A couple of weeks ago, Quentin Tarantino spoke at an anti-police brutality rally, and everybody lost their minds. Seizing on his statement, “When I see a murder I cannot stand by and I have to call the murdered the murdered — and I have to call the murderers the murderers,” police unions across the country announced a boycott of his films. Right-wing media called for his head (or, at least, an apology). He was condemned from the floor of the House of Representatives. And so, last night, Tarantino appeared on All in with Chris Hayes and patiently explained that, of course, he’s not against all police, just bad police. And, somehow blissfully unaware of how a booking can prove a point, Fox News brought on a dirty cop to respond.
When the filmmaker, who the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association dubbed a “purveyor of degeneracy,” appeared on the MSNBC program (full disclosure: this writer’s wife is a former producer of that show, and I have appeared on it as a guest), he took pains to clarify exactly who he was calling murdered by murderers: “I was obviously referring to the people in those type of situations. I was referring to Eric Garner. I was referring to Sam DuBose. I was referring to Antonio Guzman Lopez. I was referring to Tamir Rice. That’s what I was referring to.” And, for those in the cheap seats, he reiterated, “just because I was at an anti-police brutality protest doesn’t mean I’m anti-police.”
The message he and those participating in the “Rise Up October” actions and rallies wanted to send, he explained, was simple: “’Stop shooting unarmed people. We want justice, but stop shooting unarmed people.’ But they don’t wanna deal with that; they would rather start arguments with celebrities than examine the concerns put before them, by a citizenry that has lost trust in them.”
This sentiment, which the filmmaker put in similar terms in a Tuesday interview with the Los Angeles Times (“Instead of dealing with the incidents of police brutality that those people were bringing up, instead of examining the problem of police brutality in this country, better they single me out”), is right on the money, particularly as there’s a long history of such responses to questions of police brutality, of taking aim at the messenger as a method to avoid the message. It goes back at least as far as the FBI targeting N.W.A. for “Fuck tha Police” — or the 1992 controversy over the song “Cop Killer,” a “protest record” by Ice-T’s speed metal group Body Count, which drew the ire of police organizations, activists (including NRA mouthpiece Charlton Heston), and politicians (including then-President Bush, Vice President Quayle, and Tipper Gore) and ignited a nationwide furor. Its critics pulled a Don Draper, years before that character articulated the strategy: they didn’t like the conversation, so they changed the conversation. The country was still reeling from the eye-opening Rodney King tape, but they were talking about “Cop Killer,” rather than talking about killer cops.
And so it goes. “Anybody who acknowledges there’s a problem with law enforcement in this country right now is considered by law enforcement as part of the problem,” Tarantino told Hayes, and he’s right; it’s a chorus you hear anytime anyone dares criticize the actions of the cops who shoot unarmed civilians, or choke them to death on street corners, or pepper-spray them on college campuses, or throw them across classrooms. That chorus is often led by the water-carriers at Fox News, who insist that any criticism of bad cops is a blanket indictment of all cops. And that pattern that continued in last night’s post-All In Quentin Tarantino coverage on The Kelly File, even after (to her credit!) Megyn Kelly played many of the relevant sound bites from the earlier interview — including his plain-as-day assertion, “I’m not a cop hater.” Then, hilariously, Kelly brought on Bernard Kerik, who is by any objective measure a bad cop.
Not familiar with Mr. Kerik? Here’s your thumbnail bio: on the job with the NYPD since 1986, Kerik worked as Correction Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction from 1998-2000 and he served the people of New York as NYC Police Commissioner from August 2000 through December 2001. And then he served three years in a federal prison, after pleading guilty to eight charges (including tax fraud and lying to federal officials) stemming from a $250,00 renovation to his apartment, performed by a New Jersey construction firm with alleged mob ties looking for his help getting a city license.
So, yes, to repudiate the notion that some officers of the law seem to have trouble complying with it, Fox News brought on a convicted felon who lied, cheated, and took a bribe. A+ booking, kids!
In their segment, Kerik and co-panelist Bill Stanton (a former cop turned P.I. and, as best as I can tell, Carl Hiaasen character made flesh) trotted out the expected talking points: that Tarantino’s another one of those Hollywood Limousine Liberals™ (Stanton: “He is in a bubble, while he’s on his private jets, on his private sets, being protected by cops and ex-cops”), that he’s “throwing fuel on the fire,” that he’s somehow not allowed to criticize cops because he’s not one, if you can follow that logic (Kerik: “This is a guy who wouldn’t have the courage to go out and do the job that the men and women in law enforcement do in this country, ever, he just wouldn’t”).
And just as Texas Rep. Ted Poe — whose previous claim to fame was a speech to Congress quoting the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — deliberately misrepresented Tarantino’s statements (“His hateful rhetoric called for violence against law enforcement,” Poe erroneously insisted, to which Tarantino responded, “Well, that’s not what I said. It’s easy enough to find out what I said”), Kerik contended that Tarantino was calling for violence against cops because he was standing at the rally with unnamed “people that are calling for cops to be killed, those same types of people.” But most of all, they banged their boycott drum, with Kerik growling, “Well, if that’s what you’re gonna do, if that’s what you think you’re gonna do, it’s time for those cops to send a message.” Spoken like a true mob-connected thug!
Of course, the fact that Bernard Kerik is a crooked, felonious liar doesn’t mean all cops are — I’m capable of making that separation, and so are most people, which is what makes this tempest in a teapot over Tarantino’s comments so ridiculous. Asking for accountability from powers that be in law enforcement when bad cops do bad things doesn’t lead to the presumption that entire police forces are corrupt. But y’know what does? Ignoring those questions and concerns, refusing to acknowledge their causes and consequences, and instead focusing your ire on a loudmouth with a megaphone and a movie camera.