Thursday, July 3, 2008; 12:00 PM
Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.
Today's Column: Officers Have a Responsibility To Set an Example and Speak Up
Fisher was online Thursday, July 3 at 11:30 a.m. ET to look at the latest on the Prince George's County jail murder, great ways to view the fireworks on the Fourth, and the impact of $4 gas on car sales.
Check out Marc's blog,
Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks, as we slide into the holiday weekend. Those of us who remain in town are enjoying traffic-free commutes and relative quiet on the phones--who are these people who manage to turn every three-day weekend into a four- or five-day vacation and how did the rest of us manage to miss the memo on how to do that?
The dominant story this week is clearly the tragedy of the killing of Prince George's police Cpl. Richard Findlay and the subsequent murder in the county jail of the suspect in the killing, Ronnie White. The officer's funeral is today and there's nothing like a police funeral to drive home the awful danger and responsibility that comes with a law enforcement job. But of course the questions and investigation surrounding White's murder have sadly poked their way into the mourning of Findlay's passing. Today's column tries to weigh the ethical obligations that law enforcement officers, including correctional guards, have when the tables are turned and they are being questioned in a criminal investigation. Shouldn't officers be held to a higher standard and shouldn't they have to overcome the natural inclination to rally around their colleagues and come forward with whatever they know about what happened in the jail?
Also today: What are your favorite secret spots from which to watch the big fireworks show on the Mall? (See today's Nay of the Day below for more on this.)
My Sunday column looked at the woes of used car dealers in these days of $4 gas. Are you holding back on buying a car because of the soaring price of operating a vehicle? Do you plan to keep your old clunker several more years rather than pump money into a new car? Any other strategies for coping with the price of fuel?
On to your many comments and questions, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to D.C. Superior Court's chief judge, Rufus King III, for finally getting tough on those who shirk jury duty. King announced this week that the court is issuing bench warrants against those who not only didn't show up for jury duty, but then ignored a notice to appear in court to explain themselves. King is talking about jail time for these irresponsible citizens, and I applaud him for moving against those who won't fulfill their obligations as citizens.
Nay to the U.S. Park Police for a scrooge-like tactic timed to tomorrow's Fourth of July celebration. The Park Police have used many thousands of your tax dollars to line the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia with snow fences and metal barricades blocking folks from doing what Washingtonians have done for generations--arriving at the parkway a couple of hours before the fireworks, pulling onto the lawns and shoulders of the road, and turning the whole stretch of roadway into one great wonderful party for viewing the fireworks. This year, the police say they will ticket and tow anyone who tries to watch the fireworks from the GW. It's an absurd exercise of power for no good reason; the stated excuse is some nonsense about how someone could theoretically get hurt. But in fact no one ever does get hurt and the scene there is a lovely, family-oriented tailgating party, ruined this year by overzealous authorities. My suggestion: Civil disobedience--Go anyway and push back the snow fence.
Your turn starts right now....
Arlington, Va. : I agreed with most of your piece today and thought you hit the right tone. A lot of the "Discussion" in reponse to the Post articles the past couple of days has been seething with racial anger and stereotyping.
For my part, I don't think that it is necessarily racist or "pro-police" to suggest that the community suffered a much greater loss with the passing of Cpl. Findley than it did with the death of a young man who you felt comfortable describing as a "thug." One of the things that I blame whomever it was who killed Ronnie White for -- and I think it is very safe to assume that corrections officers were involved -- was to create this circus atmosphere that only detracted from the dignity of Cpl. Findley's funeral.
washingtonpost.com: Officers Have a Responsibility To Set an Example and Speak Up ( Post, July 3
Marc Fisher: Obviously the community suffered a far greater loss with the death of Cpl. Findley (I misspelled his name above) than with the death of the thug who was suspected in the killing of the officer. I have White's criminal record here in front of me and it tells a story of someone who had little if any regard for the humanity of others, someone who thought nothing of invading a stranger's car and terrorizing a young woman. That doesn't in any way mean that White deserved to be killed in a vigilante murder--that violation of rights stands on its own as a vile act, without regard to the identity of the victim.
Montgomery Village, Md.: Marc
Your column states that officers think they are entitled to a little slack? SOMEBODY killed a prisoner! Yes, he was accused of killing an officer, probably maliciously and deliberately, but that is for the courts to decide. This is not a little "slack." It is not even "jailhouse justice" in that he wasn't killed by a fellow inmate -- none had access to him. There is clearly at least one if not more sworn officers/jailers who killed a prisoner and some number who are complicit in the act. If there is not a confession by the end of the day today, ALL who had any contact or access to the jail and/or the prisoner that day plus their supervisors up to and including the chief and county executive should be suspended immediately without pay. Otherwise tomorrow's celebration of our freedom, country and way of life will be pretty hollow.
Marc Fisher: There will be as many definitions of how much slack law enforcement officers deserve as there are officers. Obviously, those cops who believe they are above the law ought to be drummed out of that line of work. And at the other end of the spectrum, when a cop extends a professional courtesy to a fellow officer and lets him off on a traffic violation, that can be annoying to the rest of us, but it's hardly a grievous mistake.
