These are unbearably dangerous times for police, and their families. In the last week, in two different tragedies, older officers witnessed the murder of their police officer sons, one in Chicago, one in West Memphis. The second officer killed in the Memphis shooting was the son and grandson of police officers as well.
Thomas Wortham IV, two-time Iraq War veteran, Chicago police officer, and community activist, was gunned down by four men outside his father’s house in a robbery attempt. His father, retired police officer Thomas Wortham, managed to kill one of the assailants and wound another, but his son, shot in the head in front of his father’s house, did not survive.
The younger Wortham had driven to his parent’s home to show them pictures he had taken at the annual memorial service for slain police officers in Washington the previous week. Next year, he will be among those memorialized there.
In an interview published in the Chicago Tribune the week before he was killed, Wortham spoke out about rising crime in Chicago. Unlike naysayers who excuse such violence, downplay it, or try to exploit it for political gain, he was taking the threat seriously:
Chicago Tribune: Chatham residents fondly remember the fierce competition at Cole Park that at times drew some of the best local talent for pickup games. The park, tucked among the neighborhood’s tidy streets, was also a place for local kids to shoot hoops — and maybe dream of one day being that good. Then on a spring evening last month, a gunman fired into a crowd of teens playing on the court, wounding two young men. One was hit in the calf and hip; the other in the neck. It was the second shooting on the courts in four weeks. By that night, the basketball rims at the celebrated courts had been disabled with locks or taken down altogether, on orders of Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, 6th, who said it was simply too unsafe to play there. The loss of the courts has disappointed many residents who say kids need a place to play. At the same time, the shootings illustrate a deeper concern in Chatham — how this neighborhood that prides itself on its middle-class values will stem brewing violence. “It’s starting to feel like it’s expected in this community,” Tom Wortham, 30, president of the Cole Park advisory council whose grandfather built a home across from the park 50 years ago, said of the violence. “When people think of the South Side of Chicago, they think violence. In Chatham, that’s not what we see. It’s happened, and we’re going to fix it, so it doesn’t happen again.”
Wortham is the second police officer gunned down from Chicago’s Englewood Precinct in a year: last June, Officer Alejandro “Alex” Valadez, 27, was assassinated by two gang members who were free on “felony probation” for earlier violent crimes. Wortham’s killers, too, were on probation from earlier gun crimes.
Like Officer Wortham, Officer Valadez was from a police family: his surviving brother, sister, and girlfriend are all police officers. Why are we sacrificing our nation’s best families — by pandering to the worst?
Also in Chicago, police cars are being set on fire, and officers’ houses are being burglarized.
Two police officers in Memphis were murdered by a father and his sixteen year old son: the father was an anti-government-and-bank activist who, like the killers in Chicago, had been granted leniency for an earlier gun crime. One of the murdered officers was the son of West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert, who rushed to the scene:
The bloodiest day for area law enforcement officials began with routine-sounding radio broadcasts that West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert and his wife heard from their car. One was from their son, Sgt. Brandon Paudert, reporting that he was providing backup for a traffic stop on Interstate 40. Moments later, however, came a chilling transmission: “Officer down.” The elder Paudert rushed to the scene to find his 39-year-old son, a seven-year veteran with the West Memphis force, lying dead on the pavement, shot in the head and neck, still gripping his service weapon.
Sgt. Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans were both young fathers. Officer Evans’ father and grandfather had been police officers. Their killer had a long history of criminal charges . . .
Since 1983, [Jerry] Kane was arrested or cited six times in Clark County, Ohio, on charges ranging from passing bad checks to criminal trespass, drunken driving and driving with expired tags. Kane was charged with felonious assault in 2004 after allegedly shooting a 13-year-old boy in Springfield with a “handgun-style BB gun.”
. . . and increasing confrontations with the police:
Sheriff Gene Kelly in Clark County, Ohio, said he issued a warning to law enforcement about Kane in July 2004, after Kane said a judge tried to “enslave” him when he was sentenced to six days of community service for driving with an expired license plate and no seat belt. Kane claimed he was a “free man” and asked for $100,000 per day in gold or silver, Kelly said. “After listening to this man for almost 30 minutes, I feel that he is expecting and prepared for confrontations with any law enforcement officer that may come in contact with him,” Kelly wrote in his warning to officers. Kelly told The Associated Press on Friday that he had been “very concerned about a potential confrontation and about his resentment of authority.”
Seattle and Oakland police forces are still recovering from two sets of quadruple murders of police officers by two different child rapists who had, of course, been granted serial leniency from the courts, previously threatened police, and received support from high places, even after they killed the innocent officers.
Seattle Police Sergeant Mark Renninger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards, murdered by Maurice Clemmons six months ago. Clemmons had been granted leniency and made into a cause celebré by then-Arkansas Governor, now Fox News Anchor Mike Huckabee, who refuses to apologize for his special treatment of Clemmons.
