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Bernard B. Kerik Headshot

Safer Streets and Communities Start at Home

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Last night Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago was shot and killed when he arrived at a 24-hour Walgreen's, responding to a report of an armed robbery.

The latest reports indicate however, the suspect wasn't there to steal anything. Instead, he allegedly assaulted the store's security guard, took his gun, and waited for the first police officers to arrive. The suspect then used that gun to shoot through the patrol car windshield, killing Officer Santiago, a 23-year old rookie who graduated from the police academy just six months ago. The suspect allegedly told a customer prior to entering the store, "Watch the news, I'm going to be famous."

According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Page, the total number of American law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty by gunfire so far this year is 27, versus 16 last year, already an increase of close to 70 percent.

Some experts blame anti-government, and white supremacist groups, and gang violence for these increases, but I believe it's much more.

Historically, law enforcement officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty while responding to assaults, robberies, and other acts of violence. However, we have recently seen an increase in police officers and law enforcement officials being ambushed in their cars, while sitting in a restaurant, opening the front door of their home, and while responding to calls.

These are often flagrant acts specifically aimed at killing those who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. And many times, "becoming famous" is the sick motive behind these senseless killings.

This trend is alarming and should be a concern to every law enforcement officer in our nation. More so, it raises serious questions for each of us, our communities and society as a whole.
Are our values and respect for human life deteriorating? Do our young people honestly believe that getting famous by killing cops and others is their only way to feel important? How did society degenerate to this mentality, and how can we turn this around?

Last week, 82 people were shot, 14 of which died in Chicago over a 48-hour period. Responding officers to those incidents were involved in eight separate gun battles where the shooters were brazen enough to target the cops specifically.

The streets of some of our nation's cities have become battlegrounds comparable to war zones. Our municipal police agencies in the most violent areas have rightfully so, enhanced their capabilities to equal that of military special operations units. We are fighting warlike battles in our backyards.

There are no easy answers. The statistics prove that. We must look beyond the surface to have any chance of reversing this trend.

I strongly believe that most of these problems start inside the home. If we as a society don't begin to change the ways we parent, teach and mentor our children, things are only going to get worse.

Children must learn respect and manners, right from wrong, good from bad, the importance of saying "please" and "thank you" at the earliest ages. It is up to their parents -- regardless of their socio-economic status -- to instill and ingrain these qualities and appropriate behaviors in their children and those in their care. While many children grow up in single-parent households where second jobs and other circumstances create minimal, if any, supervision, schools must step up to the plate to help shape America's children into law-abiding, respectful citizens.

Instilling discipline isn't easy. It requires alertness, rigor, and consistency. And discipline must be matched by love, praise, and encouragement. Countless studies say that kids with high self-esteem are seldom violent. A parent, guardian, teacher, relative, or caretaker's most important responsibilities are to build that sense of worthiness and self-esteem while keeping children safe. It takes both love and discipline to do that.

It is our duty as adults and American citizens to sow the seeds of patriotism in our youth. In addition, it is the duty and responsibility of our legislators to champion and mandate the rebirth of civics in our schools. Being a citizen of the United States of America comes with responsibilities and duties that I think much of the younger generation has failed to interpret. The presence of humility, honor, and most importantly, appreciation is blatantly absent in society today. No one should feel entitled; it is a privilege that should be treasured.

Our children must be taught why they should love, support, honor and defend our country.

Our children should know that freedom comes at a cost and is never truly free. They should be taught that there is no greater disrespect and dishonor to the American flag than to burn it in protest. When they recite the Pledge of Allegiance or hear the Star-Spangled Banner, those words really mean something. Countless people gave their lives for the very freedoms we live by today.
Instead of killing others to become famous, our children need to understand that they can be real contributors to society and that through positive action, they can make our communities a better place to live.

They also need to know that their circumstances aren't hopeless, that someone loves and cares for them, that they are worthwhile and valuable human beings, and that the American dream still is possible.

There are thousands of parents in other countries that are putting their own, and their children's lives at risk to make the incredibly dangerous trek to cross the border into this country?

Despite all its flaws, America still is a beacon for hope and a better life. Those outside of our borders know and understand this.

We need to make certain that our own children see it and feel it as well, because America's future depends on it.