On a Horrible Tragedy and Its Opportunities

Wednesday’s murders of nine innocent people as they gathered together to worship God in an historic Charleston, South Carolina, church is an incomprehensible tragedy. For some, of course, it is also an opportunity to push political agendas that are better considered in less emotional circumstances.
Already there is the usual clamoring for more laws restricting the right to gun ownership, which follows each of the all-too-frequent mass killings that occur in this country. President Barack Obama took a few moments out of his busy schedule of fund-raising to make the familiar pitch, falsely asserting that such tragedies are unique to America before backpedaling a bit and stating that they’re simply more common here, which might or might not be true and in any case cannot be explained by the Second Amendment. The causes of such senseless slaughter are not easily understood, nor are any solutions readily apparent, and society’s ongoing efforts to grapple with the problem should be based on facts and logic rather than even the most justifiable outrage, but those of us who believe that every citizen has a natural right to arm himself against such ineradicable dangers, and that gun laws frequently prove counter-productive, will have to hope that cooler heads once again prevail.
In this awful case all nine murder victims were black, their murderer was white, the motive was apparently a severely psychotic racism, and that unusual circumstance of course raises all sorts of issues and plenty of opportunity for an appeal to raw emotion.
Those who advocate for additional penalties against “hate crimes” have predictably seized the opportunity to make their case. There’s no denying that a long-simmering race hatred is an especially odious reason to commit murder, compared to the monetary fits of passion or sense of desperation of simple lack of moral reasoning that are far more often the cause, but the results are always the same and the reasons are never clear and the legal ramifications of trying to make such distinctions are problematic and best assessed dispassionately. The “hate crimes” advocates always seize on the most horrific cases, such as the murder of Wyoming youth Matthew Shepard ,which might or might not have been motivated by anti-homosexual animus, or the brutal death of black and blameless James Byrd by being chained and dragged from a pickup truck driven by some severely psychotic racists, but such unusual stories seem to undermine their arguments. In Shepard’s case the killers were sentenced to two consecutive life prison sentences without the possibility of parole, spared the death penalty only by means of a plea agreement that the victim’s parents supported, and in Byrd’s case the less culpable killers were given similarly life-long sentences and the ringleader’s death warrant was duly signed by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who nonetheless was subjected to attack ads during his subsequent presidential campaign that featured the victim’s daughter saying he was insufficiently tough on “hate crimes” because he had refused to sign legislation that would attach those unspecified  tougher penalties. Our recent experience of staunchly conservative and Christian and death-penalty imposing South Carolina suggests that its juries and judges will take an equally strong stand against anyone who walks into a church and murders nine innocent people who have gathered to worship God, for whatever reason he might have, and whatever color he and his victims might be. The case for adding additional penalties to distinguish the victim from the other equally-bereaved murdered should also be considered by facts and logic rather than emotion.
This senseless murder of nine innocent black people by a severely psychotic white racist comes at a particularly inopportune moment in America’s race relations, as well, and those who are intent on further roiling the country haven’t been able to resist that ripe opportunity. Those who allege that white America at large is severely and psychotically racist and prone to murder, from the oh-so-respectable staff of Salon.com to that angry black woman who heckled a Cable News Networks’ white reporter and black commentator during their attempt at a broadcast, the tragedy in Charleston is a satisfying verification of their most long-simmering prejudices. There are indeed plenty of psychotically racist white people out there, as the sickening comments section on one of the media reports shows, but the facts are that a black American is far more likely to die at the hands of some impassioned or desperate or morally impaired black man than because of a severely psychotic white racist, and logic and moral reasoning suggests that this tragic fact should also be given society’s most deliberate and dispassionate consideration, so those of us who truly believe that all lives matter will once again have to hope that cooler heads prevail. In the meantime we will mourn the victims of this terrible crime, pray that the God they had gathered to worship will be merciful to their souls, and keep faith our justice system will be true to its stern purpose.

