"Making a difference"
Do you think locking people up is making a difference?
So asked outgoing Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson in an Inquirer interview. The interview (which appeared in Tuesday's paper) was widely seen as an attack on incoming Mayor Michael Nutter (the latter's election next Tuesday being a mere formality).

I've criticized Commissioner Johnson more times than I can remember, as he epitomizes the mentality that blames guns for crimes committed with them. Not only does he believe armed law abiding citizens are a problem for police, he sees the imprisonment of criminals as a tragedy.

I take the opposite view. I see armed law abiding citizens as helpful to society, and the release of criminals as a tragedy. While I don't like to argue, nor do I like to repeat myself, I do have this blog, and it's tough to ignore outrageous statements by public officials.

I figured that because Commissioner Johnson will be gone soon, there wasn't much point in writing yet another long blog post restating the umpteenth restatement of my position.

Besides, the issue was interrupted by Hillary's Bad Night in Philadelphia.

Or was it?

It just so happens that on the same night as the debate, one of Commissioner Johnson's officers was shot and wounded by a suspect who had just committed another shooting:

A Philadelphia police officer was shot and wounded Tuesday night by a masked gunman who police said had just brazenly shot three people in a vehicle at a Center Center intersection.

The shootings, the frantic search for the suspect who apparently disappeared into the Schuylkill, and the convergence of dozens of emergency vehicles on Center City triggered chaos less than a mile from the Drexel University campus, where Democratic presidential candidates were concluding a nationally televised debate.

A body was pulled from the Schuylkill River early this morning near where the gunman disappeared, but police did not confirm that it was the shooter, KYW Newsradio reported.

As the candidates debated things like issuing drivers licenses to illegal aliens, the police were searching the nearby river with boats and aircraft:
The Police Marine Unit criss-crossed the river in an inflatable boat, probing the waters with poles. They were assisted by lights hoisted from Fire Department ladders and a U.S. Coast Guard vessel.

Dozens of officers also searched the banks and the railroad tracks along the river in case the suspect got out of the cold water.

Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson and several of his deputies converged on Jefferson Hospital, where police said the injured officer was able to talk to investigators.

Johnson noted that Santiago was the second officer to be shot and wounded in the last week.

"This shows what is happening in the city of Philadelphia," he said.

With that in mind, I want to return to Johnson/s initial question.

Do you think locking people up is making a difference?

In today's paper, it was revealed that they found the body of the shooter. It turns out that he was convicted of murdering a 6 year old child. And released after serving eleven years:

After a hot pursuit by police Tuesday night across downtown Philadelphia, the body of Jerome Whitaker, 29, was hauled from the river about 3 a.m. today, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office said.

Court records show that Whitaker pleaded guilty to murder in the 1994 shooting of Michelle Cutner, 6, his South Philadelphia neighbor. His lawyer maintained that Whitaker fired into an unoccupied vehicle in revenge for an earlier quarrel and accidentally hit the girl, who was playing outside.

Whitaker served 11 years in state prison before being paroled in July 2006. He was arrested four months ago on drug charges and recommitted to prison for violating parole. He was released last month when the underlying charges were withdrawn.

My normal reaction in cases like this is to remind readers of something the Inquirer never does: this man was not allowed to buy or possess firearms. There are gun control laws which cover his situation, and they are very strict. There is supposed to be zero tolerance for convicted criminals with guns. Mandatory sentencing and all that.

Yet, to society's total amazement, no sooner are murderers and other criminals released than they break the gun control laws. The solution? More laws!

More laws will make a difference!

But locking people up makes no difference. Because the guns are what cause criminals to first break the gun laws and then shoot people with the guns.

Will someone explain the logic to me at long last? I can't.

None of this is new for me, but what makes it all tough to ignore is today's front page. Yet another officer was shot (the third in a week), and the main headline is "Officer's Shooting Shakes City."

Lest there be any doubt about what the Inquirer considers to be the cause, an accompanying front page article begins with this rhetorical question

"What is happening with guns in the City of Brotherly Love?"

The answer? Why, it's simple.

Because there exists a criminal element with no respect for authority, it is obvious that guns are responsible:

"There is a criminal element in this city and around the country that have completely lost any respect for authority," Mayor Street said outside the hospital where Officer Charles Cassidy had been taken after being shot in East Oak Lane, "and the proliferation of guns and weapons in this city and in cities around the country make this a very tough and challenging and difficult job for the Police Department."

In a sense, Street is right. Gun violence is a national problem - violent crime is up across the country, and fatal shootings of police officers are up 39 percent nationwide this year, to 61.

"There are more brazen criminals operating on the streets of our nation, criminals that are more cold-blooded in their nature, with less respect for human life and certainly for police authority," said Craig W. Floyd, chief executive of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, which tracks police deaths.

What is happening with guns in the City of Brotherly Love? Philadelphia may be the City of Brotherly Love, but it's also the City of Mumia abu Jamal, hardly known for what Mayor Street calls "respect for authority." Yet he is considered a hero by many, and that makes me wonder under what standard police shooters are to be condemned.

I think the gun control mindset is inextricably related to the view that criminals should not be locked up.

And the view that locking them up makes no difference.

So I'd like to pose a counter-question:

Do you think letting people out is making a difference?
I think the answer is a resounding yes. While I am sick and tired of reading about the criminal backgrounds of these shooters, I am even more sick of repeating that they commit another serious crime every time they possess firearms.

But when I have to read that locking them up makes no difference because guns are the problem, I must protest. As "arguments" go, this is so absurd that the cynic in me wants to laugh out loud. Yet it is repeated over and over as a serious argument, almost as if its proponents imagine that the more they repeat it, the more serious it is.

Once again, Philadelphia police statistics show that 80% of the shootings are committed by criminals.

Do you think letting criminals out is making a difference?

MORE: After I wrote this post, Officer Charles Cassidy, the subject of today's front page story died. (Which is probably why the link to the story above no longer works, although the same story is here.)

It's an awful tragedy and Officer Cassidy's family and friends have my deepest sympathy.

I hope they catch the murderer.

posted by Eric on 11.01.07 at 09:30 AM










Comments

Here in Denver, the police shoot first.

Despite the protests of (ineffectual) organizations, it continues.

By and large, I think that's a good thing. There have been a few "iffy" shootings; but think of what these people face!

The rules are simple: When confronted by the police (assuming it's not a no-knock raid in the middle of the night, in which case shoot back!), be very polite and keep your hands in sight.

It pains me to be a "lock them up and throw away the key" advocate - I'd _really_ like to believe that people can change for the better. However, our prison system make Abu Ghirab look like a summer camp; the only thing learned in prison is how to be a better criminal.

I think that shorter sentences might actually help: Show people how horrid it is and give them another chance (with some support) BEFORE they are lost forever. Keep the "three strikes, you're out" laws.

btw: You might want to discount everything I say about criminal justice because I believe the death penalty is more "humane" than locking someone up for life (although that opinion may change if prisoners get access to the Internet and can contribute to society whilst separated from it).

mrsizer   ·  November 1, 2007 10:54 PM

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