But I wouldn't go about suspending masses of correctional officers just from a practical investigative perspective--the state police who are looking into the killing at the jail are going to need cooperation from some of those guards. It's a sensitive investigation and has to be handled with some care. That said, those who are suspected of taking part in the murder need to be taken out of that facility pronto.
washingtonpost.com: $4 Gas Means Few Smiles On Car Lots ( Raw Fisher, June 29)
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Marc,
How does the local media find a balance between the two victims in these crimes? It seems like in the few days following Ronnie White's death, there was little in any discussion of Cpl. Findley's death. I understand and agree with the outrage over Ronnie White's death and am appalled by the actions of someone(s) who perpetrated the crime. But I am also appalled by White's alleged crime and his family's and supporter's seeming lack of outrage at what he had done. I have no doubt that White's family will win a financial settlement but shouldn't Cpl. Findley's family also receive some settlement from White's family? How difficult is it for a journalist like you to not go full hog on the story of White and not forget about why he was in jail in the first place?
Marc Fisher: Good question. I had a call from a police union chief this morning complaining that my column, a Post editorial and a story on the investigation into the White killing all ran today, on the day of Findley's funeral.
I don't believe it in any way detracts from the honor and attention paid to Findley's murder to press forward aggressively on coverage of what happened to White. In fact, today's funeral is the only part of this story that's on Page One of the Post today, and it is there in a very prominent and very respectful position. The coverage of the White investigation is in the Metro section, also prominently displayed, but separately from the Findley story.
I think it is an expression of honor to Findley and his memory to have the death of a good officer accompanied by aggressive coverage of the effort to find those law enforcement officials who would demean the good name of their colleagues by taking part in a vigilante killing.
To your other point about aggressively covering the White investigation while remaining cognizant that White was an unsympathetic thug, that's the core of what we try to do in this line of work--aim the reporting at the essential principles involved, in this case the rule of law, and not get caught up in the emotions or judgments about the relative goodness of the people involved. Sadly, we live in a time when TV and other visual media put personality and celebrity and other such ephemera first, stealing away from our core responsibility to report on and write about our basic freedoms and to hold our government institutions accountable.
Ft. Washington, Md.: I rarely agree with you but your article in today's paper was great.
I am also taken aback by the effort that police put forth in capturing White. It seemed like every cop in PG was combing that area for the murderer. It was a stark contrast to how they normally treat murders. I guess it shows they can solve cases quickly if properly motivated.
Marc Fisher: Thanks--I'm hearing this a lot, as citizens who have been frustrated in the past by lack of effort or energy on the part of police are reminded once again by how aggressively officers react when one of their own is in trouble. I don't really have any problem with police stepping it up to protect one of their own. That's no different from what happens in any other profession. Have you ever seen the treatment that a relative of a doctor gets in the hospital? It may strike you as unfair, but I see it as a heartwarming show of support to people who share your own stresses and joys; it's a way of showing human connectedness, and as long as it doesn't unduly detract from other work obligations, I don't see the harm.
Yes, we'd all like the police to go all out for our own case, and sometimes they do, but there's nothing like something that touches home to motivate us in our work, whatever line of work we're in.
washingtonpost.com: Post Editorial: Shameful Silence ( July 3)
SW D.C.: On the issue of police officers obeying the law. I think it is a little like the broken-windows theory. Police officers are allowed to park their personal vehicles anywhere they want: crosswalks, hydrants, sidewalks, no-standing zones, meters. All they have to do is put a placard on their dashboard that says police. Next thing you know they use their flashing lights to avoid stopping at red lights. Granted, it is a big leap to murder.
Marc Fisher: But isn't it really a matter of discretion and reasonableness? If cops overstay their time at a meter and the meter maid gives them a break, that's a professional courtesy that hurts no one else. If cops blow through red lights on a non-emergency call and someone else at the intersection has a fender bender as a result, that's an abuse by the police and they ought to be reported and punished. And yes, it's a huge step from there to murder.
Findley coverage: Don't forget there were several days of hagiographic coverage of Findley before White's murder was discovered.
He got at least some of his due. He certainly was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the rest of us citizens and residents benefit from the willingness of people like him to do that.
Marc Fisher: And the telling of the story of Findley's life and achievements will continue especially in the next day or two as we cover his funeral. That's all right and proper, but it doesn't mean that we are relieved of our obligation to investigate the progress on the jail murder.
Bowie, Md.: With your postive tone when referring to the officer and your negative tone when referring to the suspect, aren't you acting as judge and jury here? This apparently was the same position someone at the jail took except they took it upon themselves to be judge, jury AND excecutioner. I wonder why very few details of the events in the parking lot on Friday are being discussed or reported. Was the suspect trying to get away from the officer or trying to run him over...two very different sets of circumstances. It's just not clear to me how you can be impartial as a journalist if you openly display bias without facts. But what I really upsets me is that your bias forces me to take up the cause of an obivous menace to society.
