Monday, August 31, 2015

Thinner Blue Line

Tragedy hit close to home this past weekend. At about 8:30 Friday evening, in northwest Houston, at a Chevron station on the corner of Telge (pronounced Tell-ghee) and West Road, Deputy Darren Goforth was just getting back to his patrol car after filling the tank, when a man came up behind him, shot him three times in the head, and then, after the officer fell, shot him multiple more times, for a total of 15 shots.
Memorial at Pump 8 at the Chevron
where Deputy Darren Goforth was killed

The attacker was described by witnesses and seen on security video as a dark-complexioned man with short hair, about 5’ 10” to 6’ tall, wearing a white T-shirt and red shorts, and driving a red or maroon Ford extended cab pickup. Suspect Shannon J. Miles was apprehended a few hours later.

There was no previous connection between the officer and the suspect. We don’t know very much about motive yet. It may turn out to be mental illness. But the execution style killing appears to be a matter of police hatred, a sentiment that has been fomented nationally over the past year especially.

Last summer there was Ferguson, MO, where a black man, Michael Brown, shortly after robbing a convenience store, attacked a police officer and was killed—and the media blamed the police for racial targeting, even after the (mostly black) witnesses and the mixed grand jury all exonerated the officer. Protestors rioted, destroying businesses and property in a savage display, reprising the violence a year later on the anniversary.

Then there was Baltimore, this past April, following the death in custody of Freddie Gray, of neck injuries. The police were unable to adequately explain the injuries. Police seemed puzzled. It may be that there had been a previous injury, and that Gray attempted to injure himself in transit to blame police for violence. It may be, as assumed by rioters, that police brutality was involved, but the evidence is scarce. Nevertheless, if such a violation occurred, police have ways to deal with the singular violators. Rioters jump to the conclusion that all police target blacks, attack them with impunity, and cover up for one another.

It is a choice to believe that against the evidence. And that belief can lead to no good.

In early August black Muslim race-baiter Louis Farrakhan called for 10,000 “volunteers” to step forward and kill white people in retaliation for perceived oppression. This past Tuesday a radio show out of Texas, with a name too vile to mention, called for lynching and killing of white people. Craig’s List has allowed adssoliciting the killing of police officers. The Black Lives Matter movement has been holding (extraordinarily small) demonstrations across the country over the past several months, shutting down even very liberal speakers (presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders) who won’t go along with. Their theme is that the police target blacks, and therefore the police should not be trusted. If you even try to say that all lives matter, including black lives, you are shut down.

We don’t know yet whether Officer Goforth’s killer was responding to one of these calls to violence. But there is reason to believe so. Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman said this in a news conference: “This rhetoric is out of control. We’ve heard that ‘black lives matter,’ ‘all lives matter’; well cops lives matter too. Why don’t we just drop the qualifier and say ‘lives matter.’”

A Black Lives Matter leader, Deray McKesson, responded negatively toward Sheriff Hickman’s statement, saying it was “unfortunate that Sheriff Hickman has chosen to politicize this tragedy and to attribute the officer’s death to a movement that seeks to end violence (Houston Chronicle Sunday, August 30, pp A1 and A17). If #BlackLivesMatter is against violence toward everyone, they ought to be clearer about that. They appear to the casual observer to be simply racist and anti-civilization.

Harris County DA Devon Anderson said on Saturday, “What happened last night is an assault on the very fabric of society. It is not anything that we can tolerate. It is time to come forward and support law enforcement and condemn this atrocious act. We need to bring this killer to justice.” She added this morning, after the arraignment of Miles, “This crime is not going to divide us; this will unite us.”

The perpetrator was tracked down, fairly easily because of the truck, which was found at Miles’s home about a mile from the shooting site. The gun officers found in his possession was a match. The security footage shows the entire attack, with enough clear imagery to show Miles as the likely perpetrator. He has a decade-long history of criminal history. He has not, at this writing, filed a plea, but he is expected to plead not guilty.

This has been a painful week for law enforcement. Thursday, August 20, Detention Officer Tronoski ones was killed on the job. Monday, August 24, Sergeant Peggy Vassalo of the Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department in Missouri was killed. Also on Monday, August 24, Senior Trooper Steven Vincent of the Louisiana State Police was killed on the job. Wednesday, August 26, Officer Henry Nelson of the Sunset Police Department of Louisiana was killed on the job. On Friday, August 28, in addition to Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth in Houston, Trooper James M. Bava of the Missouri State Hwy Patrol was killed on the job. Also Friday, Trooper Chad H. Wolf of the Michigan State Police was killed on the job.

Mourning all of these officers this week.
Image found on Facebook, credited to RetainYourFreedom

The president was silent on all of these tragic losses.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated on Saturday, “An egregious murder like this is an attack on all law enforcement and has no place in a civilized society.” He called for flags to be placed at half-staff in mourning.

In our part of town, where we have quite a high level of civilization, this kind of violence is shocking. For perspective, the last time a Harris County deputy was shot in the line of duty was May 2001. Harris County encompasses the four million people of Houston and beyond.

Our part of town, the northwest, is beyond city boundaries and not quite to Cypress. The attack took place about 5-6 miles from our house, not far from our church building. We travel that road frequently. It’s in a very middle class area, with some nearby areas probably considered upper middle class. 

Houston as a whole is ethnically diverse. Diversity in the middle class is pretty much racism free, as far as I can ascertain. Nor is this an area with a high crime rate. There’s generally a good relationship between community and police. In other words, no tensions here that would lead anyone to expect this kind of police-hatred-induced murder.

As many as 1,000 gather at the site Saturday evening
Image found on Facebook, KHOU 11 News

People responded as you would expect civilized people to do. They came together in a spontaneous memorial ceremony at the site of the killing, leaving mementos and making donations to the family. As many as a thousand people came gathered, in peaceful prayerful tribute. No thought of violence, or even anger. All races together, because that's how we live in our neighborhoods.

There’s a great deal of sympathy and support for the officer’s family; he leaves behind a wife and two children. At age 47, Goforth had been with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for ten years. He was well liked and honored as good tempered, kind, and everything you’d want a good police office to be in the community.

The night shift met for roll call Saturday evening at the site of the memorial. That group includes a friend who attends church with us. This group photo shows the kind of ethnic diversity we have here. It’s just unthinkable that such a group would be targeting a specific race for unfair treatment.
The night shift, meeting for roll call
where they had lost their brother
Image found on Facebook, attributed to
Gina M. Williams

In the Civilization of Spherical Model, we talk about what civilization looks like it includes this:

People generally self-restrain before they infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. Where there are questions about those limits, laws are in place to help clarify boundaries of civilized behavior. When someone willingly infringes on the rights or safety of another, the law functions to protect that victim as well as society from further uncivilized behavior from the offender.

Our officials here seem to understand their role, as the thin blue line. And they trust the community to support them in their work. The community here also seems to understand the civilizing role the police play. So what we have is a tragedy we will remember. But if someone wanted to trigger racial violence, they’re failing here.

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