Expect casualties in the war on crime

TOKYO Ė Descendants of Japanese soldiers and civilians killed in World War II announced their intention to sue the United States for reparations. Allegations include a charge against the Marine Corps for prioritizing their own wounded on Iwo Jima while ignoring the needs of injured Japanese snipers. They also claim that aerial bombing, including the atomic attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, should have been conducted in non-populated areas.
    "Just because it was a war doesnít mean people had to die needlessly," said a spokesman for the aggrieved victims through a translator.
    In a related story, Attorney General Janet Reno announced she is investigating the surviving members of the 12 million American World War II veterans for possible civil rights violations, including accusations that combat soldiers routinely called the enemy "Krauts" and "Nips."
    Reno said that she would also look into Presidential candidate John McCainís use of the word "gooks," in referring to the Vietnamese captors who beat him to within an inch of his life. "This is just further evidence of why we need a hate-crimes bill, " said Reno.
    Okay, all of the above was made up -- except that McCain did use that word in that way. But the following is true:
    Trial began recently in the case of Emil Matsareanu, actually, Matsareanuís children, versus the Los Angeles Police Department. You may not recognize the name but maybe you saw the incident on television. Matsareanu was one of two men who, last February, put on body armor, grabbed a bunch of fully-automatic weapons complete with armor-piercing ammunition and set out to rob a bank. When the police took issue with the activity they had planned for the day, Matsareanu and Larry Phillips used their weapons.
    They fired 1200 rounds, give or take a few. In a scene that made the shootout at the OK Corral look like horseplay, 11 police officers and six civilians were wounded. One squad car took 47 bullets. After about an hour, Matsareanuís partner, Larry Phillips, committed suicide. Matsareanu was hit 29 times, mostly in the butt.
    Matsareanu bled to death. The police department is being sued for not getting him to the hospital fast enough. The Federal Government is investigating the charge that Matsareanuís civil rights were violated.
    War is war, and we are supposedly engaged in a war against crime. And in war, people die. Sometimes innocent people, mostly not-innocent people. The issue to be discussed is whether public safety and national interest is worth the cost. Most people believe that in World war II, it was. The number of blameless people dying in the battle for our streets is a teeny-tiny fraction of what is was in that conflict.
    But not only are the soldiers in this "war" being sued every time someone gets hurt, they are being taken to court for hurt feelings.
    Police corruption, brutality and bigotry are one thing Ė and no cop should be defended for engaging in any of that. But accidents and judgment calls, even questionable judgment calls, are another.
    Amadou Diallo was an accident. Four New York police officers did not, when setting out for the evening, say: " Hey, my trigger finger is feeling itchy. Letís go out and kill an unarmed man, go through a gut-wrenching trial, get sued civilly, investigated by the Justice Department and then lose our jobs."
    What did happen is that Diallo got caught in the figurative and literal crossfire that takes place in the struggle to make urban streets safe. Itís just an unfortunate thing that happened, like the thousands of other accidental deaths that happen every year in America. Eight white and four black jurors said so.
    Thatís why our Constitution guarantees us a jury of peers and not a trial by Al Sharpton. Or Elizabeth Sheff.
    Homicide is mostly a white-on-white, black-on-black crime, and whether or not white cops are too quick to judge minority suspects is a premature nicety to be discussed in the classroom, not the courts. Whites killed 2600 other whites last year and blacks killed almost the same number of other blacks. The odds of an innocent African-American male winning the lottery are far, far greater than they are of him getting shot by a white police officer.
    The question of why this is so remains unanswered and unaddressed by most. Forty years ago, handgun laws were more lax, racism was rampant, a smaller percentage of the population was in prison, people did not live in gated communities and the chirping you heard in a parking lot was from birds and not car alarms. And every one of us was safer.  The solutions are not in the places where people are looking.
    Crime is down lately, but people justifiably donít feel secure. Nor will they ever, if the public continues to expect that a major initiative against violence and evil can be undertaken without paying something in the currency of innocents.
    Wars, including wars on crime, are fought, not argued.

March 3, 2000