I read about a tragedy the other day. A lone D.C. police officer, Sgt. Joseph Cournoyer, chased an armed robber who had run onto a bus. The officer followed to catch the robber and protect the people on the bus. Everything worked -- the officer removed the robber from the bus to make people safe -- but, as Cournoyer stood on the loading platform, the robber fatally shot him at point-blank range.
As I read the newspaper accounts and followed the press coverage, it seemed there was something not quite right about the story, and at first I couldn't put my finger on it. Then it struck me: The whole focus of attention was not on this cold-blooded act of violence and the killer responsible for it. Instead, the issue was raised repeatedly that the officer wasn't wearing a bullet-proof vest, as if somehow it was the officer's fault that he had been murdered.
At first blush this appears to be a legitimate inquiry. But when we analyze it, what we are doing is blaming the victim of the crime and not the criminal. We've lost track of the simple notion that every citizen has the right to be safe on our streets, in our homes and in our communities.
We hear the questions asked in the media and in our courts: "What were you doing on that street after dark?" "Why didn't you have a dead-bolt lock on your front door? How could you drive with your car doors unlocked?"
There has been an insidious change in our national thinking. We've put the burden on the innocent citizen to stay out of harm's way rather than requiring, as any civilization must, that people don't break the law. We've accepted, without knowing it, a siege mentality in which we have no right to feel safe unless we are behind locked doors and insulated by bullet-proof vests.
As long as we accept that view, we are condemned to be victims -- victims of those who prey upon the innocent and victims of our own shifted values and expectations.
It is time to take back the right. It is time to recommit ourselves to making our communities safe havens for those who obey the law and not abandoned territories to those who would break it.
Sgt. Cournoyer's death was a senseless tragedy. But it is also an important legacy. That young officer's last act was to point us back to the truth that the responsibility for violence in this country lies with those who do it, not those who suffer it.