Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Keep officers’ deaths in perspective

From the Lynnwood Enterprise, a subsidiary of the Washington Post, published 12-30-2009

Keep officers’ deaths in perspective
By Mark Mahnkey

King County Sheriff Sue Rahr shared with me a very moving “In Memory” note about the recently fallen Lakewood Police officers.

It caused me to reflect on how this tragedy was handled, and how it came to pass.

Now, let me be clear, I believe each man and woman, when they go out to work, deserves to come home in the same condition they left. Everyone has the right to choose their job, balancing personal interest, remuneration, safety and a host of other things.

There are many who “keep us safe” and die on the job, without fanfare or concern for their families. There is no balance, and no loss of life is worth more than another, no life should be celebrated more than for the least of us.

There are many who die daily “keeping us safe.” The devoted WSDOT folks, who are also public servants and keep us safe no less than the police, lost a fellow named Neal Richards clearing a landslide last month. There was barely a passing mention of his death, yet he too is a public servant survived by a wife and two kids. Isn’t Mr. Richards’ life and his family’s financial situation equally important?

And where is the judge’s name that let Clemmons out on bail? It is Thomas Felnagle of Pierce County. Just because judges wear robes, they are not saints. This same group, just a bunch of politicians, screams for keeping judicial discretion, yet fails to engage their brain in the bail discussion while serving up justice. Why is the media protecting his vapid decision to let this guy out, when he was facing life on a third strike? Then, the politician/judge hides when asked to justify his ruling. At least Gov. Mike Huckabee addressed his thinking on the issue of clemency…

There were so many issues to come together to form the perfect storm on this. Huckabee should have commuted Clemmons’ early sentence, rightly. A juvenile gets 106 years for a misdemeanor crime? But since then, where is the notice the cops broke a “Top 10 rule” to vary their routine? Where is the notice that Clemmons’ family had a chance in May to get him help and failed to do so? Where is the notice that his aunt called the police, rightly, and ratted him out, but who then got paid back by the city with having her house trashed when she was the responsible one doing the right thing?

If we are idolizing one public servant that keeps us safe, we should do so for all. And we should keep it dignified.

Sad, unacceptable things happened, for certain, but as a friend notes, “If my family were exterminated by a similar vermin, would the cops give the same attention to catching the bad guy?”

Sheriff Rahr is correct that we must ask “why.” What do these acts mean, and what must we do differently in the future? I plan on joining her in asking those questions.

Mark Mahnkey is public policy director at the Washington Civil Rights Council and was formerly on the faculty at Washington State University. He can be reached at 206-202-2272 or

1 comment:

Jeff/Wenatchee said...

I agree with what you've posted with the exception of the "equality" of the loss of the WSDOT maintenance crewmember with that of a police officer.
Our maintenance crewmembers didn't come to work here, expecting to stand between the public and evil. It's perhaps more tragic for their families when we do lose employees in work zones, because they're unprepared.
In the case of law enforcement officers - both they and their families know they're risking their life whenever they put on their uniform.