Marc Fisher: No, they are entirely different. You or I can read White's criminal record and conclude that he was a thug and a bad person and that's our own personal opinion, about which we can talk or even shout. Fine. But a jail guard is obliged to treat even the most appalling criminal with basic decency. Since you seem to agree that White was a menace to society, I'm not sure what your complaint is. It's not acting as judge or executioner to conclude that White was up to no good. It is analogous to acting as jury, and that's what we are all called to do in our system of justice.
What percent of population believes justice was served?: How often Mark do you read the comments sections of the Wash Post article? Clearly vehement racial anger is alive in a segment of the population that doesn't respect or support due process in the case of Ronnie White. An awful, terrible teenager took a father from his children and wife and I truly believe that a large segment of the population believes this is justice. (I believe it was wrong he was killed in the cell and should have spent the rest of his life in prison had he been found guilty.)
My only question: Care to guess what percentage of citizens feel like what happened is okay?
Marc Fisher: I do read the comments on my columns and blog items, and sometimes on other articles as well, but I always read them in the same way that I listen to the callers on talk radio--I'm entertained and sometimes even enlightened, but I am also always aware that those who comment online or call into talk shows make up at most about two or three percent of those who are reading or listening. The overwhelming majority of the audience never comments, though many of us do read the comments.
So they are a window onto what some people--mainly those who hold strong views and/or want to persuade others of their opinions and perspectives--think, but they are not remotely a scientifically obtained cross-section of views, and you can always see that by comparing the views on the comment boards with those in a well-conducted poll.
Washington, D.C. : I have to second what someone else stated -- what makes me ill is that the cop killer's family will get money out of this. Not that I can -- or would even try -- to condone vigilante justice, but for them to profit from this seems...vindicating.
Marc Fisher: That is indeed sickening, but if you look at it from their perspective, it may seem different: A lawsuit may be their only way to force accountability in the death of their son, and the family may have no connection whatever to his thuggery.
That said, I share your view that giving big money to the family of a criminal is a bad idea. Sadly, our legal system allows the civil courts to be used to enrich those who may not deserve to get a windfall. Those who killed White should be prosecuted criminally. If the county additionally is sued in civil court, some argue that that's the only way to assure that public officials are held accountable for the management errors that permitted this killing to happen. But since it's the taxpayers who end up having to cover the cost of any payout in a lawsuit, it's really the rest of us who would be enriching that family, and that is indeed appalling.
Fairfax County, Va. : Do you think this incident signifies that our culture has been infiltrated with a Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib-type mentality? That this person was the equivalent of an enemy combatant and hence has no rights or expectation of same?
Marc Fisher: No, nor do I believe that the enemy combatants held at Guantanamo are without rights. Obviously, there has to be a distinction between the rights of a U.S. citizen being held on criminal charges and a prisoner of war or an enemy terrorist, but it's not an easy, black-white divide. There are some hard contradictions here: Why does the same prisoner who could easily have been killed on the battlefield suddenly gain rights when we take him prisoner? POWs have quite extensive rights in international law--why should prisoners at Guantanamo be treated differently? Are terrorists enemy warriors or are they criminals?
The Prince George's case is far easier--this was a criminal suspect who is considered innocent until after he's been convicted in court.
Petworth, D.C.: And so we come to another post-9/11/01 July Fourth. And again I find myself worrying about the end of the land of the free, rather than celebrating our freedom.
I love July fourth, I love this country, and I love my city. There is nowhere I would rather be on the birthday of our nation, or on any day, than in its capital. This is my home in my country, and I have always celebrated that fact with trips to the national mall to watch the public fireworks display. I have my differences with the federal government, especially over D.C. voting rights, but I believe in the possibilities of our republic, and so I was willing to be part of the feds' celebration of this country's birth.
But now, we see the public events locked down in an attempt to create a (false)sense of security, making them hostile to the public. We see paranoia, rather than love of freedom, governing our city, our country.
Remember Frederick Douglass's words on the celebration of Independence Day, which made it plain that we as a nation must live up to our ideal of freedom in order for celebrations of these ideals to be true celebrations for the entire nation. We should demand that our government govern from a position of representation and respect for its citizenry, not paranoia, control, and fear. Open our celebrations up again. Welcome our people in the public sphere. Otherwise, it cannot truly be government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Marc Fisher: Well said. I have to tell you that as I drove along the GW Parkway this week, I felt like I was on a road into a state prison. This is law enforcement overzealousness in its most uncaring and unthinking form.
Hamilton, Va.: I agree about the GW Parkway nonsense. My family has been doing the picnic thing off and on for 25 plus years. I have never heard of any incident in that time. It's especially galling considering all the talk about staycations and the price of gas keeping folks closer to home. My wife has decided to start a campaign with our local reps and Senators to head this off in the future. Maybe we can get Mark Warner to pledge to do something as a campaign promise.
Marc Fisher: Go for it--please let me know if you get any traction or any response from the politicians on this.
202: Marc, I have a Critical question of the Utmost Importance. Are liquor stores going to be open in D.C. tomorrow or not?
Marc Fisher: I believe they are open at owner's discretion.
