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May 16, 2008
The Shooting, the
Beating, the Outcry: Another Week in Killadelphia
Saturday, May 3: A
Philadelphia police officer, Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, is shot and killed
with a semiautomatic weapon while responding to reports of a bank
robbery in the city’s Port Richmond section. Liczbinski is the second
officer shot in the city this year, and the third in the last two years.
Monday, May 5: About
a dozen Philadelphia police officers, less than 24 hours into the
manhunt for the third and final suspect in the Liczbinski shooting, beat
three suspects who had been fleeing the scene of an unrelated murder.
The entire incident happens to be caught on tape by a news helicopter
from the local Fox affiliate, WTXF, and that videotape makes the
national news rounds.
A lot of people, in
Philadelphia and elsewhere, are angry about those two events. But
unfortunately, way too many people are angry about the first and not the
second, or perhaps the second and not the first. Why not be angry about
Emotions are high.
There’s a lot of anger, a lot of resentment. About 10 things have
happened in regard to those events that have been grossly unfair. When
you throw in one combustible ingredient after another – whether race,
gun control policy, the treatment of police – the situation can only get
A few observations
on these unfortunate events, on which we should all be able to agree
- It is horrible for
police officers to be shot in the line of duty. Anyone killed in such a
manner is a hero, whether Liczbinski or Chuck Cassidy, the Philadelphia
cop shot down in a Dunkin’ Donuts earlier this year.
- There’s too much
crime in Philadelphia, especially violent crime, with a murder rate
hovering around 400 per year. The city’s new mayor and police
commissioner, Michael Nutter and Charles Ramsey, have put innovative new
policies in place to deal with the problem, but clearly much more work
- I don’t care
whether the victims are murderers or if they’re guilty as sin. It’s not
OK for police to beat up suspects, especially not in a 12-on-three
situation and especially not in broad daylight. Some now may call
the beating justifiable, but they may not feel that way when three
murder defendants walk as a result of it. And yes, it was right for
Nutter and Ramsey to pull the involved officers from street duty.
- No, it was not
wrong for WTXF to broadcast that tape. Some have said that the station
should have held the tape out of deference for the police, but I heard
the same argument about the soldiers and Abu Ghraib. It was news, and it
should have been and was reported. Those making that argument seem to be
from the same fringe of the right who believe that “overblown media
coverage” of Abu Ghraib is the single greatest tragedy of the Iraq war.
- That said, it is
grossly unfair that the police beating story has become national news,
but Liczbinski’s brave sacrifice has not.
- It was stupid for
Al Sharpton to parachute in and say that the beating was “worse than
Rodney King” (King wasn’t fleeing a murder in which he had a part, so .
. .) Philadelphia’s NAACP head saw fit to publicly disagree with
Even I feel stupid
coming out of this. At the Philadelphia presidential debate at the
National Constitution Center in mid-April, Sen. Hillary Clinton had made
a reference to the assault weapons ban that her husband had signed, and
related it to prevention of urban crime, specifically in Philadelphia.
In the spin room
after the debate, I asked Mayor Nutter, a Clinton supporter, how many of
last year’s murders had been committed with assault weapons. He replied
that he didn’t know, but did say that the majority had been committed
with illegal guns. Then, about two weeks later, a Philadelphia cop is
shot down with a gun that is both an assault weapon and illegal.
One of Liczbinski’s murderers was killed at the scene, another was
arrested that day and a third was finally caught after a weeklong
manhunt. The matter of the beating remains under investigation. Let’s
please let cool heads prevail on these matters and future ones like
them, and use them as a way to bring the city closer together, rather
than further apart.
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