Was a Houston-Area Cop Killed Because of 'Dangerous National Rhetoric' About Police Brutality?

Some law enforcement groups and right-wing commentators are blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for inspiring the execution-like killing of Deputy Darren H. Goforth.

by Allie Conti
Sep 1 2015, 7:20pm

A memorial for Deputy Darren H. Goforth at the gas station at which he was shot. Photo via the Harris County Sheriff's Office's Facebook.

At about 8:30 PM on Friday night, Deputy Darren H. Goforth was pumping gas at a Chevron station in suburban Houston. That's when prosecutors say Shannon J. Miles—a 30-year-old with a long rap sheet—got out of a red Ford truck and shot him in the back of the head.

Miles went on to fire 14 more times, and left the 47-year-old father of two to die in a pool of his own blood, the prosecution claimed in court on Monday. The alleged killer is currently being tried for capital murder and being held without bond. While the motive for the crime isn't clear yet, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman has claimed that Deputy Goforth was targeted simply "because he wore a uniform."

Though the facts of the crime are awful, the case has made headlines because it's become a rallying point for those who argue the Black Lives Matter has gone off the rails.

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"At any point when the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated, coldblooded assassinations of police officers happen, this rhetoric has gotten out of control," Hickman said during a news conference on Saturday at which he referred to the "dangerous national rhetoric" of anti-police activists. "We've heard 'black lives matter.' All lives matter. Well, cops' lives matter, too. So why don't we just drop the qualifier and just say 'lives matter,' and take that to the bank."

On Tuesday, the Voice of Texas Law Enforcement, a law enforcement advocacy organization, said it was just about to send a letter to President Barack Obama demanding that he recognize "blue" lives. "Too many community leaders and ever [sic] politicians have used false characterizations of certain tragedies to widen the schism between law enforcement and the communities that they serve," read a copy of the letter provided to VICE. "In too many incidents this has resulted in an irrational hatred of our brave men and women who wear badges."

One of those instances came last December, when a man named Ismaaiyl Brinsley drove from Baltimore to Brooklyn and executed two cops in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood as they sat in their patrol car. On Instagram, Brinsley suggested he was acting in revenge because the Staten Island cop who killed Eric Garner was not indicted by a grand jury.

"Since the execution of two NYPD officers last December, cops have been on a heightened alert for their own personal safety," says Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "When you make statements that the cops are all bad, brutal killers, those amongst us that have mental issues or those criminals that wish to make a name for themselves will take up the offer."

If there are legitimate, new dangers to cops in a climate of anger at police brutality, there are also still plenty of right-wing trolls on hand to downplay or dismiss civil rights concerns. This has been especially pronounced over the past couple of days during discussions of Goforth's death. While guest-hosting a Fox News show yesterday, a comedian named Tom Shillue called Black Lives Matter "criminal stuff"; that same day Elizabeth Hasselbeck asked why the movement wasn't labeled a "hate group."

Since 2005, Miles has faced several misdemeanor charges, and according to CNN he may have some mental health issues. About three years ago, he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after getting into a skirmish with another man at an Austin homeless shelter over a television remote. He was found mentally incompetent to stand trial, and the case was eventually dropped when prosecutors lost track of the alleged victim.

One of the 30-year-old's attorneys says that Miles had a "blank stare" during Monday's hearing, "which is always cause for concern."

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