September 18, 2011

Evil Exists: A Cautionary Tale For Our Times

I've been out of police work for more than a decade now. In many ways, it seems like only yesterday, yet I know better. Any policeman knows that even when absent from the job for a few weeks of vacation, an edge is lost and must be regained. I know there are many things I've forgotten, not big things, but nuances, insights, personal procedures that helped me to be sharp and effective in my specific duties. Other things, if not exactly forgotten, have faded to the back of my consciousness, painful things, particularly painful things that happened to others, things over which I had no control.

As well as teaching, I'm a professional singer. I'm not on the concert circuit, living out of a suitcase, constantly traveling, conducting master's classes, always hustling to promote myself while hoping against hope that the voice stays healthy. Rather I sing with a fine chorale that is the principal chorus of a fine symphony, and I'm also paid to sing with a metropolitan church choir that has a few hired choral guns, so to speak. This allows the church to do a higher level of music and more of it, which would not be possible by relying merely on volunteers. It's far from a huge amount of money, but it's nice to be paid for all of those years of rehearsal and effort and equally nice to work with nice people who appreciate my efforts.

So it was that in our warm-up rehearsal this morning, before the second service, one of the volunteer members of our choir delivered a painful reminder that in an instant took me back more than a decade. She and her husband are good people, personable folks anyone would like to know, and it was distinctly disturbing to hear her emotion-choked voice, a voice tinged with terror, as she related this cautionary tale.

Last week, one unremarkable morning, my friend's young daughter, the mother of a newborn, was home alone. Her husband was gone to work, when suddenly, the doorbell began insistently ringing and did not stop. Realizing something was very wrong and clutching her newborn to her chest, she peered through the peephole in the front door and saw two unfamiliar black men, one ringing the bell but being careful to lower his face, the other facing away from the door.

She called her young husband who told her to immediately call 911, and as she did, telling her story in a state of confusion and fright, she saw the burglars heading around the house, and she knew they were going to break into her home through the back door. Staying on the line with the police, she locked herself in her bathroom and taking her two small dogs with her, barricaded herself, the dogs and her baby, as best she could, in a closet in that bathroom.

Despite the barking of the dogs, she could hear the burglars breaking through the door. They rattled the doorknob of the bathroom, but did not enter. She heard them ransacking her bedroom and other portions of her home. The terror in my friend's voice as she relived the danger her daughter faced, the horror of what might have happened, was gripping and enraging. As I so often have throughout my police career and my life thereafter, I wished I had been there, for if I had, our community would have been short two predators one way or the other. But as usual, I wasn't there, and I could only listen in frustration.

The police, amazingly, were only about a block away, and in the meantime, my friend's son-in-law had called them and told them what was happening, so they and their son-in-law were racing the police. By the time they arrived, it was all over. Four police cars and four officers were present and they managed to capture the drugged juvenile getaway driver and his car, but the burglars, carrying most of the young couple's jewelry, had leapt the back fence and were long gone. Their TV set was unplugged and set aside for quick removal, but was still present. The young mother was unhurt but fundamentally changed--they all were.

They young parents have not returned to the house—their home—since that morning. They will return only to move their remaining property to another house elsewhere, a house they hope will be safe, a house that may once again become a home. The police told them that home invasion burglaries are an epidemic in their area. They're trying hard to stop them, but results are few and far between. The juvenile they caught will almost certainly lawyer up and say nothing, and because he's a juvenile, will experience no real punishment and will have no incentive to give up his pals.

My friends, their daughter and her husband are Christians. They know intellectually that evil exists. They read about it often and believe that through their Christian faith, they help to fight evil. But until that day, they did not know, did not believe in every fiber of their beings that evil could and would visit them, that it would actively seek them out in their home. They could not imagine that evil would imperil their lives and the life of their child. Certainly, they were aware of the depravity criminals inflict on others every day. They, like most people, shook their heads and sympathized with news accounts of innocent citizens, good people, who have been maimed, raped, even killed by two legged predators, but until last week, it was something that always happened to someone else. No longer.

