Thursday, November 01, 2007

Gun violence in Philadelphia: Three cops shot in a week. Is there a problem?

During the all the media hoopla surrounding the Democratic presidential debates at Drexel University on Tuesday, Chris Mathews of MSNBC's Hardball interviewed Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who, after deftly dodging Mathew’s question about the possibility of his being a potential vice-presidential candidate, said about the debates:

"I'd love the presidential debates to focus on urban issues. We haven't heard One Word on crime, or education or housing."

After what happened in Philadelphia shortly after he said this it seems his critique was absolutely right on point. Not hearing anything about issues that actually affect real people in their day to day lives from the Democratic candidates is exactly what's wrong with these debates. The problem with discussing crime, for example, is that it might lead to talk of gun control, and that's another third rail -- thanks to the gobs of money the NRA poisons the political well with -- that no Democrat will dare take a ride on.

Better to steer the conversation toward abstractions like the War on Terror and Senate resolutions calling Iran's military a terrorist organization than deal with the actual terrorism transpiring everyday on the main streets of America.

A case in point: As the debates wrapped up, a recently released murderer of a six-year old shot three people -- assassination style -- and then he shot the Philadelphia police responding to the shootings, mere blocks from where the candidates were speaking. As the audience filed out they were greeted by police sirens and helicopters swooping overhead as police searched for the shooter. (Hours later it was later determined that the shooter had tried to escape by jumping into the Schuylkill River and had drowned in the process.)

Less than 12 hours later, at 10:30 am Thursday morning, as the first officer, Mariano Santiago, was recovering from a gun shot wound to the shoulder, another police officer, Charles Cassidy, was shot in the head (he died this morning) while interrupting a robbery at a Dunkin' Doughnuts. The killer in this case has yet to be apprehended and is roaming the streets of Philadelphia armed with the fallen officer's firearm. (During the initial manhunt for the shooter, 54 Philadelphia schools were locked down and a local university canceled night time classes.)

These two incidents of police officers being shot follows the shooting on Sunday of yet another Philly police officer in front of a rowdy nightclub in West Philly. These shootings, as shocking as they are, are nothing really out of the ordinary in Philadelphia, however. Homicides in Philly today stands at 334 people killed, the vast majority by firearms, which is 2 more than the same time last year. Gun violence is clearly out of control in Philadelphia but as mightily as the police, the mayor and city council members struggle to get Harrisburg to allow the city to enact a gun ban, they are thwarted by the gun lobby and rural Pennsylvanians who want their right to have a hunting rifle protected.

[Incidentally, I think the NRA's theory that if more people were armed there would be less crime is pretty much out the window at this point. All three officers shot this week were armed and yet they got shot. Also, Officer Gary Skerski (from the neighborhood) who was gunned down last year responding to a robbery call at a bar was armed, as well. So there goes that.]

Overall, according to the Inquirer, cops’ getting shot is up 39% around the country this year, up to 61, as criminals become more brazen and willing to kill police. The fact the Jerome Walker, the man who shot officer Santiago in Center City, had just gotten out of prison no long ago, after serving 11 years for shooting a six year old girl, demonstrates to me that the current "get tough" strategy of fighting crime isn't working.

Just as locking up every adult male in Iraq simply bred more jihadis and insurgents in Iraq, so too, it appears, locking up violent offenders simply to punish them in overcrowded prisons is breeding domestic insurgents willing to kill anyone, even a cop, without compunction. Perhaps, if the prison system wasn't overwhelmed with 2 million Americans, 41% of whom are non-violent drug offenders, there would be more resources available to prevent truly violent criminals pouring into the streets without anything but the skills they learned in crime university.

When the shooting and killing of police officers, the thin blue line that protects our communities from the brutes that we've created in our prisons, becomes a routine occurrence, our society breaks down. I'm all for locking up the really violent recidivists for the rest of their lives, but simply warehousing people who have mental or drug problems with these brutes for a certain period of time and then unleashing them on unsuspecting citizens is the height of irresponsibility.

Political talking points like "zero tolerance," "get tough" sound great on paper but they don't deal with the underlying social ills that are affecting our society. Mental patients shouldn't be behind bars with violent criminals. They and drug abusers need medical help, not punishment. As long as we continue to ignore the serious issues of mental illness and drug abuse -- and, naturally, not spend money on them -- we're all going to be walking targets for our own ignorance and fear.

These chickens are coming home to roost right on our door steps and the police officers who are dying to protect us are the canaries in the mine we ignore at our own peril.

[Note: I found a web site that lists the postions on Gun Control of the various candidates. Hillary apparently talks a good game about Gun Control, it would be nice if she'd ever actually pushed for it more forcefully.]

[Note: Human Rights Watch: "One in six U.S. prisoners is mentally ill. . .The rate of mental illness in the prison population is three times higher than in the general population. . . prisons are dangerous and damaging places for mentally ill people. Other prisoners victimize and exploit them. Prison staff often punish mentally ill offenders for symptoms of their illness – such as being noisy or refusing orders, or even self-mutilation and attempted suicide. Mentally ill prisoners are more likely than others to end up housed in especially harsh conditions, such as isolation, that can push them over the edge into acute psychosis."]


Post a Comment

<< Home

hit counter script Top Blog Lists Favourite Blogs Top List
My Zimbio
Top Stories