I was glad to pull up the WAPO homepage...: and see good placement of the story on the funeral for the officer. As far as we know, he was doing his job and was killed in the line of duty. We should mourn him and others like him who have given their lives to protect us.
While the circumstances around White's death are outrageous, there is the old adage -- live by the sword, die by the sword.
Marc Fisher: So cops should be allowed to kill any and all suspects? I'm willing to bet that you don't really believe that.
Silver Spring, Md.: After reading some of the comments posted on the Comment section below the Post articles on the Ronnie White murder, I think people in this area need a civics lesson. Many of the comments say that White deserved to die because he was accused of killing Officer Findley. Does the phrase innocent until proven guilty ring a bell with any of these people? The same applies to the Corrections officers who were responsible for White. They are innocent until proven guilty too. They have no additional duty to implicate themselves in something they didn't do by making statements without legal representation.
It used to be a tradition in America on the Fourth of July to have a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. That tradition should be brought back and the Declaration and the Bill of Rights should be read on all television stations at the same time.
Marc Fisher: I'm with you on the public readings--and they're not entirely dead. At my kids' school, they still read the president's Thanksgiving address at the holiday assembly each year, and there are some small town Fourth celebrations where the reading of the Declaration survives, but I'd love to hear it more widely performed.
On the obligation of the guards, I do think that law enforcement officers have a higher duty than the rest of us, and yes, I would expect them to tell investigators what they know--without the crutch of lawyers or union officials standing by.
Just to clarify: Marc, you said "The Prince George's case is far easier -- this was a criminal suspect who is considered innocent until after he's been convicted in court."
True, but even if he was convicted, no jail guard has the right to strangle him.
Marc Fisher: Absolutely agree.
Washington, D.C.: Why aren't those criticizing the coverage of the killing also criticizing the unknown killer. The police office lost his life defending the law. Those that took the law into their own hands dishonor his memory.
Marc Fisher: I'm with you on that.
Judge and Jury ...: You have a column -- you're entitled to bring your personal opinion into it. A gentle reminder to folks that you don't have to be unbiased.
Marc Fisher: Right, but I do have an obligation to do something more than mouth off--my job is to present my perspective and make arguments, but to drench my arguments in reporting that is of value to readers whether or not they agree with my opinion. Not all columnists would agree, but I consider the reporting in my columns to be of even greater importance than the arguments or views that I present.
Professional courtesy: I think that justification should have died years ago. What exactly does it mean? It means "you're a buddy of mine so I'll cut you a break." I have no quarrel with police parking illegally when it's related to their duties, but all it does is sow disrespect for the law in all other citizens to see police break the very laws they're sworn to uphold so that they don't have to face a modest inconvenience like going a safe speed, stopping at a red light, or not blocking a handicapped sidewalk ramp. It suggests an arrogance that makes people disrespect cops and leads to a lack of cooperation by the citizenry.
We expect our elected officials to take extra precautions to comply with the letter of the law, calling them out when they do not. Why are the police, the principal enforcers of those laws not similarly bound?
Marc Fisher: Agreed--good cops are very much aware of how they are perceived and they bend over backwards not to present themselves as above the law. Check out a crime scene sometime and you'll find that unless the arriving officers were in hot pursuit, there's a real divide: Some park willy-nilly as if to send the message that they are the law and can do as they wish, while others act as mere mortals and go find a nice legal parking space, in part to send the message that they are public servants doing a job and trying to be respectful of the people they serve.
Professional courtesy? ABUSE!:"If cops overstay their time at a meter and the meter maid gives them a break, that's a professional courtesy that hurts no one else." It hurts my ability to park in that space, just as my overstaying my time at the meter hurts someone else. That's why we have meter maids in the first place. Cops swear to uphold the law; it would be nice if they did.
As for blowing through lights, I've seen my fair share of cops in jurisdictions all over the country turn on their lights just to get through an intersection and then immediately turn them off once they get through.
Maybe they'd get a little more respect if they showed us some respect in turn.
Marc Fisher: Right--blowing through the light when there's no emergency not only endangers other drivers, it sends a message of arrogance and separation from the rest of society.
Washington, D.C.: Marc, back off. My father was a doctor for 25 years, and my uncle practiced medicine for 50 years before he retired. One of my father's classmates was on the Board at St. Paul Fire and Marine. I get no more respect in D.C. hospitals than you.
Marc Fisher: Ok, but I bet if you went to the hospital where your father practiced and folks there knew who you were, you'd get very special and caring treatment, and I have no problem with that. I know several children of beloved physicians who found that their parents' colleagues were eager to give them special care as a way to honor their long association with the parent in the medical profession--it's a basic and good human instinct.
There's an excellent book about when doctors are patients, by Robert Klitzman, called "When Doctors Become Patients," and it gets into the psychology of those very tricky relationships--it's a strong read.
McPherson Center: I find it troubling some on the media say the officer was murdered while the prisoner was killed.
Marc Fisher: I haven't heard that distinction, nor does it make any sense. Both were killed, both were murdered.