Over the last year I wrote a five part series titled "Me? Own A Gun?" that explores the practical, ethical, moral and legal issues revolving around gun ownership. Here's how to access that series:

Go here for article 1
Go here for Article 2
Go here for Article 3
Go here for Article 4
Go here for Article 5

But don't go there, don't read that series, until you read the rest of this article after the break.

I didn't pat my friends on the back, nor did I console them. We had a church service to do, other things upon which to concentrate and for them, for all crime victims, that's a good thing. But there are things they need to consider, and I hope they will as they read this article. Many of these things are truisms, aphorisms self-styled elite, anti-gun, anti-freedom "activists" call clichés or mere anecdotes. But as any honest police officer can attest, these aphorisms, and millions of stories just like that of my friends, while anecdotes, are the very face of reality. Let's begin by becoming familiar with criminals, our own domestic terrorists.

THE ENEMY: Most criminals are young males between the ages of say 15 and 25. Fortunately, by the mid twenties, most young men realize that crime is a one-way ticket to jail, death or both and quit, but some never learn. Race depends on where one lives, but statistically, most criminals, particularly in urban areas, are Black or Hispanic, and some racial groups specialize in certain types of crimes.

Fortunately, most criminals aren't particularly smart. The criminal mastermind of TV and the movies is a rare commodity. However, one should not confuse book intelligence with animal cunning and determination, which can serve even dumb criminals well.

Burglars are opportunists. Most will only burglarize homes during the day when there is a substantially lower risk of running into a homeowner. Criminals fear armed homeowners far more than the police because the police are predictable and probably won't kill them unless they do something really stupid. A scared citizen might waste them accidentally, because they take things personally, or just for fun. Most burglars, if they suspect anyone is home, will simply go elsewhere, which greatly lessens their risk. Burglars who enter a home knowing someone is present are very dangerous. Those who will burglarize a home at night, particularly when they know people are present are often deadly.

Most burglars aren't armed with guns, but are almost always armed with knives or other burglary tools that can easily inflict deadly wounds. They may also arm themselves with weapons found in the home. However a growing number of burglars, particularly younger burglars, are carrying handguns, and out of fear, bravado, or simply because they're so wasted on various drugs they have no rational judgment, are willing to use them. Burglars who hit occupied homes at night should always be assumed to be armed with guns and willing, even eager, to use them.

The burglars who hit the young couple's home were practicing common daylight burglary techniques. Knock on the door or ring the bell to be sure no one is home, then sneak around the back where they can't be seen and break in. Even if the home has an alarm system, they can be in and out long before the police arrive, particularly if they're smart enough to use police scanners and/or lookouts. In their case, it's likely the burglars knew the young mother was home and chose to break in anyway despite the certain knowledge that she was calling the police and despite her frantically barking dogs. She is very, very lucky. That locked bathroom door would not have survived a determined assault more than a few seconds.

THE POLICE: There are a great many criminals, far, far more citizen/targets, and very few police. The aphorism is simple: "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away." Our young mother, frightened nearly to death, cowering in a closet, clutching her newborn, hearing two burglars rattling the locked but flimsy door of her bathroom knows that now. The truth of police response time is not something the police want most people to know.

In most communities in America, people would be amazed—and distressed--to learn how few officers are working the streets at any time of the day or night. The day shift is the least staffed of the three daily shifts. If the dispatcher receives your call in a timely manner, if he or she clearly understands what is happening and makes a clear, instructive and timely radio call, officers have a reasonable chance of getting to that call quickly. However, police lore is full of stories of dispatchers who never answered emergency calls, who assigned them a low response priority, or who simply forgot, leaving victims to be beaten, raped, maimed, even killed.

Even if the dispatcher handles your call properly and promptly, officers may not be available or anywhere near your home. Particularly in semi-rural or rural areas, police help can be a half hour or much more away. Even if the first officer arrives within five minutes of your call, he will still have to orient himself and decide what to do before acting. You're in the house; you know exactly what's going on. He may know only that a burglary in progress has been reported at your address. He may—and this is likely—choose to wait for other officers to arrive before acting. How much time did our young mother have?

