Three cops were shot last week in Margarteville, New York, a small town in the western Catskills.
The first shooting took place at a traffic stop. The officer was wearing body armor. It worked. He was uninjured.
The perpetrator ran. A manhunt ensured. He was located in an unoccupied vacation home. The police surrounded it and mounted an assault. During the operation, one officer was shot in the arm, and another was shot and died.
The house went up in flames. The perpetrator died, either before the fire or in it.
As I was driving in my car, I heard John Bonacic, a Republican State Senator, on the news, calling for a reinstatement of the death penalty. For cop killers. And, of course, for terrorists. He wanted it now, right now. He wanted the Senate to go into immediate session.
"The State Senate," he said, trying his level best to make it the familiar partisan, Democrats are soft on crime, issue, "is calling on Governor Spitzer to come back from politicking all over the state on campaign finance reform and call a special session and bring the Assembly to the table to reinstitute the death penalty for cop killers."
The reasoning was, "What we can do is we can send a message, a message of deterrence, a message that when you attack a police officer it's bigger than that police officer. It is us. It is all of us. And you're going to pay the price for that life."
You bet! Kill those cop killers! Send that message! We're under attack! Strike back! Strike first!
That evening, at home, I caught the promo for the local news. Fox News, as it happens. And lo and behold! The dead officer was killed by friendly fire.
It's absolutely true that the whole thing wouldn't have happened if the perpetrator hadn't committed the original crime. And, if he were alive to be tried, he would held responsible for the dead officer and charged with felony murder, a homicide that comes about as a result of the commission of a crime.
Still, who was left to execute?
The cops who shot the other cop by mistake?
Not the perpetrator, he'd already gone up in blazing inferno.
Send a message?
The message had already been sent. Shoot at a cop and - even if his body armor completely saves him - every cop in state will come after you. Resist, and they'll blow you away.
The reality is that the officer was killed by another officer. Will more executions solve that? It wouldn't seem so. What the reality suggests is better training. Training specific to such situations. Perhaps special units, for such situations.
Bonacic turned this small, tragic, local event, into a microcosm of the Republican disease. Like an opportunistic virus, when they sense a weak moment in possible hosts - us - they want to jump in and spread their infection, fear.
Like a virus, they do it for a reason. Their own survival.
Bonacic won his last election on fear mongering.
His opponent was a woman named Susan Zimet. He ran TV ads and sent out lurid flyers to spread the Republican disease. As reported, accurately, by Steve Israel in the Times Herald Record, the ads went like this:
A hooded thief, crowbar in hand, is about to rob a house in the dark of night. As a dial tone beeps, a somber female voice says:
"What would happen if you called the police and no one answered your call because politicians like Susan Zimet tried to cut police funding 50 percent?"
The words on the TV screen paint an even bleaker portrait of Zimet by eliminating the words "tried to":
"(Former) Town of New Paltz Supervisor Susan Zimet cut police funding 50 percent."
As the man continues to stalk the house, the phone hangs up and the sound is of stolen silver clanking. The voice says:
"Zimet fought to take police off the streets and put families at risk. The police chief called it 'a horror show.' "
Then, as a red circle with a line through it slashes Zimet's name, these words flash in red: "Susan Zimet Wrong on Public Safety."
Zimet never voted to cut police funding in half. Amid discussions over who should pay the police the Village of New Paltz, the Town Board in September 1998 said it would fund the town police force for six months, until the village passed its budget. This represented half the year's police budget.
And Bonacic won with that campaign.
There it is, the essential message of the Republican Party: We're afraid, let's kill somebody.
It's doesn't have to make sense. It doesn't matter if the only person killed was killed by friendly fire, let's kill somebody. It doesn't matter of killing somebody will actually make a difference, let's kill somebody. It doesn't matter if we invade the wrong country, let's kill somebody. Let's not worry about what happens afterward, we have to kill somebody. There are bad guys out there, let's kill somebody.
And, of course, the Democrats don't understand, we're being threatened, we have to kill somebody.
This virus of fear is a bizarre disease. More widespread than any flu and more dangerous. Because in the fever of fear, delirium blocks out reality.