President Barack Obama signed legislation that creates a “Blue Alert” system for law enforcement in the United States. It establishes a network for alerting police expeditiously when there are “active threats” against police. However, police are not under attack and have not been under attack in the US, despite recent tragic deaths of officers.

The passage of this legislation is the product of the continued exploitation of the deaths of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were killed by a mentally ill black man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, on December 20. It provided a sensational example of an ambush killing that local and national police associations could seize upon to undercut the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which has been drawing attention to police violence directed at black Americans.

It also is one of the first recommended “action items” by Obama’s appointed police “task force” to be implemented. In contrast to many of the policy suggestions, this does nothing to reform police but rather reinforces the false presumption that police face some kind of threat because of increased opposition to police conduct.

“Leveraging the current Amber Alert program used to locate abducted children, the Blue Alert would enlist the help of the public in finding suspects after a law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty,” the report recently released by the “task force” indicates. “Some similar state systems do exist, but there are large gaps, a national system is needed. In addition to aiding the apprehension of suspects, it would send a message about the importance of protecting law enforcement from undue harm.”

Except, there is no debate in the United States. Just about all citizens agree that law enforcement should not face “undue harm.” Far fewer, unfortunately, agree that strong measures should be taken to protect people of color from “undue harm” from law enforcement.

The bipartisan legislation, named after Ramos and Liu, establishes that a system will send out alerts when an officer is seriously injured or killed. The system will send out an alert when an officer is missing. “At the time of receipt of death,” the suspect should be “wanted by a law enforcement agency.” The suspect should not have already been apprehended. There should be “sufficient descriptive information of the suspect involved and any relevant vehicle and tag numbers.”

More problematic is the fact that an alert will go out when there is an “imminent and credible threat” that “an individual intends to cause the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer.”

The criteria for sending out this type of “blue alert” includes “confirmation” that a threat is “imminent and credible.” How threats are to be confirmed is not outlined in the legislation.

Ashley Yates, co-founder of Millennial Activists United and an activist who was part of protests in the immediately after Mike Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, declared, “I am absolutely disheartened and honestly terrified,” by the “Blue Alert” bill President Obama signed. Yates worries it could be used by police to suppress protest.

She fears that the system will “encourage vigilantes and place possibly innocent ‘suspects’ in serious danger” because “you only need to be suspected to get blasted out via this system. There is a grave potential for mistaken identity and false accusations.” (Yates shared this harrowing story of 23-year-old Cornell McKay, who was falsely accused by St. Louis police of being involved in a robbery that ended in a murder. Authorities insisted he was responsible, even as it became evident there was evidence McKay was never involved in the robbery.)

The “Amber Alert” system is now capable of sending alerts to millions of cell phone users. It has a page on Facebook, which makes it possible for users to share alerts about missing children. Will the “Blue Alert” system harness technology in this same manner? And what information about suspects will be in any public alerts?

How will citizens be certain that this system will not be manipulated to undermine protests explicitly directed at police departments by hyping threats (as happened in Baltimore when police wrongly attributed violence to a flier urging teens to take part in a “purge”).

What if someone sends an angry tweet that police construe as a “threat” against police? How might that be put into the “Blue Alert” system and what might the effect on freedom of expression be?

More significantly, as writer Ryan Dalton stated, “Police are not being systematically targeted and murdered in America. Black people are.”

No statistics come close to supporting the notion that police are under attack and in need of urgent protection.

So far, in 2015, according to Officer Down Memorial Page, there have been 46 “line of duty deaths.” One was from assault, eleven from gunfire and one from vehicular assault. Many of the rest of the deaths were accidents or the result of “9/11 related” illnesses. But let’s presume this rate continues and around 54 more officers die this year. That would be 100 officers dead in 2015.

At least 435 people were killed by US police as of May 4, according to Killed by Police.

In 2014, 47 police officers were killed by gunfire, according to Officer Down Memorial Page. Two officers died from assault and ten officers died from vehicular assault. That puts the number of police killed at about 59. Comparably, Killed by Police documented over 1,000 news reports of police killing alleged suspects last year.

