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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 both? 


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 messier.


A few observations on these unfortunate events, on which we should all be able to agree here:


- 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 is needed.


- 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 Sharpton here.


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.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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