Four Corners, Md.: What rational benefit is there for any school district offering tenure to teachers? Shouldn't a teacher have to earn their job every year, just as any other employee in any other profession has to?
My sister is going to be a third grade teacher in the fall and after three years, she gets tenure in her district. Really? For three years? That seems ridiculous.
Why should teachers be guaranteed job security when their job is far more important than most others?
washingtonpost.com: Rhee Seeks Tenure-Pay Swap for Teachers ( Post, July 3)
Marc Fisher: Traditionally, teachers got tenure for two good reasons: 1) To protect academic freedom, a concept that has more obvious importance in higher education, but which applies throughout the field. And 2) because teaching has traditionally been a low-paying field, other forms of benefits were concocted to protect teachers, including tenure.
Sadly, the practice hardened over time and combined with union protections to become a system almost impervious to the necessary act of purging schools of incompetents and burnout cases. D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee's plan to trade higher pay for looser tenure makes a huge amount of sense, and it's turning out to be very popular among teachers.
Tenleytown, D.C.: Hooray for Ms. Rhee!
I think her proposal for teacher compensation is wise and far more modern-thinking than the antiquated tenure-based union-dominated process.
I'm sure the archaic union will want to keep things as status quo as possible so that no under-performing employee could possibly lose their job. But I wish her the best just the same.
Marc Fisher: Actually, while the union obviously wants to retain the idea of tenure, the D.C. teachers union has so far proven to be unexpectedly flexible on this and other longstanding rules, perhaps in part because the union itself was proven to be largely a criminal enterprise, and therefore has next to zero credibility.
McLean, Va.: Marc, I want to go back to your column on Leonard Slatkin's last concert series as NSO Music Director. I had thought about going to the last series, but decided not to. I've seen Slatkin conduct the NSO in Copeland Third before, and it's a good show. But I didn't want to pay $60-80. I had heard there were some $20 tickets, but figured that they sold out quickly. Questions to you: Are you glad you went? How much were your tickets? Was the concert worth the price of admission?
Hmmm...good thing I'm not using those criteria on the Nats.
Marc Fisher: You should have gone--the concert was terrific, the orchestra was in superb form (very obviously keyed up for the farewell to Slatkin), and the seats were remarkably cheap. We sat in the chorister seats above and behind the stage, at the stunningly low price of $20 a ticket for by far the best view in the house. But the Kennedy Center was offering even orchestra seats for $20 over the last week before the concert--you should get on their email list, because they regularly send out last minute offers of vastly reduced tickets.
Grasonville, Md.: Nice piece on Leonard Slatkin. It's very sad. We had NSO subscriptions for many years before moving across the Bay Bridge about the time Slatkin's leadership began to unravel. We still attend the occasional concert and things have clearly gone downhill. My wife is from St. Louis and we were thrilled when Slatkin arrived. We always attended the "rubber chicken" buffets (ugh) at which he discussed life and music in general, and then that evening's performance. I hope we finds a better fit (the NSO doesn't require fundraising?) that reignites his passion.
We also occasionally attend Baltimore Sympony concerts but still consider it an inferior orchestra to the NSO. They, too, of course, have a new leader. Didn't something like 80 percent of the musicians protest the hiring on Marin Alsop? But that seems to be working out okay.
Good luck to the NSO Board as they attempt to fill what at least used to be some pretty big shoes.
washingtonpost.com: A Sense of Anticlimax at the National Symphony Post, July 1)
Marc Fisher: Slatkin's decline, as he discussed with The Post's Anne Midgette in last Sunday's excellent profile, was indeed a disappointment, especially given what a gifted teacher he is. When he turned to the audience and talked about the pieces, he was funny, smart and often enlightening. But in later years, he seemed to do less and less of that. Modern conductors lead such wildly chopped-up lives, often leading orchestras on three continents, never living anywhere for more than 15 or 20 weeks of the year, so it's hard for them to build and maintain real relationships either with the musicians they lead or with the audiences who come back for a real and growing connection to a conductor and an orchestra.
Alsop is indeed bringing a new energy to the Baltimore orchestra, and I wonder what impact that success had on the NSO's seeming malaise in recent years. The next chapter should be fascinating; I just hope the NSO moves promptly to find a strong successor.
Dramatic reading of the Declaration: Our favorite thing to do on the Fourth is to go to the National Archives to hear a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence. We hang out on or near the steps and listen to "Thomas Jefferson," et. al, read it.
Very stirring. The Archives Website says the festivities begin at 10 a. m.
Marc Fisher: Thanks--excellent suggestion.
Fairfax, Va.: Marc,
I just can't wait to see how badly the District screws up regarding the new gun laws. It'll be so Draconian and laden with red tape that not even a lawyer will be able to understand it.
Marc Fisher: Not terribly likely. Yes, the District may try to force the courts to provide more definition about just how much regulation is permissible, but the prevailing mood on the Council appears to be to provide a clear, workable way for city residents to obtain and keep handguns in their homes, and to then take a stronger stand on issues of registration and prohibition of other classes of firearms.
