The events in Baton Rouge come hours before the start of the Republican National Convention is set to begin in Cleveland and a little more than one week before the Democratic Party will throw its own giant pep rally in Philadelphia. It is, to say the least, a period during which overheated rhetoric, false accusations, and overwrought and unproven claims have been known to fly. But alas, those who report the news and those who consume it cannot make accurate claim to simply standing and watching the mud go by.
Then there were the many, many, many -- too many to count -- on-air references made to the possible, if not likely, involvement of activists opposed to the unpunished and unquestioned continuation of police misconduct, hate groups with black members and the shootings in Baton Rouge being the latest battlefront in the alleged war on police. There were assumptions that the officers killed must have been the victims of a coordinated effort to ambush police, killed by a group or a small collective of people specifically gunning for police and almost no mention of the possibility that these officers may have been brutally killed in the line of duty while responding to or trying to prevent crime.
One MSNBC anchor summarizing the situation in Baton Rouge a little more than an hour before the president's speech told viewers that police were hunting for any accomplices in order to "put them down." In the span of two weeks, it appears, the country has moved from questioning whether police in Dallas made the right call in ending a standoff that followed the killings of five police officers with an explosion or should have left the final assessment of the suspect to a judge and jury or to major news networks describing human hunting as if this is an ordinary thing.
Even in the moments after Obama spoke, many people seemed willing to bring their previously stated political point of view to bear in filling in or giving meaning to the facts that are known. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) announced on CNN that he agrees with the essence of Obama's speech and said that there is "a war on cops." Then Cassidy voiced his assumption that the president's warning was directed at those who have been protesting and publicly questioning the activities of the nation's police. Perhaps Cassidy was party to information that has not yet been made public. Perhaps.
It is also possible that when Obama warned of the danger created by leaping to big conclusions, assigning mass guilt and blame and speaking about one's presumptions as though they are fact he was referring to the near torrent of opinion expressed on air, online and in living rooms everywhere. ZeroHedge.com, an information site that has made the phrase, "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero," its tagline, posted a story at 2:57 p.m. under the headline "29-Year-Old Black Male Dead After Killing 3 Cops Wounding 3 More in Baton Rouge "Cowardly Ambush." And that, folks, doesn't even begin to catalogue the content of the nation's myriad personal blogs and those with audiences that rushed to weigh in, lay blame and warn of increased danger.
Interesting that among the assumptions made in the hours after the Baton Rouge shootings is that if even some fraction of their openly expressed ideas prove to be true, danger may be created for others in the early assigning of blame.
Perhaps Obama was actually referring to the content of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's tweets declaring an unidentified "we" who want " law and order," a group that very likely includes everyone except avowed criminals, and attributing the events in Baton Rouge to a failure of "leadership."
Perhaps the president had in mind the way that some or the sum total of motives that drove Omar Mateen to kill dozens in an Orlando nightclub unfurled over time. Baton Rouge is a city that has, in fact, been the site of multiple protests in the days since police shot and killed a black man, Alton Sterling, and questionable portions of the incident were caught on video. But it's also a city where all types of crime happens and where concerns about the way police interact with people of color predated Sterling's shooting.
Today, we repeat, Gavin Long, a 29-year-old black man from Kansas City. That's what we know for sure. That is a long way from confirmation that a black hate group or any group at all is targeting police or that some sort of war on law enforcement or white Americans has begun.
As the nation's security conditions grow more uncertain, a deeper commitment to the rule of law and its processes by both government officials and private citizens becomes all the more necessary. That, folks, is basically what the president said.