FBI statistics on law enforcement officers killed and assaulted from 2013 indicate that 27 police officers “died from injuries incurred in the line of duty during felonious incidents.” Five of those were “ambush situations” or because they were investigating “suspicious persons or circumstances.”

Once again, that number is minuscule when viewed against the number of deaths police were responsible for in 2013. More than 650 people died at the hands of police in 2013.

There is no systemic problem with holding individuals who truly intend to harm police accountable for their crimes. There is a systemic problem in the American justice system with holding police accountable for their crimes.

The recommendations by President Obama’s police task force scarcely begin to address the inequities that make justice for victims of police violence nearly impossible.

It is a tragedy whenever a police officer dies, but there are dangers which are intrinsic to a police officer’s job. On the other hand, being a person of color in America should not come with the intrinsic danger of being brutalized by police.

Unfortunately, there is no powerful lobby in the United States for those who are victims of police brutality. There is a powerful lobby of police associations and unions that can push government to respond to their wants and needs whenever they make demands. This lobby is immensely capable of fighting the “Black Lives Matter” movement as it works to dismantle systemic racism, which enables officers to get away with using force, particularly against people of color.

Police groups and advocacy organizations for cops recognize the government will take action for them if they chant “Blue Lives Matter” and create this misperception that there is a trend where more and more Americans are choosing to not value the lives of police. When a groundswell of resistance manages to finally convince people in power to pay attention to police violence, they are unable to get a similar response. Instead, these people are told to be concerned about making the country unsafe for police with their protest. They are also met with politicians, who expect them to wait for action for the countless dead and seriously injured people. Or, worse, they continue to believe those deaths and injuries deserve no government response at all while they serve the special interests of police.

Image is screen shot from White House’s own video of President Barack Obama signing legislation.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."


  1. dick_c
    May 20, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I don’t know much about psychology, but could this be some sort of projection.

    If there were a similar alert system for black Americans I’d guess the warnings would be sounding at the highest levels just about continuously.

  2. bsbafflesbrains
    May 20, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Community policing is the answer but when you have the .1% of NYC hiring off duty police to provide “security” in uniform it makes the police a de facto private security force for the wealthy. One role of a police force is to maintain the status quo as far as keeping the peace but also to enforce the law of the land. OWS and the Zucotti Park protest showed how the police can be misused and the law of the land subverted for the upper class. Kettling, beating lawful protestors and creating “free press” zones are the antithesis of what the Law of the Land is regarding 1st Amendment rights. This law Obama has signed is aimed at assuring the 1%’s thin blue line will work together to oppress any retaliation for the complete roll out of austerity measures that will create the protests and pushback from the 90% who will suffer with less and less.

  3. FukTheArmy
    May 20, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    Another solution to a nonexistent problem.
    Cops are supposed to protect us from the criminals, but today, the cops ARE the criminals.
    So, who is going to protect us from the cops?

  4. bsbafflesbrains
    May 20, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Biker Gangs????

  5. FukTheArmy
    May 20, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    All things considered, that might be a good idear.

  6. Shutter
    May 20, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    The cops are already hyped up on the righteous drug of a license to kill and virtual immunity for everything from embezzlement to murder. This ‘law’ is designed to be misused and like most legislation since Royal Ronnie, the lie is baked into the damn thing by exploiting the names of the two cops killed in NYC. Shed a tear, boys, shed a tear. And then give ’em another tool to beat the crap out of us.

    Sometimes I think the only thing holding back the PTB from just outright declaring the constitution/bill of rights null and void is its easier to gull the suckers than it is to inflame opposition. As if there were any opposition, that is.

  7. mulp
    May 20, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Obama did not write this bill. Obama did not campaign for this bill. Obama did nothing to twist arms in Congress to get this bill passed in the House and Senate.

    Nope, conservatives voted in every damn election and elected to Congress people who will pass bills like this while blocking all action on immigration, so Obama’s bills he campaigned for, that Obama twisted arms for, that Obama threatened on, and that Obama acted unilaterally on, is blocked by Congress and a Federal court.

    Why won’t progressives vote in every damn election, in Republican primaries if no other party has a prayer, to elect progressives to office in States and Congress, so Congress passes the bills progressives want law, and these laws are not challenged by the State elected officials in Federal court?

