NYPD cops who were killed this past weekend on their hands.” All three “responded by stressing how racist America still is, how understandable urban black anger is toward the police, and how police need to re-train and reform. They put all the onus on the police and created the clear atmosphere for people to be angry at and disrespectful toward police. … What they should have done is come out and say succinctly — ‘The judicial system has spoken, respect the decision, cops are good, don’t resist arrest, never ever attack a cop, and don’t you dare riot, loot, and burn.'”
So we checked what Obama said on the deaths of Brown and Garner, with a focus on his statements from August, immediately after Brown’s death. This would have been the beginning of Giuliani’s calculation of four months.
It turns out that none of Obama’s statements speak any ill of police officers or condone violence among those reacting to the deaths.
In Obama’s initial statement three days after the shooting, he urged the public against violence. Violence and unrest nonetheless erupted in Ferguson. Protesters took to the streets, lighting structures on fire and looting stores. Police officers responded with machine guns and other military-style equipment.
Obama gave an update two days later, speaking directly to the violence in Ferguson. He said he expressed concern about the violence to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D). “There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights,” Obama said in his statement.
Four days later, Obama spoke again about Ferguson. He announced Holder’s plan to travel to Ferguson to meet with FBI agents, Justice Department personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation into the shooting, and community leaders “whose support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson.” He added: “Giving into anger by looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice.”
One statement from this briefing seems to directly contradict claims that Obama immediately took the side of the protesters, thereby launching “anti-police rhetoric”: “I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed because, although these are issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me, and when they’re conducting an investigation, I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.”
Holder quickly became the face of the administration responding to Ferguson. He repeatedly talked about reducing tensions between law enforcement and the community it serves. He and Obama have spoken on the mistrust toward law enforcement in minority communities, and their personal experiences as men of African American descent. But neither has criticized police officers of systemic racism, or called on the public to be outraged at police officers.
Obama offered one of his most pointed criticisms about police training and practices after Ferguson during his December interview on BET, but it’s a stretch to characterize that as “propaganda” for everyone to “hate the police”:
“The vast majority of law enforcement officers are doing a really tough job, and most of them are doing it well and are trying to do the right thing. But a combination of bad training, in some cases; a combination in some cases of departments that really are not trying to root out biases, or tolerate sloppy police work; a combination in some cases of folks just not knowing any better, and in a lot of cases, subconscious fear of folks who look different — all of this contributes to a national problem that’s going to require a national solution.”
Those who have wanted Obama to take a stronger stance on racial issues have criticized him for what they view as a toe-the-line stance. He also has been criticized by those who perceive him as out of touch with minority communities. (Recall the split-screen moment from November, with Obama on one side urging Ferguson residents against violence, juxtaposed with scenes of smoke and fire from Ferguson.)
After a grand jury decided not to indict officials in the case of Garner’s death, Obama said “law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job … there’s real crime out there that they’ve got to tackle day in and day out — but that they’re only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system. And right now, unfortunately, we are seeing too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly.” He added that it was his job as president to solve the problem of people not being treated equally under the law.
Giuliani said leaders like Obama, Holder and de Blasio are perpetuating a myth that there is systemic police brutality. We have not found evidence that Obama and Holder believe police brutality is a systemic problem. However, Obama and Holder have spoken about systemic mistrust among minorities about how they are treated by police.
This is not to minimize the amount of anger toward police officers, as portrayed through protests, social media and mainstream media. As Giuliani and other critics have pointed out, some protesters are, indeed, outwardly anti-police. One protest group, Million Marchers, walked through New York City calling for “dead cops.” Another unsettling video shows a protester shouting for “pigs in a blanket” — the same phrase used by the alleged killer of the two NYPD officers. Hashtags like #CopzDontMatter and #killercop are spreading on Twitter and Facebook.
Ironically, Giuliani himself was once accused of fostering an atmosphere of police violence. A Haitian immigrant who was sodomized by New York City police officers claimed — then recanted — that the officers invoked Giuliani’s name (“It’s Giuliani time!”) during the assault. So the former mayor should be especially wary of making broad-brush claims that the rhetoric of senior officials is to blame for the actions of individuals.
The Pinocchio Test
Giuliani has a point that there is growing animosity among protesters toward police officers. That may have contributed to the actions of individuals such as Brinsley. But the burden of proof rests with the speaker. We combed through Obama’s speeches and can find no evidence of “propaganda” that “everybody should hate the police.”
Perhaps one could fault the president, as some conservatives do, for failing to more forcefully rebut violent demonstrations against police. But that’s an absence of rhetoric. Instead, Giuliani suggested that the president actively launched and promoted anti-police rhetoric — and that is simply Four-Pinocchio false. We would have liked Giuliani’s direct response and will update this column if he responds to our request for an interview.
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