— Bud Norman

Policing the Police

The rioting has ended in Baltimore, with the mobs apparently placated by the indictments of six police officers involved in the recent death of a suspect or simply worn out and stocked up on looted supplies, but the city’s violent problems continue. With the cops in retreat the crooks have been on such on rampage that Baltimore has suffered 38 murders this month, the latest victims being a 31-year-old woman and her seven-month-old child, and although it won’t likely receive the same attention as the riots it should be considered in the nation’s ongoing debate about policing in minority neighborhoods.
Thirty-eight murders in one mere month is a lot for even such a populous city as Baltimore, and there’s no arguing that it’s a mere coincidence the spree has taken place after those six officers were indicted, the entire force was subjected to a Department of Justice investigation, and public scrutiny was focused on the city’s law enforcement. There are doubtlessly bad police officers in Baltimore, and those six indicted officers might yet be proved among them, but given the recent events it is also to be expected that even the good ones are reluctant to risk the sort of policing that once kept the local crime to more reasonable levels. Arrests are down in the city, what policing still occurs is done despite threatening groups of onlookers, and the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police freely admits to feeling “under siege” and that “criminals are taking advantage of the situation since the unrest,” and that officers “are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty.”
The problem isn’t limited to Baltimore, though, because the same animus toward to police is common throughout the country. New York City elected a mayor who ran on a promise to end that city’s “stop-and-frisk” procedures and other aggressive law enforcement techniques, and he’s gained a national following despite the city’s 45 percent increase in murder since his election. There’s even talk of making him the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, and current frontrunner Hillary Clinton is already attempting to stave off the challenge by calling for an end to the “era of mass incarceration” and the other tough-on-crime policies that her husband and former President Bill Clinton once championed. With the highly-publicized deaths of black suspects in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, New York City, and Charleston, South Carolina grabbing most of the headlines, and the added murders in places such as Baltimore and New York City getting less attention, and the Department of Justice seeming more concerned with the former rather than the latter, the soft-one-crime approach suddenly seems ascendant.
By the time the next presidential election rolls around, however, we expect the proverbial pendulum might swing in the other direction. That tough-on-crime stance the Democratic front-runner’s husband was once compelled to champion during the crime wave of the ’90s resulted in a 20-year decline in the nation’s crime rate, to the point that the voters in jurisdictions such as New York City and Baltimore forgot how very dangerous the nation’s big cities once were, which is why the press is now more concerned with the inevitable and sometimes entirely fictitious (as in the case of Ferguson) misdeeds by the police, but a steady stream of dead mothers and their seven-year-old children will serve as a reminder of why we started locking up prisoners and throwing away the key and the indulging the sort of aggressive policing that transformed New York City from a cinematic post-apocalyptic wasteland into a vacation destination with one of the world’s lowest big-city crime rates. Baltimore’s consistently more progressive civic government never did achieve that level of tranquility, but we can hope that 38 murder victims, including a 7-year-old and his mother, will offer a persuasive perspective even to that town.
The rest of the country should take note, as well. The bad police should face the consequences for their misdeeds, but that must be achieved without making the good ones afraid to do their very important jobs. Any presidential candidate who takes a similar stand should have an advantage over those who are more concerned with the rights of criminals to commit crime without fear of the legal consequences.

