LOS ANGELES–In the early-morning hours of December 14, most of America was waking up to the news that American soldiers had at last flushed Saddam Hussein from his burrow in northern Iraq. But here in the chill of pre-dawn Los Angeles (a temperature in the high 40s qualifies as chilly here), hundreds of LAPD officers were engaged in a manhunt of a different sort, one that would earn little mention in the press but, at least for us, was no less important than the one that had taken place on the far side of the world.
Just before midnight, officers patrolling one of South-Central L.A.’s grittier neighborhoods arrested a local gang member for possession of a firearm. Two of the officers returned to the same block less than an hour later to find other members of the gang standing near a parked car. As the officers’ car passed, one of the gangsters opened fire on them with a 12-gauge shotgun, another with a pistol. Both officers were wounded in the ensuing gunfight, though fortunately neither of them seriously. One suspect was wounded and captured immediately, but the other fled and hid in a trash bin until he was found by a police dog at about 3 A.M., his arrest coming within minutes of our learning that Saddam had been found. It was the third ambush on officers in the area in less than a month.
Some of the police officers engaged in the search that morning had themselves only recently returned from military duty in Iraq, substituting one theater of combat for another as they exchanged their camouflage fatigues for the deep-blue wool of the LAPD. But a bullet is a bullet, whether fired by a Fedayeen militiaman in Tikrit or a gangster in South-Central Los Angeles, and though both these manhunts were praised in most quarters, the captured men were not without their outspoken advocates. Members of the radical Left, whose numbers apparently include most Democratic presidential candidates, were somehow more offended by televised images of Saddam Hussein undergoing a medical exam than by those of people being thrown from the roofs of buildings or of bodies being exhumed from mass graves.
And so it is on the smaller stage of South-Central Los Angeles, where some have labeled police tactics aimed at street gangs as “heavy-handed.” Not long ago, flyers were distributed in one public-housing project, encouraging residents to resist police efforts at curtailing gang crime. “So who’s really to blame [for gang violence]?” the flyer asks. “And who’s really the criminal? The kid who sees no future and gets caught up in robbing people and selling drugs? Or the system that gives these kids no other choice?” Such rhetoric is common throughout South-Central L.A. these days, but it overlooks and indeed insults that majority of citizens who live under the same conditions yet still manage to obey the law. Sunday morning’s gun battle took place in the Southeast Division, lately the most violence-plagued of the LAPD’s 18 patrol stations, where as of last week 72 people had been murdered this year, most if not all of whom were members of the minority groups the flyers’ authors claim to support. In the city as a whole, 477 people have been murdered this year, an 18-percent decline from a year ago but a stark figure nonetheless. How many murder victims will it take to convince police critics that the greatest threat to minority neighborhoods is in the criminals who so brazenly victimize their neighbors, not the police officers who risk their lives to stop them? The question is of course unanswerable: The unearthed bones of thousands of Saddam’s victims have not been enough to convince America’s critics that the invasion of Iraq was right and just.
Soon most of you will be celebrating Christmas, offering thanks to God for achievements in the year now ending and praying for guidance in the one to come. When you attend your Christmas service or sit down for your family meal, I hope you’ll include in your prayers all those men and women now serving in the military, not only in Iraq but in all those faraway lands now removed from the headlines and all but forgotten, places where order is maintained only by dint of their presence. And when you remember them, I hope you’ll also think of those men and women fighting the war here at home, the police officers whose duties take them away from family and friends at this time when family and friends are most important. May their efforts bring peace, and may they all come home safely.
–Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.