  8. glennk
    May 20, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Just what the police need more license and more laws to ignore or abuse. As usual with Obama he has it backassward.

  9. May 20, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    There is a huge problem looming on the horizon for rentier capitalists of all political stripes and Anglo/Atlanticist nations…

  10. May 20, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    He just effin applauded it and signed it.

    As for progressives…thats just another label for liberals and closeted centrist gatekeepers. There is no reason for radical leftists or right-libertarians to vote for centrism. None!

  11. dubinsky
    May 20, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    “However, police are not under attack and have not been under attack in the US, despite recent tragic deaths of officers.”


    Minneapolis police officer wounded in targeted attack, say police (+video)


    Deputies raid shed after receiving tip about rocket launcher attack on police


    LAPD now unsure if police car shooting was targeted attack on officers


    Demetrius Blackwell has been charged with murder for the death of Officer Brian Moore.


    either everyone matters …or no one does.

  12. dick_c
    May 20, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    This isn’t a bill anyone would want to veto, however it just doesn’t seem all that necessary. Given that it seems every time you turn around some citizen is being shot by police, one’s inclined to think WTF?

    I think you’re right, though. The only good solution is electing better representatives.

    In contrast it was nice to see this story today: It’s something you know happens regularly, you just don’t hear about them enough.

  13. May 20, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    The sooner the police come to realize that to the .01% no one does, the better for all of us.

  14. dubinsky
    May 20, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    you operate under the assumption that people join the police because they want to serve some group you call “the .01%”?

    I don’t quite understand what you’re trying to communicate.

  15. May 20, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    No. But that is what their service reduces to: protecting their property and the system of 1% socialism/welfarism.

  16. dubinsky
    May 20, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    I can’t argue with that….it’s a construct that ignores the everyday reality of the job for abstraction.

  17. May 20, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    Sounds like you are promoting “pragmatism” and “realism,” without which your(and the PTB’s) “reality” would bleed out at the feet of “abstraction.”

  18. dubinsky
    May 20, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    I don’t promote pragmatism. I try to incorporate reality in theorizing about real life.

    abstractions and analyses are good and useful…but they lose some utility when they lose the baby while concentrating on the bath water.

  19. dubinsky
    May 20, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    it worked at Altamont

  20. Franciszek
    May 20, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Actually … one of the bikers saved Mick Jagger’s life by stabbing a would-be assassin to death in the front row at Altamont during the Stone’s set. So I suppose it did work?

  21. May 20, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    None dare call it Fascism

  22. dubinsky
    May 20, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    of course, of course.

    difficult to understand why the biker was snubbed by the Nobel Committee.

  23. May 20, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Most of what I’ve seen from you is you trying to incorporate denialism of reality, dressed in self applauding, contrarian for its own sake, bullshite.

  24. dubinsky
    May 20, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    they call me
    Bad company, I can’t deny
    Bad, bad company
    ‘Til the day I die

  25. Miranda Keefe
    May 21, 2015 at 12:11 am

    I already despise the Amber Alert system. Every single one that would disturb my sleep was clearly a custody dispute. Half the time the parent in custody dispute who has an Amber Alert against them is actually the parent who is trying to rescue her child from a violent parent who had connections to the police. I was very glad when I found out I could take my phone out of the system.

    This sounded good at first, because of course we had the terrible story of the real Amber. But in reality this is all about setting up a fascist system where the media, as toadies of the state, are used to get the people to work for the state to take down its enemies.

    Too many people are like in the Stanley Milgram experiment and they’d keep shocking someone until they apparently died if someone they perceived as an authority told them to do so. These are the people who will automatically believe whatever they are told in these Alerts and support the fascism of the police state.

  26. Franciszek
    May 21, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Good point. He was certainly more deserving than people like Henry the K and Presidunt Borat.

  27. violetmoon
    May 21, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Sorry, but there is certainly a war on police at present and almost certainly will get worse. This very likely is not the answer, but the answer will not be something liked by the average younger American feeling that criminals should be honored.

  28. kgosztola
    May 21, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Average younger Americans think criminals should be honored? Please explain.