Without a doubt, the police love to catch bad guys in the act. They love to be the hero. They love to put them away, but even if they caught the burglars invading the young couple's home, they'd probably be out on bond within days, and almost certainly committing other burglaries while awaiting trial. Some are bold enough to repeatedly hit the same homes over and over. What most people don't understand is that the police can't be held liable for failing to protect any given citizen. The law—which has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—is very clear on this. This may sound outrageous, but what community could afford a police department if it could be successfully sued whenever a criminal harms a citizen?

ALTERNATIVES: As my friends and their son-in-law raced to her aid, what were they prepared, intellectually and physically, to do? Were they armed, well trained and ready to use those arms? If unarmed, did they have any idea what they'd be facing if they confronted the burglars, drug-crazed, habitually violent and armed criminals willing to do anything to escape? They are fortunate in one thing: unlike most people, they now have no doubt about the issues I've raised in this article (and raise in much greater detail in the five-part series). They have no doubt that evil can and will visit them. Hopefully they realize that moving is not proof against future attacks.

When faced with aggression, there are three options: run away, fight, or throw yourself on the mercy of those cruel, stupid and evil enough to attack you without provocation in the first place. Running away is not always an option, as one still terrified young woman now knows. Throwing oneself on the mercy of criminals is the ultimate crap shoot. True, some burglars only want property and will grab and run, or simply run, if confronted. Others will, in a drug-induced rage, savage anyone in their way. Some, if they think they have the time, will engage in a bit of rape or torture, considering it an unanticipated bonus. Some few will kill anyone that sees them to avoid prison or simply because they like killing. Frivolous people often obsess about the motivations of vicious criminals. "Why did he do it?" They ask. "How did society fail them?" The simple truth is that a great many criminals, particularly the most cruel and brutal, do it simply because they like it. What greater motivation do they need?

The third and most effective alternative is firearms. Firearms truly are equalizers that can allow a slight young woman protecting an infant to overpower and stop two far larger, far more violent and determined thugs. With proper training in marksmanship and tactics, virtually anyone can prevail over even determined, armed criminals. In fact, firearms are used as often as two millions times every year in America to stop violent crime, usually without a shot being fired. The media doesn't want you to know that.

At this point, our young couple has choices to make. Why is she alive? Was God watching out for her? Perhaps, but if so, what do we make of all those victims of crime who were not so fortunate?

Some things are certain: Evil does exist and can and will wreak havoc upon anyone without warning. Good intentions and a good and virtuous life are not protection against evil. Practicing the "right" politics is meaningless. Depending on the good will of criminals for your safety is the very definition of insanity.

If you are unable to accept and act upon these simple realities of life, I sincerely wish you good luck. If you do accept reality and wish to be prepared, you have some additional reading to do.

Posted by MikeM at September 18, 2011 09:06 PM

We had this problem in Tucson. The burglars were fairly well known and lived in our neighborhood - but were juveniles. The police talked to them several times but did nothing. Daddy was well-connected and they were 'children.' (mid-teens)

A number of us made it well known to the parents that we were waiting for their 'children' to come to visit our homes in such a fashion - that we were doing everything within the law to make our homes look like inviting targets and that when their lovely little children invaded our homes we would shoot them dead. We let them know there were quite a few of us in our neighborhood and surrounding ones waiting for their sweet little babies to come visit.

They moved by the end of the week. Their cute children went with them no doubt to commit more crimes elsewhere. Neighborhood Watch can work well. Rather than packing up and leaving, get the neighborhood together, arm yourselves, and spend a week or two waiting for these lovelies to come visit and blow them straight to Hell. After 3 or 4 of their mates are exterminated, the other predators will find new territory. Look at it like a hunting vacation. Just be careful to do everything completely within your local laws.


Posted by: Orion at September 18, 2011 10:56 PM

Several months ago in our quiet, gated neighborhood, an altercation occurred between some residents and drivers of two tow trucks. Several visitors had parked their vehicles on the street, in violation of a community ordinance prohibiting parking after a certain hour. As the two truck drivers started hooking up, vehicle owners came out to move their cars. A confrontation followed that quickly turned into a shoving match that threatened to become violent.

