A local Miami story deserves to get some national attention, although it does not involve a Kim Kardashian maternity style. Police officers from one of our suburban municipalities got into a seven-mile car chase with a citizen in an SUV. At some point during this escapade, they claim he threw a gun out the window, presumably one he could not account for legally. The cops maintained pursuit until the man turned at the on-ramp to the I-95.
Tragically, in his panic he chose the off-ramp instead, speeding up onto the highway headed in the opposite direction. He crashed directly into a car with four passengers, killing them all. Ironically the only survivor of the collision was this trouble-maker who was running from the police. He broke two legs but will live to pay for his offenses.
So far so reasonable, although awful for the quartet who lost their lives in total innocence, while driving the right way on the right road at the wrong time. From that point forward, however, the whole thing does not bear scrutiny.
On second thought we begin to realize that throwing guns out of windows is not the act of a belligerent. People who are spoiling for a fight, people who are armed and dangerous, people who need a posse on their heels, wave guns, brandish them, and otherwise seek to menace or assault others with their weapons.
A fleeing person who is busy unloading weaponry is someone who is signaling an unwillingness to use violence as a solution to his ordeal. Someone like that should be allowed to go his own way, defusing the volatile situation. His license plate having duly been recorded, it will be elementary to apprehend him at a later date.
After people began asking these questions, some enterprising reporters decided to look into the origin of this episode. What was the initial crime for which he had drawn police pursuit? It took some prodding to get the answer but when it came, it was shocking. The man had done a right turn on red at a corner where a sign was posted forbidding that maneuver.
Think about it. A man committed a minor traffic offense. Suddenly a police car appears, with the voice on the microphone telling him to pull over. Foolishly, he bolts.
Maybe he hopes to beat the ticket. Maybe he has an open can of beer on the seat. Maybe there is an irregularity with his license. Maybe he had a drink earlier and he is not sure if he can beat the alcohol test. Maybe he knows he has an illegal gun on deck and he is afraid it will be discovered. Maybe there is a lingering smell of marijuana inside the vehicle. Maybe he borrowed the car from his mother and he does not want her to realize he used it while she slept.
There can be a million reasons why the guy makes a run for it, one stupider and more impulsive than the other. But none of them provide evidence of a felony, much less a dangerous felony, and none of them marks him automatically as a menace to society. If cooler heads prevail, there is no point engaging in hot pursuit.
Police cars traveling at high speeds following panicked citizens driving frantically away are a recipe for disaster. The tableau endangers the front car, the back car, every car around them and all the pedestrians within range.
It is great fun at the movies to watch two skilled stunt men whistling their vehicles within inches of disaster time and again, flipping, screeching, bouncing and hurdling drawbridges. But all that hurtling can easily lead to hurting. In one famous movie, the police car actually strikes a baby stroller and the audience is relieved when it only contains a homeless man’s collection of empty beer cans.
We all wanted to be cowboys at one point in our childhoods and at another point we chose police work. Handling the wheel deftly in hot pursuit is an exciting combination of these two ambitions. Yet heroism is only admirable when dictated by overwhelming need. It may be annoying, disrespectful, and downright insolent of this citizen who will not stop when ordered. But if the policeman gets pulled by the spirit of vendetta, he is no longer an arm of the law.
These are tense times. Everyone is tight financially and personal relations become strained, nerve endings are frayed. We don’t need to have our sworn protectors tearing down our streets after petty offenders, strewing havoc in their wake. Next time you see a guy turn on red, go green and save your gas. The planet will be better off.
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