Arlington, Va.: I'm with you all the way on the GW (no)Park-way issue. Haven't we heard about how underfunded and understaffed the Park Police are? Where did the come up with the resources for this waste of time, funds, and manpower?
Marc Fisher: I don't even want to know how much this thumb in the eye of the citizenry is costing. Well, actually, I do want to know.
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: What happened to your promised blog entry on the Marion Barry - Metro relationship?
Marc Fisher: I postponed it because of another story I was working on. It will happen.
D.C. teacher's union: Remember it was the people at the top who were the criminals, not the union membership. Membership were the victims. Retired members had their health insurance fail, remember?
The part of the union actually doing union business was in no way criminal.
Marc Fisher: Yes, it was the leadership, and it is again the leadership--different people, of course, since the last crew is in prison--who are negotiating the new work rules with Rhee. But the union is very much defined in the public eye, and in the eyes of its members, by its leaders, and the Washington Teachers Union is very much damaged goods.
Fairfax, Va.: The coverage of Richard Findlay's funeral highlights an implicit attitude that grates on me to no end: the lives of police officers are more important and more valuable than those of ordinary citizens. EVERY person's life is important and valuable.
Marc Fisher: Quite true, but not all people take on the same kinds of risks and responsibilities, and we do indeed owe a greater debt to those who take on difficult or unpleasant jobs for the rest of us. That's why people stand and applaud when injured vets are introduced at a ball game or concert. That's why I see people shaking the hands of soldiers at the airport. You and I might not ever consider being police officers, but we probably agree that they ought to exist and someone needs to do that work.
Virginia: Marc, I would have thought that the prisoner murdered in Maryland would've made national news by this point. It's such an outrage to hear something like this occurring! Any particular reason why national media outlets haven't made this front-page news, or at least some mention of it? Of course, I might have missed it.
Marc Fisher: It's the kind of huge local story that has some national resonance, and this story has gotten attention elsewhere, usually as part of a broadened discussion of police brutality matters, but in the end, it is primarily of interest to those who live in this region, because we are the ones who drive through or live in the county and therefore are subject to the policies and personalities of the county's police and other law enforcement agencies.
Anonymous: Maybe not enough attention to the total security problem this jail murder represents-the same kind of chaos that could allow a murder to happen could allow a prisoner to escape. I just don't understand how this could happen in a locked room.
Marc Fisher: I don't think it necessarily points to loose security--if anything, it might point in the other direction. The prisoner didn't leave the cell; guards apparently entered it. That's not necessarily a security breach.
Formerly of Glover Park: I used to live in Glover Park. A number of times I would see police cars parked illegally. They weren't in front of hydrants or blocking handicap access to the street but they were parked illegally. I spent some time observing this and came to the conclusion that some cops would do this to save legal spaces for residents. Parking could get tight up there, particularly on weekends.
If someone wants to call me naive that's fine. You are entitled to your opinion. I lived in the Washington, D.C./Virginia area for close to two decades so my naivety left along time ago.
Marc Fisher: Why would the officers want to save legal spaces for residents? This was a public service, you think? Or are you saying there was some nefarious deal that was made?
Cops and running red lights: This is a common misconception among lay people. Police officers often respond to calls without lights and siren. They use their lights at traffic lights to get through a little quicker. So when you see an officer use lights in this fashion, don't assume that this is a brazen misuse of their car.
Marc Fisher: Right--could be legit, could be not. Sadly, it's sometimes hard to tell.
Massillon, Ohio: Interesting - Strasser says "people don't talk because they really don't trust the police," and "a few of them (police) feel that they're entitled to a little slack, to do things that other people can't do."
Wow - is it any wonder that the people don't trust the police? In his first quote he is presumably talking about all people, not just thugs.
If someone got murdered at my job and no one would answer questions about it, I know that unless the boss was the murderer, I would no longer have a job. Why are the guards still working?
Marc Fisher: Wait--you think if someone at your office was killed and your co-workers wouldn't talk, that you'd all be fired, the innocent along with the guilty? I find that awfully hard to imagine. I kind of wish you were right--there indeed ought to be consequences for refusing to cooperate with investigators, but it's hard to think of employers who would take such drastic steps. Or maybe I'm completely wrong....
Falls Church, Va.: Have there been other arrests in the Findlay murder? The initial reports seemed to be clear that there was more than one person involved.
Marc Fisher: No other arrests that I'm aware of.
Washington, DC: You know, White had not been tried and convicted of anything. I bet he would have been ultimately charged with a lesser charge than first-degree murder. As an earlier chatter pointed out, we have very few details or PROOF of what happened in that parking lot. People cannot dismiss this as not much of a loss to society, he was a human being and an American citizen that has equal rights of all of us.
Marc Fisher: Actually, he was indeed tried and convicted prior to this incident, so while we don't know for certain how this case would have ended up, we do have a good idea of what kind of character he was. And yes, he was still a person with rights, and that's what all the outrage is about in the matter of his murder.
G'burg home/SW D.C. work: I've done $20 NSO tickets twice this spring and will continue. We sat in the first 10 rows center stage Orchestra for both. Yes, you have to buy them shortly after the e-mail is released, but totally worth it!