I called 911 and was transferred between three different operators: a general 911 center, the county 911, and finally the city. It required over three minutes to finally reach the person who could dispatch help.

Our well-equipped and staffed city police force normally responds within five minutes to most emergency calls. After I hung up with the 911 operator, units required over 17 minutes to arrive at the scene. Over 20 minutes from the time I initiated the call to the time officers arrived. Fortunately, cooler heads had prevailed and no violent acts occurred.

This is not a criticism of the police; they have many emergency situations and I have no way of knowing what other priority calls they faced that evening. But if I was calling to report a break-in, consider how much the burglars could accomplish in under 20 minutes.

I recently viewed a video where a staunch gun control advocate responded to a question about home protection by saying: "Let them call the police." I pray this gun-free individual is never confronted by persons intent on doing him harm. Unlike him, anyone who enters my home uninvited will not find me with a telephone in my hand.

Posted by: Just Sayin' at September 20, 2011 01:01 AM

Orion, you got to be careful there. Were you to do the same thing here, you'd be arrested for inciting crime, vigilantism, harassing people, etc. etc. and probably spend considerable time in police cells, courtrooms, and prison during which the kids would be free to loot and burn your home, rape your wife and children (before or after killing them), and get away free even though the police know full well, and have evidence to prove it, who did it.

Posted by: JTW at September 20, 2011 05:56 AM

I read your article and predicted where it was headed..."Race depends on where one lives, but statistically, most criminals, particularly in urban areas, are Black or Hispanic, and some racial groups specialize in certain types of crimes." Any reason why this is important? Are you telling folks if two white guys are ringing your doorbell they shouldn't be afraid or if a black or Mexican rings your doorbell more than likely they are a criminal?! Which is it? I am black and pro-gun and anyone who is unfamiliar and ringing my doorbell is treated like a potential threat. I don't make my decision based on race!

Let it be known the last 4 people who took a ride in the back of a patrol car, in my mostly white subdivision were white males! Oh and the house that sells marijuana down the street is currently being watched. All 4 of the occupants are white.

You of all people being a former cop should know you expect everyone to be a potential threat unless you just have it out for brown people?

Posted by: RCH at September 20, 2011 07:47 PM

Dear RCH:

Please allow me to clarify my comments. The comment you chose: "Race depends on where one lives, but statistically, most criminals, particularly in urban areas, are Black or Hispanic, and some racial groups specialize in certain types of crimes," is revealing of nothing but the fact that I'm familiar with the demographic reality of crime in urban areas and elsewhere. It is certainly not indicative of racism, nor am I for a moment suggesting that one need only fear brown or black criminals. Remember that it was no less a race-hustler than the Reverend Jesse Jackson who admitted that when he finds himself approached by young black men on the street, he feels fear. True, he said that he was ashamed to feel such fear, but even he realizes that there is often a racial component to some kinds of crime in some places.

The last community I served as a police officer had a large American Indian population. The primary perpetrators of some kinds of crimes were Indian, the perpetrators of others--vehicle burglary for example--were predominantly white. In some American cities, Blacks are primarily involved in the drug trade and/or burglaries, in others, Hispanics predominate. In parts of the country with small or black populations, whites commit most crimes. There is also no question that young Black men commit crimes at rates far out of proportion to their numbers in the general population. Making these observations of fact is surely not indicative of racism. It is likewise a fact that people of all races commit all manner of crimes.

Knowing this is important for several reasons: the police surely need to have such knowledge to have any meaningful preventative effect. For citizens unschooled in the ways of criminals and the justice system--it was for them I wrote the article--it is also useful knowledge to have.

Surely the young woman peering through the peephole of her front door would not be comforted by the sight of two unknown men of any race who were intent on hiding their faces, nor do I suggest that should ever be the case. Judgments on imminent criminal threats must be ultimately based on demonstrated intention and action, not race or any other factor.

I'm afraid your prediction of my intention was a bit off base, but thanks for reading and raising the issue. It's good to have the opportunity to clarify such things, which I hope I've done to your--and other reader's--satisfaction.

Posted by: Mike Mc at September 20, 2011 10:42 PM