Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Washington Shootings: Moving On or Just Moving?

Early this morning, Seattle Police shot and killed the alleged gunman in the murders of four Lakewood, Washington police officers.  Whatever motivated this man to do what he did, he will never hurt another person again.  So ends the story.

The story doesn't really end there, however, because there is plenty of traumatic stress for those involved and plenty of follow-up news coverage for the rest of us.  The long process of coming to terms with what happened is just beginning for those who witnessed the shootings and the families and fellow officers of the victims.

As this story has unfolded, a lot of anger has bubbled to the surface.  It seems that this anger is pointed, broadly, in two directions.

The first is at the gunman.  This makes sense -- he is the one ultimately responsible for his own actions.  It comes as no surprise to those of us who watch police dramas on TV that the suspect did not come out of his confrontation with police alive.  That is not to say in any way that his shooting was not appropriate, but rather that, when hunting for a cop killer, the preservation of his life is not the highest priority on everyone's mind.  Generally, they come quietly or they come dead.

The second place that anger is directed is at Mike Huckabee, or more broadly at the criminal justice system.  Huckabee, when he was governor of Arkansas, granted clemency to the alleged killer.  This was one of what appear to be a large number of opportunities that were missed, both before the Arkansas clemency and after, to keep this man away from the public.

We all know that Mike Huckabee, or this or that prosecutor, or this or that judge, did not pull the trigger in these shootings.  By being angry and blaming them, however, we are reassuring ourselves that this could have been prevented.  We need to do that, because the alternative is too scary to fathom -- that there are people out there who just want to kill other people, we don't know who they are, and they can't be stopped.  By blaming these officials, we tell ourselves that if only everyone did their jobs we would be safe.  I have no idea whether any one or all of these people should have done anything differently, given the information they had at the time.  I do know that even if they had, they would not have stopped every violent sociopath out there.

If you want to understand the primal fear we are shunting to the side, try talking to the young child of a police officer this week.  They will tell you they don't want their mom or dad going out for coffee.  The bogeyman is real.  The one in Washington may be gone, but we don't want to reckon with the idea that there may actually be other ones hiding in the closet.


Colleen said...

There is also the political side...."See, we TOLD you Huckabee was bad!"

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