Armed Bureaucrats Act Like Cowards

An American nuclear submarine, giving military donors what some commentators call a taxpayer-funded carnival ride, slams into a Japanese fishing boat during a high-thrust "training exercise" meant to impress the civilians rather than train anybody for anything. As the Japanese crew and passengers struggle for life, the U.S. Navy crew stands and watches from the top of the sub without doing anything.

The seas were too choppy, they said, although Japanese fishermen tell reporters that the seas weren't even choppy enough to send water into their flimsy lifeboats.

Well, at least these "brave" American sailors weren't standing around eating donuts while the Japanese struggled in the water. We leave that sort of thing to the Philadelphia police and fire fighters. In a videotaped "rescue" along the Schuylkill River last May they did nothing other than watch for a half-hour or so as a troubled man clung to the side of a bridge, then jumped off and drowned.

In fairness, I'm not sure if the dozens of Philly cops and rescue workers were actually eating donuts or cheesesteaks as Matthew Beaufort died, but they were joking around as the tragic event transpired. It took a roller-blading passerby and another bystander to attempt a rescue.

This was documented in a "Dateline NBC" special aired recently. There were plenty of overweight, overpaid cops and firefighters on the scene. They had a long time to bring a boat under the bridge from a nearby police boathouse as Beaufort threatened to jump. Only after the two volunteers dragged the drowning man onto the shore did Philly's finest begin to take their rescue equipment down to the river. And the officials wouldn't touch Beaufort or try to resuscitate him until the rubber gloves and other safety equipment was on the scene. They left the dirty work for the brave volunteers.

This infuriating response didn't merit a rebuke from the police commissioner, who actually praised the assembled cops for their efforts after a public outcry ensued.

These types of incidents, where American cops and soldiers act with cowardice and contempt for the people they're supposed to be protecting, are now commonplace. Yet some conservatives refuse to see what's going on. They understand how oppressive government bureaucrats can be, yet they give a pass to police officers and the military in the mistaken belief that these armed bureaucrats are somehow different from other varieties.

The argument is that police and military are doing jobs that the government must do. Someone's got to catch the thugs, and someone has to protect the nation from armed invaders. Maybe so. But something has shifted in recent years. Police increasingly view average citizens with contempt, something no doubt reinforced in all those federal training programs. And very little that our Imperial Military does has anything to do with defending America from invasion.

I recall a photograph from a year or two ago in the local newspaper. A black tank-like vehicle drove through a suburban neighborhood accompanied by police officers wearing military-style outfits and clutching impressive firepower. They were going to the home of an aging physician to question him in a local crime case. The doctor wasn't holed up or brandishing firearms. Yet the local cops thought it necessary to approach the situation as if they were an invading army.

This is typical. In recent months, California officers shot a young boy in the back during a drug raid; shot to death an elderly man as they entered the wrong home in a drug raid; shot to death a homeless woman; shot in the back a Halloween partygoer holding a toy gun; shot to death a young woman sleeping in her car after her relatives called them for help. Each time, the cops say what their union lawyers tell them to say: "I believed that my life was in danger."

Truth is, police are increasingly unwilling to put themselves at the slightest risk, even though that's the nature of police work. Far better to shoot an innocent person than risk harm to themselves. Our military men and women are worse, as they drop bombs on targets from the stratosphere. Who cares if they accidentally kill and maim scores of innocent civilians, so long as American troops stay completely out of harm's way?

This is cowardly and evil.

A recent article I wrote on workplace shootings was a real eye-opener on this score. In case after case, the cops or deputies did nothing while a madman shot up a downtown office building, a McDonald's restaurant, Columbine high school. The officials were unwilling to endure risk, so they surrounded the building and waited while innocents died en masse.

Yet every time law enforcement officials bargain for a new contract, they present themselves as the defenders of the populace – in order to justify their outrageously high salaries. Every time officials further regulate guns they make it more imperative that Americans rely on these cowards for their safety. This is foolhardy.

America's police officers and soldiers may not yet be our enemies, but they certainly are not our friends or protectors. If trouble calls, I'd suggest relying on your own resources.

February 28, 2001

Steven Greenhut is an editorial writer at the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif.