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Cop-Killing and Societal Pathology

Push people too far and they'll do bad things.

By Will Offensicht  |  September 7, 2011

USA Today reports a disturbing trend of police officers being murdered from ambush:

Nearly 40% of police officers fatally shot this year have been slain in ambush-style attacks or when they were surprised by suspects with firearms, according to a USA TODAY review.

A total of fifty police officers have been killed this year, which is a 32% increase over last year.

Robert Kaminski, a USC criminologist, states that head injuries have become more common as attackers learn to place their shots to avoid body armor.  In 1994, 10% of police fatalities involved ambush.  This style of attack rose to 31% in 2009.

San Diego. Officer Jeremy Henwood, 36, a Marine veteran, was killed Aug. 7 while stopped at a streetlight. The shooter, a suspect in a separate attack moments before, pulled next to Henwood's car and killed the officer with a shotgun blast to the head.

San Antonio. Like Henwood, Bexar County Deputy Sheriff Kenneth Vann, 48, was killed May 28, when a car pulled next to the deputy's patrol car stopped at a red light. Without warning, the suspect fired on Vann with an AK-47 assault rifle.

Another story on p. 8A of the August 26 issue told how an officer was investigating a broken window in a trailer park when a person in a nearby trailer blew her head off with a shotgun.  The article described another officer's murder by an illegal immigrant at a routine traffic stop.

No, actually, please don't.
Fight them in court instead.


The man who murdered the officer with the shotgun had been judged insane for shooting at deputies in another jurisdiction.  He wasn't supposed to have a firearm.  Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech student who killed 32 people and wounded 25 others before committing suicide, had a history of mental instability before he bought the guns he used.

It's hard to keep people from getting guns.  California's efforts to set up a database to keep guns away from mentally-unbalanced individuals don't work.  The illegal immigrant murderer had a gun, despite a) having no right to be in our country at all and b) it being illegal for all noncitizens, even legal ones, to possess a firearm.

Regardless of the law, anybody who wants a gun can get one.  By definition, murderers aren't too concerned about the finer points of the law.  Liberals ought to figure this out, but they probably won't. reports that there are more than 800,000 full-time police officers in the US and that an average of about 155 die in the line of duty each year; fewer than .02% of our police officers are killed in any given year.  Although each death is tragic, most police officers will die of old age, but that wouldn't make a very good story.

USA Today speculated that budget cuts reduced the number of officers which would make attacks more likely, but having more targets in an ambush would just mean more casualties - most murderers know it's a good idea to get rid of witnesses.

Is This A Trend?

It's possible that people are deciding that cops are the enemy.  Americans have always had a lawless streak.  Our myths include independent-minded Western gunmen who upheld truth, justice, and the American Way while ignoring or defying official law enforcement forces.

Our 100-year flirtation with "progressive" thought which asserts that the government ought to take care of everybody has involved government more and more deeply in our lives.  Once liberals realized that welfare recipients would vote for them, the stage was set for massive intrusion.  The only hope liberals have of being able to pay off enough voters to stay in power is to increase their control of the economy and thus of our lives.

Some famous liberals have decided that they aren't liberals after all.  This happened last year to the famous playwright David Mamet who explained,

I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other - the world in which I actually functioned day to day - was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).  [emphasis added]

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

David Mamet thought he was a liberal and that the government should right wrongs.  The way in which he lived his life each day revealed him that the prejudice, racism, and hostility the liberals claimed simply wasn't evident.  He finally realized that he'd been a conservative all along - he did the best he could, observed that others did likewise, and expected government to leave him alone.

He hadn't realized government was the problem until suddenly he did, thanks to conservative writers making their arguments and having them ring true.  Once he thought about it, the arguments of liberals rang transparently false.

Mr. Mamet is a man of wealth.  He's the sort who's treated respectfully by the police and, if they give him too much trouble, he can afford lawyers.

What about ordinary people?  What about Joe the Plumber who lost his job for criticizing candidate Obama?

Cops versus Citizens

As much as we'd like to think that cops are there to protect and serve - and, of course, a great many are - cops don't always behave reasonably, or even lawfully.

Florida courts have ruled that people have the right to flash headlights to warn other motorists that there's a speed trap ahead.  Nevertheless, Florida police ticket motorists who do this, despite court rulings explicitly forbidding them from doing so.

This blatantly lawless activity is quite sensible for the police: most people pay up instead of taking a day off from work to appear in court even when they're sure to win.  The cops get to keep their ill-gotten gains and pay no price.  Would it be a surprise to find citizens resenting cops who wantonly violate the law in this way?

Then there's "civil forfeiture."  Scragged readers know that more and more laws are being passed to increase the number of federal crimes.  What may be news is that more than 400 federal laws allow authorities to seize money from people who haven't been charged with any crime.  The Wall Street Journal reports that more than $2.5 billion was seized in 2010.

Part of the problem is that local police departments have improper incentives to grab cash:

Under a 1984 federal law, state and local law-enforcement agencies that work with Uncle Sam on seizures get to keep up to 80% of the proceeds.

The term "civil" in "civil forfeiture" means they don't have to charge you with a crime, they charge your money with a crime and seize it.  You have to sue them to get it back.  Proving that your money is not ill-gotten gains is difficult.

Jorge Jaramillo, a construction worker, says he couldn't afford a lawyer after more than $16,000 was seized from him last year in a traffic stop. "I had all of $20 left," he says.

In a Delaware federal-court filing, the Justice Department argued the money was related to drug dealing. It pointed to air fresheners in the car, which could mask the smell of drugs, and a fast-food bag containing cigar tobacco, which the filing said was often a sign that the cigar wrapper had been used to smoke marijuana.

The filing also said a police dog had signaled that the cash carried residue of illegal drugs. Such "dog sniffs" are a common but controversial feature in forfeitures.

"Dog sniffs" are inconclusive - much of the cash in circulation has been tainted with drug residue at one time or another.  Even if your cash smells of drugs, it doesn't mean that you are a dealer, only that someone who handled the money before you dealt with drugs.

How many people will have to be deprived of their money without due process before some of them start shooting back?  People can be pushed only so far.

We sincerely hope that USA Today's report of police officers being killed from ambush doesn't mark the beginning of a trend, but it very well could be.