Marc Fisher: Absolutely--though of course, the orchestra is essentially selling those tickets at a loss, but it's far better that they be sold at all than that they be empty seats. I wish the Nationals would learn that lesson about their top-dollar seats behind home plate.
Potomac, Md.: Did you hear anything about the child killed along River Road last week? I thought they were doing an autopsy on the little girl, but I haven't heard the cause of death reported. It was quite a strange story.
Marc Fisher: I have not heard, but thanks for asking--I'll see if we can take a look.
King is talking about jail time for these irresponsible citizens : As someone who has never ignored a jury summons, and who sat on a jury for a week, I applaud this as well. What worries me though is that my husband has tried several times to change his address with D.C. They continue to send jury summons to a former address, one he hasn't live at in 7 years. He hasn't shown up for jury duty because he never knows when he's supposed to be there until way after the date has passed. We only knew the notices were going to the old address because the first one got forwarded since he update his address with the post office. But forwarding only works for a certain time period.
Nobody in the jury office seems to care. I hope they can straighten out stuff like this before they go around jailing or fining people. I don't want him to have to go through an enormous hassle just because the court system won't update his address. Aren't they supposed to get this info from motor vehicles? He's changed his address there without problem.
Marc Fisher: The District is so desperate for jurors that they have dramatically widened their search and now scour not only drivers' records, but tax returns and other records for names and addresses. So I know of many 12 year olds who get summoned for jury duty because they received gift income from a relative! So, yes, the District does a lousy job of policing and cleaning out its jury rolls, and you have a good point about making sure that you're not on their list incorrectly.
McLean, Va.: Marc,
I recall that the Park Police have for years put up snow fences in and around the Mt. Vernon Trail to control pedestrian traffic for the Fourth Fireworks. And the Park Service routinely put up row upon row of porta potties. Am I correct in my understanding that this year it's different? No picnics allowed? The real mess, which seems to me to have been underpublicized, is the flotilla of drunken fools on the Potomac between Roosevelt and the 14th Street Bridges. Seems to me that boat owners who want to be on that stretch of river for the fireworks should have to put their names in a lottery to win a river slot.
Marc Fisher: Really? What's the harm of all those boaters being out there for the big show? It always struck me as a delightful display and it must be a fabulous view.
No Parking Zo, NE: Marc,
I agree with you on the GW Parkway. That's not hazardous and is a good family-oriented event. I DO agree with keeping the 14th Street Bridge cleared of traffic. I happened to be crossing that into Va. last year at 8:00 p.m. and due to triple and quadruple-parked vehicles and pedestrians milling about, it was a crazy and extremely hazardous situation.
Marc Fisher: Sounds reasonable--the 14th Street bridge is a very different scene from the GW, which, after all, is a PARKway and is very much intended to accommodate recreation as well as commuter traffic.
Laurel, Md.: Mr. Fisher, the apparent premise of your column is that the correctional officers should cooperate in the investigation of Ronnie White's murder. Why then do you spend the bulk of the column talking about police officers who have not been accused remaining silent or failing to inform on a fellow officer? You do know that COs and cops are not the same?
Marc Fisher: Right, but correctional officers are every bit as much law enforcement as are police--they have different jobs, but both share the obligation to enforce the law and protect citizens, even those who are accused of crimes. In some ways, a prison guard's job can be as tough or tougher as a street cop's, in that the guard is often without a weapon, patrolling among the most savvy and hardened of criminals.
The Blue Wall and More: Your column this morning is dead on. I believe that in much the same way New York City's attack on crime a while back started with lower level efforts to reduce graffitti, etc., there needs to be some effort to restrain police from breaking the laws they enforce. The most visible and blatant issue for me is when police cars blast by me with no emergency lights on, intent on getting where they want to go in a hurry. There is a feeling that the police are on one side of the fence and the rest of us on another.
washingtonpost.com: Officers Have a Responsibility To Set an Example and Speak Up ( Post, July 3)
Marc Fisher: Thanks--and that's exactly what some cops want, and what others deplore. It's like any other profession--from the outside, attitudes appear to be uniform, but from within, there's a lot of debate and disagreement.
Re: Gitmo: Hi Marc,
I think that the chatter above from Fairfax raises an interesting question. I don't think he or she was justifying the actions of our "enemy combatants" or of Mr. White. However, if you check in with the folks who say our torture/waterboarding of prisnors feel that way because fundamentally, they think the are much less than "us" -- similar to the view of those who think it's fine to murder a murder 'suspect' who has a criminal history. You know, like he was worthless and meaningless.
Marc Fisher: Luckily, you would not find many such people even in police or correctional guard organizations--yes, some folks think of themselves as above the law, but most want to do right.
Teachers: It's a tough job. Let's say you were in sales. Do you want to have to improve your results every single year even when the economy is way down (read: this year's class has far more challenges at home than the previous one so even with your best effort you can't beat last year's results)...?
Go ahead, fire the sales guy, but schools need some stability.
