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War on Cops: It Takes a Village to Kill a Cop

Last spring was a bloody time for police officers. Chicago buried three officers in fast succession.  Tampa/St. Pete, where I live, saw two officers gunned down and two more wounded (seven more police in Florida, three in Tampa/St. Pete alone, have been shot to death since then).  Nationwide, by the end of the year, 59 cops had been murdered in shootings.  The previous year, 2009, ended on a bloody note, too.  On November 29, in Lakewood, Washington, Maurice Clemmons gunned down four officers as they sat eating breakfast in a restaurant.

Maurice Clemmons

Despite a lifelong history of extreme violence and mental instability, Clemmons’ primary experience of the justice system was “catch and release,” that is, the police caught him, and everybody else let him go.  So when he went really off the deep end, is it any wonder that he picked cops — and not judges, or lawyers, or parole board members, or politicians — for his targets?  Then-Arkansas-Governor Mike Huckabee pardoned Clemmons in 1999 despite a disturbing and precocious record of violence on the streets and while in custody.

Mike Huckabee

Huckabee grandstanded about his Christian motives for releasing Clemmons and other predators, as Clemmons immediately began committing crimes again: aggravated robbery, theft, parole violation.  But Arkansas justice officials continued their pattern of leniency: he managed to get out of one ten-year sentence in only two years, and his parole violations were simply ignored.  A free man, Clemmons moved to Washington in 2004.

In 2009, he assaulted neighbors, passing cars, a police officer and jail employees.  Yet in the amnesiatic calculus of sentencing, he was only charged with a fraction of these assaults and was released on bail.  That week, he sexually assaulted two young nieces and held them captive.  Arrested again, he was evaluated by psychologists who said that he was dangerous, but another judge granted him bail.

Unsurprisingly, Clemmons also ignored the terms of that bail: he had been taught by “the system” that breaking the law after an arrest is frequently overlooked.  Arkansas authorities notified Washington state and said they didn’t care that he had violated parole in their state, so he was not extradited.  He purchased guns and showed them to several relatives and friends, telling them that he was going to kill policemen and schoolchildren.  He did this at a Thanksgiving dinner at which he was apparently welcomed despite the sexual assault of his child relatives.  He talked there about his plans to cut off his GPS monitor in order to lure police to his house to kill them.  Nobody called the police to warn them.  He cut the GPS monitor off his ankle, and nothing happened to him.  He even told people that he had tried to drive to a police station to start shooting people but had experienced car problems.  Nobody dialed 911.

The story of Maurice Clemmons is like a fable where people drift slowly towards a crisis, seemingly without the means to veer away.  Yet this is not true: anyone might have alerted police that Clemmons had purchased a weapon and was planning to use it to kill innocent police officers and schoolchildren.  On the other hand, what if someone did dial 911?  The police know that the Maurice Clemmons of the world are protected by many rules and just as many exceptions to rules.  What if they picked him up, and the incident turned into an ambush where others were hurt?  They would be blamed for framing an “innocent” man, a man who had “done nothing more than complain about police brutality in the past,” as the story would doubtlessly be told.  The child-rapes, threats, previous assaults on authorities, and Clemmons’ criminal past would all be erased in favor of an image of a persecuted minority man.  This is precisely the way the shameless Christian Science Monitor spun the story of another cop-killer in Georgia this week.   Thus are the flames of anti-police hatred fanned.

A fellow Arkansas felon who was also in violation of parole drove Clemmons to the town of Lakewood.  When the men saw a police car, Clemmons got out, walked into the restaurant where four officers were sharing breakfast, and shot them dead: Mark Renninger, 39; Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards, 42.  Clemmons’ friend drove him away, and other people, including his sister, helped him escape town. Someone phoned in a false tip to police, which delayed his capture and endangered innocent people.  Clemmons was finally caught two days later, when his car broke down.  Armed with a dead officer’s gun, he charged another police officer, who shot him.

It takes a village to kill four policemen. Mike Huckabee, judges and parole board members in two states, Clemmons’ relatives and friends, his wife, his aunt, and his sister: they all contributed to the murders.  High-ranking court officials in two states made decisions that released Clemmons back into society no matter what he did and no matter what he said he would do next.  Psychologists said he was dangerous; he held two little girls captive, one for days, and sexually assaulted them, and still there were no immediate consequences, and he was welcomed by family and friends.  Only police tried to remove him from the streets, and only police died.

This is the real war on cops: it involves hatred, and negligence by many authorities who aren’t policemen.  All through 2010, when one officer after another was gunned down in Chicago, and Memphis, and Tampa, and Los Angeles, Barack Obama said nothing.  Eric Holder, “the nation’s top cop,” remained silent.

