By Jay Bullock Special to Published Dec 30, 2014 at 3:05 PM

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By now, you've probably read and heard all you care to regarding police killings of unarmed black men and boys and the attendant protests, counter-protests, legal actions, recriminations and more.

I don't have a lot to add to what has already been said, except this one thought that keeps bugging me and gets talked about at best only tangentially regarding these killings. And it's this:

Why is reaction to this so divided along partisan lines?

I mean, aside from the obvious fact that everything is partisan now. When even fried chicken sandwiches can't be discussed without talking conservatives vs. liberals, we shouldn't be surprised that such a major national crisis breaks along partisan lines.

Yet the divide at hand bugs me because I tend to believe that all of us, regardless of ideology, ought to feel that those we entrust with great power – to carry weapons, to arrest people, to enforce the law – should be held to high standards. And also because, historically, law-enforcement overreach has been a conservative complaint.

Indeed, as much as 2014 ended with "liberal" unrest following the deaths of black men and boys and the lack of indictment against the officers who shot them, the year began with protests by conservatives against law enforcement.

In Nevada last April, cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the right-wingers who supported him took up arms against rangers from the federal Bureau of Land Management and local deputy sheriffs. You might remember the stunning images of armed civilians taking aim with their assault rifles against uniformed officers of the law. (Contrast that to the images of the standoff in Ferguson, Mo., between unarmed protesters and militarized police officers.) Bundy's standoff became a cause célèbre among the right, with everyone from Republican congressmen to Fox News hosts railing against the BLM's attempts to enforce the law and praising the gun-toting militia who helped Bundy fend off the officers.

And just as 2014 ended with the assassination-style murders of two New York City police officers by a criminal who via social media claimed revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the year has actually seen a greater number of assassinations of law enforcement officers and violent attacks by extreme conservatives.

The highest-profile of these was the murder of two officers in Las Vegas in June by anti-government conservatives – one of whom attended the Bundy protests – hoping to spark a "revolution" against the government. Two Pennsylvania state troopers were ambushed and one was killed by an anti-government conservative in September of this year. There have also been a number of non-fatal attacks by conservatives against law enforcement, including a high profile case in Austin in November, instigated in response to perceived police or government overreach.

I do not believe, by any stretch of the imagination, that conservatives and Republicans want police officers to be killed any more than liberals and Democrats do – although in the wake of the New York shootings, prominent conservatives sure tried to make it seem like Democratic Mayor Bill DiBlasio, President Barack Obama and the Reverend Al Sharpton had instigated the murders, though of course they had not. These attacks are clearly done not by average mainstream Americans from either side of the left-right divide but by fanatics and extremists who have obviously broken with reality.

Rather, I have a hard time understanding why America's conservatives are not merely apathetic about the deaths of men like Brown and Garner – and others, like Dontre Hamilton here in Milwaukee and 13-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot in November in Detroit for having a toy on a playground – but they are actively supporting law enforcement and the government despite the apparent overreach or overreaction. What is it about these cases that have the Republicans from cable TV to your Facebook feed so deeply invested in proving that Brown was a gang-banger and Rice's father was a wife-beater so they had it coming?

Is it simply the difference between local police and the federal "jack-booted thugs" of the BLM or ATF? (You may remember the National Rifle Association's 1995 fundraising letter using that phrase.) Is conservatives' attitude that local law enforcement agencies can do what they want to whom they want, but not the feds?

Maybe. There's no question that, at least since the election of Barack Obama in 2008 that Republicans and conservatives in the media have have constantly tried to de-legitimize the federal government, or at least Obama's presidency. Think "You lie!" and "Where's the birth certificate?"

But animus against the feds is what it must come down to; to me, that's a better explanation than the more frightening thought that it doesn't matter to conservatives that these men are dead because they're black.

Jay Bullock Special to
Jay Bullock is a high school English teacher in Milwaukee, columnist for the Bay View Compass, singer-songwriter and occasional improv comedian.