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If you’re conservative (and you are, if you’re reading this), you’ve heard the general narrative on the decline of culture in urban centers from individuals like the Rev. C.L. Bryant. Of course, he speaks of the new slavery that is government dependence, but more importantly, in the context of law enforcement, he talks about the lack of respect in black inner-city neighborhoods. It is not just the lack of respect for authority in the form of police officers, but also a severe lack of self-respect.
Theoretically, this is something that could be fixed, with the encouragement of small business development, school choice, and intervention programs for at-risk youth — the current liberal-speak for young people that are very likely to end up in the juvenile detention systems and later in adult prisons. I know this is a severe oversimplification of a complex societal problem, but there are already volumes of information out there on these facets of the problems faced by law enforcement today.
It could be argued that because of the antipathy that is shown to police officers in general, particularly in urban centers, the officers themselves have become hardened. The days of the friendly “Andy Griffith from Mayberry” police are gone, or at least mostly so. At some point in the past couple of decades, it seems that police academies stopped teaching future officers to differentiate between law-abiding citizens and felons. Everyone is a potential felon and everyone is a potential threat, or so it seems. In the wake of the shooting in South Carolina, it’s even more difficult to muster sympathy for this mentality, in spite of the fact that from all appearances so far, the officer involved in that shooting probably wasn’t a sterling example of what law enforcement personnel should be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to dig at least a little to determine how we’ve gotten to this point.
While it would give me a great deal of pleasure to blame a single case for the entire problem of law enforcement becoming at least a little dysfunctional, I can’t do that. However, I can suggest an example of the root of this problem. On Dec. 9, 1981, Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia police officer, was shot dead by Mumia Abu-Jamal. The 1982 trial resulted in Abu-Jamal receiving the death penalty, but this was in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That means that after decades of appeals, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. During that time, there have been various liberal groups and activists that have claimed Abu-Jamal is really a freedom-fighter, and the end result is that a convicted cop-killer has been lionized to the point where schoolteachers have made their students write “get well” cards to him.
As I said, it would be nice to just blame this specific case, but I can’t. There are others across the country, where misguided youths and academicians have romanticized criminals beyond the point where Hollywood itself has taken gangsters and infamous criminals like Bonnie and Clyde. Yes, it could be argued that this is simply human nature, and that we are silly enough to be fascinated with the seedy side of life. However, there’s a huge difference between romanticizing crime on the silver screen, and teaching children that it’s a good thing to send greeting cards to convicted felons, while simultaneously implying that they were wrongfully imprisoned. It’s difficult enough to teach children how the judicial system works without muddying the water with lessons about (and from) cult-like followers of felons who are hellbent on turning those criminals into heroes.
Abu-Jamal executed a police officer at a traffic stop, and he is a hero. I’m not going to imply that the officer in South Carolina is anything but a villain, however I will say that the officer in Ferguson could definitely serve as the obverse on this particular coin. Combine this backward thinking on criminal justice with the hostile attitude toward police in many communities, and it’s understandable how officers could end up returning that general feeling to the people they are supposed to protect and serve. That isn’t right, but maybe it would be easier to change how police view the public if we at least try to put an end to the backward logic of turning criminals into heroes.