al sharpton
Critics of the Rev. Al Sharpton lit into him following the execution-style killings of two police officers in Brooklyn, New York. Reuters/Carlo Allegri

Critics of the Rev. Al Sharpton seized on the killings of two New York City Police officers Saturday, blaming the civil rights leader for provoking an anti-police mentality in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Sharpton immediately denounced Saturday's apparent execution-style shootings and denied any link to the cases of Brown and Garner, two black men who were separately killed by white officers this year.

"I have spoken to the Garner family and we are outraged by the early reports of the police killed in Brooklyn today [Saturday]," Sharpton said in a statement. "We have stressed at every rally and march that anyone engaged in any violence is an enemy to the pursuit of justice. … The Garner family and I have always stressed that we do not believe that all police are bad, in fact we have stressed that most police are not bad."

Eric Garner died in Staten Island in July after an officer put him in a choke hold. Although the move is illegal in New York, a grand jury cleared Officer Daniel Pantaleo of all potential charges Dec. 3. The acquittal set off protests nationwide and prompted Sharpton to call for a federal civil rights investigation. In demonstrations, protesters held up signs accusing the NYPD of racism and calling for Pantaleo to be punished.

The suspect in Saturday's shooting, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had indicated online he was planning to kill police officers in retaliation for Garner's death, according to media reports. "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let's take 2 of theirs," the guman wrote on his Instagram account, adding hashtags that mentioned Garner and Brown, officials said.

A White House official said President Barack Obama has been brief on the Brooklyn shooting. "White House officials continue to monitor the situation," the statement said.

Even before the shooter and his motives were identified, Sharpton detractors began pointing fingers at the reverend. "We have two dead police officers, and I guess Al Sharpton got what he wanted," retired NYPD detective Harry Houck told CNN. On Twitter, streams of vitriolic comments targeted Sharpton:

— Me McMe (@MeMcMeee) December 21, 2014

Other Sharpton critics rejected his statement, accusing the activist of capitalizing on tragedy to gain attention. Buried in the sharp-tongued Twitter comments, though, were words of support for the reverend and calls to not conflate the police murders with protests seeking justice for Garner and Brown.

Sharpton said he and the Garner family would hold a press conference Sunday morning to "express our outrage and our condolences to the families and the police department."