It may be disturbing, but their silence shouldn’t be surprising.  Both men have credentials that place them, politically, in opposition to police.  Throughout Holder’s career, he has taken extreme positions against police safety, representing terrorists and even securing the release of murderers who targeted cops.  It was incongruous for Holder to remain silent as men and women under his command experienced rising levels of violence.  But it would have also been incongruous had he chosen to speak out, given his previous alliances with anti-cop social movements.

Was it incongruous for Obama to insist on staging a televised “beer summit,” allegedly designed to ease tensions between blacks and police, without once acknowledging the rising death toll of police officers of all races?  Between the time when Harvard Professor Henry Gates was arrested and briefly detained, and Obama’s famous “beer summit” with Gates and the publicly chastened officer, six cops were killed or succumbed to wounds received in the line of duty.  Six cops dead in a little more than a week, and in the Rose Garden, not one word was said about the public’s responsibility towards cops, or the sacrifices these cops made to keep people safe.

Thus Henry Gates’ temporary discomfort at the hands of an officer who was actually just trying to protect Professor Gates’ property was deemed more important that the murders of six cops, so much more important that the dead police were not even part of the conversation.  This is a calculus, too.

Deputy Sheriff Robbie Chase Whitebird, Seminole County, OK; Deputy Sheriff Marvin Gene Williams, Seminole County, OK; Sgt. David Joseph Kinterknecht, Montrose, CO; Border Patrol Agent Robert Wimer Rosas, Jr.; Sgt. Steven Edward May, Modesto, CA; Detective Marc Anthony DiNardo, Jersey City, NJ.  Oklahoma, New Jersey, California, Colorado, Texas.  Six cops who died while the President and the Attorney General grandstanded against the police.

The “Beer Summit”

A year later, Obama and Holder still had nothing to say when violence against police took a terrible toll in their hometown, Chicago.  Thomas E. Wortham IV, a young Chicago officer who had ironically just returned from the memorial for murdered police officers in D.C., was gunned down in front of his father, a retired police officer.  Two other Chicago cops were soon dead, to resounding silence from the White House and the Justice Department.  Imagine how powerful it would have been if Obama had travelled to Chicago and talked about those deaths.  He did return to Chicago for a vacation at that time.  But he said nothing in public about the loss of policemen’s lives.

Police Officer Thomas E. Wortham IV, Police Officer Thor Odin Soderberg, Police Officer Michael Ray Bailey Sr., all Chicago PD.

According to the Officer Down website, since 2009 there have been 128 officers killed by gunfire, nine fatal assaults, and 21 vehicle assaults — 159 officers murdered in 27 months.  This represents a steep rise which continues to grow steeper this year.  Last week, Eric Holder finally acknowledged the war on cops.  But he wasn’t exactly passionate about it, the way he is with pro-offender issues, like “prisoner re-entry.”

He did announce one promising initiative:

Ask local prosecutors to identify the “worst of the worst” – offenders with criminal histories who cycle in and out of local jails and state prisons – and discuss whether any of these repeat offenders may be prosecuted under federal law for offenses that make the offender eligible for a stiffer sentence.

Considering the careers of men like Maurice Clemmons, that makes sense.  But it is also in direct conflict with scores of programs and research studies Holder has been sponsoring that single-mindedly promote “alternatives to incarceration,” the types of programs that enabled Clemmons to be out on the streets in the first place and fed his paranoid, obsessive hatred.  Such studies — academic activism, really — always manage to prove what the researchers were seeking: that incarceration “doesn’t work,” or is “unfair” merely because there are higher percentages of blacks than whites in prison.  These claims become powerful instruments in the political movements to roll back effective sentencing in the states, including sentencing for prolific recidivists like Clemmons, who directly benefitted from efforts to reduce sentences for people convicted of crimes at a young age (one of Holder’s most passionate causes).

So why use federal law to target recidivists while you’re also quietly undercutting laws in the states that target recidivists?

Philosophically and politically, Obama and Holder side with those who oppose the best measures that tackle offenders who pose the biggest risks to police: amoral adolescents with guns and repeat offenders who ought to be serving long sentences.  More importantly, through relentless talk about perceived racial injustices, Eric Holder has fed the paranoid anger of those who believe that law enforcement is illegitimate — this is, after all, the man who put his own career on the line to free FALN terrorists who targeted police and innocent civilians.

That, he certainly believed in.

Holder has a great deal more work to do before he proves that he is no longer accommodating the village that sees nothing wrong, and a great deal to recommend, in killing cops.  I don’t think the nation’s so-called “top cop” is really all that interested in protecting policemen’s lives.  Somebody has to say it.

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