KALONA, IA — At a campaign stop in rural Iowa on Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz told ThinkProgress that activists with the Black Lives Matter movement — people who have been peacefully protesting the murder of black men and women by law enforcement — are “literally suggesting and embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers.”
When ThinkProgress asked Cruz if he’d be willing to sit down for a meeting with Black Lives Matter activists, he said “sure, I’m happy to meet with just about anybody.” But then he elaborated that the activists were threatening police officers.
“If you look at the Black Lives Matter movement, one of the most disturbing things is more than one of their protests have embraced rabid rhetoric, rabid anti-police language, literally suggesting and embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers,” the Texas senator said. “That is disgraceful.”
Cruz also talked about the “vilification of law enforcement” under the Obama administration, pointing to the death of Deputy Darren Goforth, who was shot and killed while he was filling his patrol car with gas in Houston, Texas. Cruz said he attended the sheriff’s funeral when the pastor talked about the mission of law enforcement to “deliver us from evil.”
DeRay McKesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, called Cruz’s accusation “desperate.” “Cruz aims to perpetuate lies about a movement focused on ending violence in order to garner attention,” he wrote in an email to ThinkProgress. “This desperate statement is another reminder that he is unfit to be the President of the United States.”
“It’s amazing to me that black people and their allies affirming that Black Lives Matter is somehow celebrating murder,” another leader, Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, told ThinkProgress. “Nothing about us affirming our own lives has anything to do with ’embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers.'”
“We came out our houses because we were tired of seeing police officers hurt, harm and murder black bodies with impunity. Not because we want to see any police officer killed,” she said.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza called Cruz’s remark “one of the most ridiculous quotes I’ve heard.”
“It’s disgraceful that Senator Cruz is using this opportunity to politicize tragedy,” she said in an email to ThinkProgress.
Despite a lack of evidence that Black Lives Matter has motivated any of the recent murders of police officers, conservative politicians have claimed that police officers are under attack thanks to Black Lives Matter’s growing popularity. Meanwhile the number of police officers killed on the job has been steadily dropping for decades, with 51 officers killed last year. A total of 1,107 people were killed by police during the same time period. Fatal encounters with law enforcement have become routine for black communities across the country, but police are safer than they’ve been in decades.
“2015 is, according to the Washington Post, on pace to have the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades,” Elzie pointed out.
“Absolutely, black lives matter, and the consequence of President Obama and the Attorney General’s vilification of law enforcement is many more black lives have been lost,” Cruz said.
To illustrate his point, Cruz echoed popular conservative rhetoric, saying that crime rates have spiked across the country because police officers are afraid of protesters. The month of July was especially bloody in Baltimore with the murders of 50 people, including 45 African Americans, because “murderers and rapists” were encouraged by the lack of law enforcement, he said.
“If you want to talk about Black Lives Matter, that’s 45 dead black lives,” he continued. “Because of the rise in crime, it was the bloodiest month since the 1960s in Baltimore…The best way to protect black lives is to keep them safe from murderers and criminals who would prey on them.”
“It’s unfortunate that Ted Cruz is so tone deaf he doesn’t understand what our movement is about even a year later. He should do some better work educating himself as to what an entire demographic in America is going through,” Netta said. “He should really worry about Texas.”
This post has been updated with comments from Alicia Garzia, Netta Elzie, and DeRay McKesson. Josh Israel contributed reporting.