  29. kgosztola
    May 21, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Yes, in those examples, officers were tragically killed. One or two of those cases were probably ambush killings. It’s a tragedy. But the facts do not prove any argument that “Blue Lives” are currently becoming less and less valuable to Americans. And it certainly is not the fault of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that these killings have happened or that more and more people are questioning the tactics and operations of police officers in communities.

    Again, there is no systemic problem with protecting the lives of police officers. There is, however, a systemic issue with protecting people of color from being assaulted or killed by police. The statistics support that argument very well.

  30. Echo Buster
    May 21, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Thank you, Kevin, for a thorough response to this craven act.

  31. Ronald Pires
    May 21, 2015 at 11:36 am

    So the cops are all whacked out on steroids, and Obama’s response is to give them another shot. And now I’ve triggered a Blue Alert just by saying this.
    That’s the point though, isn’t it? To have us all at each other’s throats all the time. So we won’t be at their throats. So it is easier to steal from us.

  32. violetmoon
    May 21, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Several months ago, we had a service station robbed by three Black criminals. The Black security guard in the store was shot and he in turn shot and killed two of the robbers. The family members of the robber demanded that the station be shut down for a day to hold a a memorial “honoring” the Black criminal. This is insanity to me. Every Black crime ending in a Black death, no matter if guilty or not is now being honored by family of the culprit. This is teaching young Black kids that breaking the law is fine as long as you are Black because the rules no longer pertain to you. So, we now have every crime being ignored by Backs because they are Black. It is mostly the young as the older people are hopefully still ashamed of the family member. This is just one example of the insanity of honoring a criminal because he was killed during the commission of a crime. The public is ignoring the crime. Nothing is sacrosanct any longer. Tamir had harassed people in the park and they called the police, but he is excused of that because he was 12 and a “child” in the eyes of people not knowing him.. It does not matter that he scared people, that he had many pictures on his Facebook showing the gansta that he was (until his family deleted them and left the “angel” pictures up), that he did not obey the officers responding to the calls from the public. At 12,in the ghetto, he was certainly old enough to obey. If not, his Mother (no Dad present so far) did not teach him life saving rules to keep him safe and alive. The public feels the cops should endanger their lives by shooting to main instead of, as they are taught, if a gun needs to be pulled, shoot to kill. There is often not enough time to do anything else except shoot. People complaining of cop killings should spend one day trying to protect a public that does not care about their welfare.There are bad cops, but not every criminal killed by police is a bad killing. And, from the news reports of these crimes, only Blacks seem to be perpetrating this nonsense. I have not seen any White or Indian, or Mexican criminal being honored by their family. Families and friends of criminals other than Black are not doing this, they are fading into the background. I would not be a cop for any money in the world any longer. My stepfather was one and if still alive, I would make sure he found other
    employment. If this continues, living in this country will be very dangerous in the near future. It is open season on cops and criminals are being honored for being criminals.

  33. dubinsky
    May 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    kevin, old son, you can pound your point of view till the sand is all flat, but you’re still not gonna change the obvious facts.

    some people ARE targeting cops, and neither the fact that some cops are lousy and act criminally, nor the fact that most cops aren’t, nor the fact that your silly stats showing cops kill more people than other people kill cops, change that.

    you don’t get to complain away that which you don’t like.

    and you don’t get to shrug off murders of officials because you don’t like the system under which they work.

    not if you’re ethically adult.

  34. LEGOates
    May 21, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Uprated, but: “her child”? Shouldn’t that be “her or his child”? Or have 100% of mothers, (not to mention stepfathers or said mother’s boyfriends), ceased being any possible danger to the children of whom they have custody?

  35. Lisa
    May 22, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Look at this black ape, protecting everything that is corrupt. But I can understand that, the goal is to build up a perfect police state.

  36. Miranda Keefe
    May 22, 2015 at 1:27 pm


    I switch between which pronouns I use for indefinite persons. When people use the male pronoun, which is still common, most folk don’t think about it, except those us sensitized to its exclusive nature. I learned this usage of using the female one sometimes sensitizes folk.

    But in this case it was deliberate? Why? Because although there are men who are rescuing their children from violent women, every SINGLE Amber alert I ever heard was about a woman who’d taken her child.