Marc Fisher: Right--it's about finding a good middle course between the insane numbers fixation of No Child Left Behind and the totally unaccountable nirvana that unions had arranged for bad teachers under the work rules that prevailed a couple of decades ago.
University Park Md.: In a very real sense I think that public safety is at risk when someone who can willfully, and with great physical difficulty, choke to death another human being is at large (no matter what the motive). As a resident of Prince Georges County, I expect a resolution of this.
Marc Fisher: So do we all, but this is a very tough investigation. Sometimes in cases like this you get an early break and it all ends up looking easy, but more often, it can drag on for quite some time until someone talks.
Washington, DC: TWO POINTS: First I applaud you for noting the hypocrisy in law enforcement who fight every day against the "No Snitches" code on the street while closing ranks and lips when the spotlight turns to them.
Second, to the person who questioned the importance of Policing, I would suggest that they sign up for the next available ride-along in a high-crime district. It took about three minutes in a cruiser in East Baltimore for me to realize the difficult, stressful and critical job these people do every day. Let's try to appreciate all the good cops out there who put their lives on the line to keep us safe!
Marc Fisher: Thanks--and an excellent recommendation. Any citizen can sign up for a ridealong, and it's an immensely eye-opening experience that will give you a new respect for what cops have to go through. It can be fun, too.
Anonymous: Perhaps there should have been camera coverage of the solitary confinement cell, especially of a suspect suspected of murdering a police officer. Why no camera?
Marc Fisher: We have too many cameras already, most of which go unwatched. Not everything can or should be mechanized. The justice system must and will remain, at bottom, one of human contacts, of people observing and reporting what they see.
Anonymous: I would say prison guards are MORE at risk than officers on the beat. Not even close. When I was in state prison, they called me sir, as they don't know who and what you are, or are capable of. They show respect, and they almost always get it in return, outside of the mad dogs who are usually in lock-up...GIVE THE PRISON GUARDS THEIR DUE, I say!
Marc Fisher: Well said.
Greenbelt, Md.: While we honor Cpl. Findley and the officers who put their lives on the line to apprehend White, we must remember that what was done to White stands in direct contrast to the service Cpl. Findley had provided to his community during his adult life. Whatever was done to White was done dishonestly, dishonorably, by vigilantes either through commission or omission with complete disregard of the laws Cpl. Findley lived his life to uphold. Such persons and such actions do a greater injustice to Cpl. Findley's legacy than anything White did during his criminal career, including murdering Cpl. Findley. Prince George's County is already bemoaned throughout our state and this incident does nothing to improve the image of our county and its public servants. Whoever took White's life is no more or no less than what White had become: a murder.
It is clear from all that has been written and said about Cpl. Findley that he would not have wanted his honorable death in the line of duty to be marred in such a dishonorable way.
Marc Fisher: Thanks--we're out of time, just a couple more....
Upper Marlboro, Md.: One of the earlier posts referred to a possible financial settlement for the family of R. White. I think it is outrageous for the family of the criminal who committed (or was accused thereof) a henious act against a police officer. If White's family does receive some sort of wrongful death settlement, what are the chances that the officer's family can sue the White family for wrongful death? My husband says that since White was an adult, you cannot sue his family, but if his family can sue? I just think it is terrible that the family of the 'thug' might possibly benefit financially from his criminal activities and subsequent death. And I think it is appalling that his family is not expressing more sadness for the death of the officer. Oh, and for the record, I am also black. Many thanks.
Marc Fisher: And the last word....
Silver Spring, Md.: Yeah, Findley is a greater loss to the community.
But our country is founded on the promise of equal justice for all. ALL, not just the deserving ones.
Differential justice based on sliding definitions of deserving is part of the tyranny many of our ancestors fled.
Marc Fisher: And one last one on another topic....
Washington, D.C.: Hello Marc and happy Fourth to you.
Have you noticed the hypocrisy in the aftermath of the Heller ruling? So many people who support individual gun rights are pushing for lifting the handgun ban in D.C. immediately (never mind that it's going to take some time, and probably a few more trips back to court, to get this right), but these people are largely silent when it comes to the question of whether citizens in D.C. should have voting representation in Congress.
We couldn't get more than 300 members of Congress to agree on voting representation for Washington, like they did in signing the letter to the Supreme Court on Heller. Shoot, when it comes to voting representation, we couldn't get a veto-proof majority in either house last year, much less cloture in the Senate.
This inconsistency and double standard is sickening.
Do Americans really care more about my right to carry a gun far more than about my right to equal representation because I live in the District? That's a rhetorical question -- I know the D.C. gun ban has long been a symbolic target of gun rights supporters.
But the discrepancy between the way these two rights are viewed is highly telling of the dysfunctional relationship between this country and its capital, and puts the lie to all our talk about freedom, especially during this holiday.
Marc Fisher: That has to wrap it up for today...
No show next week, but we're back here the week after for another freewheeling discussion. Thanks for joining the chat and apologies to the many I couldn't get to today.
Have a great Fourth, and do drop by the GW Parkway--let them know that that is the people's place, and no snow fences ought to block people from taking in the fireworks.
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