— Bud Norman

Officers Ramos and Liu, RIP

The many recent protests regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have often featured chants for the murder of police officers, and such evil wishes came true on Saturday. Two of New York City’s finest were shot down in cold blood, apparently in retaliation for the highly publicized deaths of two unarmed black men by police, and many of those who stoked the angriness of the protests are offering their condolences.
In Brown’s case an unassailable array of physical evidence and numerous eyewitnesses eventually corroborated the officer’s claim of self-defense against an intimidatingly large man who had gone for his gun, and in Garner’s case a videotape of the unhealthy man’s fatal encounter with a neck hold and pile of officers demonstrated what was arguably excessive force against his attempt to resist arrest but not murderous intent, yet both were widely exploited as proof of a deadly war by law enforcement against law-abiding black men. The use of deadly force by police officers has declined in recent years along with the crime rate, black men are still far more likely to die at the hands of another black man, and the death tolls for everyone would be far higher without police officers willing and able to defend themselves on the streets, but none of that stopped the usual racial provocateurs from egging on the protests that chanted for the murder of cops.
The ubiquitous Al Sharpton was on the scene, of course, along with the New Black Panther Party and the rest of the soap box orators who haven’t yet secured a network news gig or frequent invitations to the White House. Hollywood celebrities chimed in, as always, and professional athletes took to the field with the thoroughly disproved “Don’t shoot” slogan of Brown’s purported mayrtrdom or Garner’s sadly true last words of “I can’t breathe” emblazoned on the high-dollar shoes that the big time sneaker companies provide them. Much of the media did its usual muckraking, too, happy to let the fanciful but useful notion of cops murdering innocent black men in cold blood linger. This time around the crowd included the the Mayor of New York City, who publicly lamented that he had to teach his black son to be fearful of the city’s police, the President of the United States, who sent an emissary to Brown’s funeral and told the United Nations that Brown’s death left his country unable to assert its moral authority in the world, and his Attorney General, who launched an investigation of the department involved in Brown’s death even as evidence of the officer’s innocence was accumulating.
Some of those soap box orators are exulting about the murders on social media, which is the soap box of our high-tech age, and the same platform that the killer of those two New York City officers used to proclaim his vengeful motives, but the provocateurs who need to retain some level of respectability are now obliged to offer either sympathy or at least a respectful silence. Hollywood celebrities have publicity agents who will shrewdly advise against any comment, and any athletes who take the field with slogans in solidarity with the murders will likely lose his shoes. The rest have ratings or circulation figures or poll numbers to worry about, and have said all the right things.
Members of the New York City Police Department nonetheless turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, and in the most literal sense of the phrase. The broader public might have a similar reaction to the suddenly kind words offered to the police by erstwhile supporters of the protests that until Sunday had chanted for the murder of police. There’s no plausible way for the media to report the deaths of a Hispanic and an Asian police officer who were involved in a training exercise to deal with potential terrorist threats that will support the narrative of a white racist war against black men, and the killer’s race and name will make it impossible to blame the usual Tea Party suspects. That national conversation on race that the race provocateurs have long hoped to start has suddenly shifted to the facts that the deadly use of force by police officers has been declining along with the crime rate, that black men are far more likely to die at the hands of other black men, and that the death toll for everyone would be much higher if there weren’t officers willing and able to defend themselves and the rest of us against a threat that suddenly seems all too real.

— Bud Norman

Murder in Overland Park

Murders routinely happen here in Kansas, as they do everywhere, and it’s always a tragedy, but the ones on Sunday in Overland Park were especially appalling. A sick, twisted man gunned down a 14-year-old boy and his 69-year-old grandfather outside a Jewish Community Center, then drove to a nearby assisted living community called Village Shalom and fatally shot a 53-year-old woman. The boy and his grandfather were Methodists, and the woman a Catholic, but if there was any doubt that the locations were chosen because of a hatred of Jews the shooter erased it by shouting “Heil Hitler” as he was taken into custody.
The Missouri man made no secret of his anti-Jewish sentiments, and had been a “Grand Dragon” in the Ku Klux Klan and a founder of something called the White Patriot Party, so his crimes are clearly the latest in the bloody history of the oldest hatred. All decent people will offer only sympathy to the victims and their families and friends, as well as the intended victims, but others will inevitably use the tragedy to score the usual political points.
Had the murders been committed by Muslim terrorists, such as the ones Secretary of State John Kerry has lately been pressing the Israel government to release from its prisons, the prevailing rules of political discourse would discourse would require an admonition to not draw conclusions about anyone or anything other than the individual involved. When it’s an old white guy from the middle of America, especially one obliging enough to use the word “Patriot” in his perverted political activities, the reader is invited to extrapolate to his heart’s content. There’s an ever-present eagerness among the press to portray all people with conservative notions of constitutional restrains as gun-loving, government-hating terrorists itching to kill, even on the far more frequent occasions when the murders do turn out to be the work of Muslim terrorists, and cases such as this provide an irresistible opportunity.
Modern conservatism’s emphasis on limited government and free markets and individual liberty are the antithesis of National Socialism, of course, but somehow they will be conflated by the term “right-wing.” Modern conservatism is also distinguished by its steadfast support of religious freedom and affinity for the state of Israel, both of which are increasingly disparaged by the same liberals who slur the conservatives for their supposed intolerance, but the old charge of prejudice will once be made. That the killer was finding inspiration for anti-Jewish hatred in such a venerable leftist publication as The Nation will go unmentioned, as will the fact that almost all of the conservative media routinely accused of “hate speech” are outspokenly philo-Semitic.
We wish everyone in Overland Park well at this time of mourning. It’s a pleasant little suburb of Kansas City where most of the folks work hard, obey the law, and get along with all their neighbors, and the many conservatives among them don’t deserve to be slandered as complicit in a crime that has shocked their sensibilities.

— Bud Norman