Sergeants Ervin Romans, Daniel Sakai, Mark Dunakin, and Officer John Hege, murdered in Oakland in March, 2009 by Lovelle Mixon, who was celebrated by activists from Oakland’s deeply anti-cop political culture — after the killings.
And in Detroit, five police officers were shot, one fatally at the beginning of this month. The death toll easily could have been higher. Veteran Police Officer Brian Huff leaves behind a wife and ten-year old son. “The world has lost a wonderful man we can’t replace,” said one family friend.
Officer Huff’s killer, like all the others, should have been behind bars, and he had committed acts of violence against officers in the past. Here is a lengthy and staggering yet still incomplete list of his confrontations with police. There is no way he should have been on the streets:
Gibson was charged in November with being a felon in possession of a firearm and a carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, according to police sources. The charge stems from a Nov. 13 arrest, during which officers conducting an investigation into a shooting patted Gibson down and allegedly found a gun . . . Gibson was released on bond. Gibson was listed as failing to appear in March for a hearing. In addition, he has been listed as an absconder from probation since 2008 in another case. It is unclear why Gibson was given bond while classified as an absconder in that earlier case . . . Gibson served time in prison under the name James Everet, Michigan Department of Corrections records show. He remains on parole after pleading guilty to attempting to disarm a peace officer and possession of cocaine in October 2007. He previously pleaded to two charges of third-degree fleeing and eluding police stemming from a 2005 arrest . . . Last Nov. 13, Detroit Police were investigating a shooting when they spotted Gibson, whose features apparently matched the shooting suspect, walking along E. Jefferson. The police approached, patted him down and felt a gun. They said he then broke free and began to run. Once caught, Gibson struggled before finally being subdued and arrested on weapons charges, documents show. Gibson was charged in the case and released on bond. In another incident, just after midnight on March 26, 2007, two Detroit cops were monitoring a Marathon gas station where there had been trouble at E. 7 Mile Road and Joann. Documents show that the police saw Gibson and another man walking nearby. When the cops stopped to investigate, Gibson took off running south on Joann, zigzagging, according to documents. One of the officers ordered Gibson to stop and confronted him. Documents say Gibson resisted, shouting, “F— you! You all ain’t taking me to jail, get off me.” He swung twice at the cop with a closed fist.
One of the officers wounded while coming to Huff’s aid spoke out recently on the “life in prison” charges and “no bond status” now, finally, filed against Gibson. Too little, too late:
“It does help,” Officer Brian Glover, who suffered a knee injury trying to help Huff, said Tuesday of the charges against Gibson. “But it doesn’t change the fact that he should have never been on the street in the first place.” Glover, who said he’s barely sleeping at night since the shooting, added that “the Prosecutor’s Office has been pointing fingers at, ‘There’s not enough beds in the jail.’ But when someone has such a long history of gun charges, there is a bed for them.”
Anti-cop rhetoric greases the skids of serial lenience towards even the worst, most violent offenders, and police everywhere are paying the price for the anti-cop rhetoric surfacing in political speech and political activism across the political spectrum these days. This anti-cop drumbeat is always the same, whether it comes from the White House or a fringe anti-government website, from libertarian hysterics on the right or criminal rights activists on the left.
The consequences are the same, too, despite the slickest efforts of exploitation artists like Mark Potok, who only speak out on certain instances of murderous anti-cop rage, those that serve some ulterior political, or fund-raising motive — and then spend the rest of their time and substantial resources attacking law enforcement. Potok is an extreme case, but there is no shortage of elected officials and political pundits eager to blame police for the violence directed against them or remain silent when careless words escalate into another officer’s funeral (or hog the spotlight and act out unconscionably, as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley did in the wake of Wortham’s death).
Where is the sane, sober, respectful, national leadership on behalf of police officers?
One month before their own son, police officer Thomas Wortham IV, was killed, Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell interviewed Wortham’s parents at an anti-violence rally near their home. The purpose of the rally was to re-direct funds from Chicago’s failed Olympic bid to provide resources for the police:
“The main thing is we need security and more supervision,” said [Thomas] Wortham [Sr.], who has lived across the street from the park for 20 years. “The Park District hasn’t recognized that there has been an influx of people visiting this park. On any given night, you might have 100 people in the park watching basketball. This is the only neutral park between 71st and 95th Street.” Before the three [other] people were shot, Wortham’s wife, Carolyn, said there hadn’t been a shooting in the park in the 20 years the couple have lived in their home. “All we want to do is to preserve the quality of life that we had as children,” she said.
President Obama could create a sea change in attitudes towards police by recognizing Wortham’s service and sacrifice. But he seems to have remained silent on the young officer’s tragic death, even though it occurred in a neighborhood near where he once raised his own children, even though Wortham’s commitment to community activism exemplifies so much of the President’s own rhetoric on service.
Why doesn’t he make Thomas Wortham IV a household name?