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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Indifference Could Result in the Demise of Community

*Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News on Sunday, November 16, 2009

Indifference may very well be the plague that eventually leads to our demise. The worse words strung together in the English language to form a sentence are: I - don’t - care. Of-course I’m not suggesting that those words aren’t appropriate as the answer to insignificant and meaningless questions like, “Where do you want to go to dinner?” or “What movie do you want to see?” In those situations, it may be better if one person were genuinely indifferent because some would starve before deciding on a restaurant choice if one person had a passionate preference for Chinese food while the other for Italian food. Either that, or they would eat alone.

The indifference I speak of is the kind that prohibits us from movement because we are absolutely convinced that what we do does not matter. I find so many people that fall into this category not because they genuinely don’t care but because they don’t believe that their action will have any adverse effect on a particular outcome. When we begin to fall into this line of thinking, the natural reaction is to find a place of indifference because it’s easier to not care if things don’t go our way. It’s a layer of protection that we use so we aren’t disappointed with defeat. The defense mechanism is in place so the agony isn’t quite as piercing.

Sometimes I long to be one of the ones who have mastered apathy. What a simple existence it must be to go through life genuinely not caring what happens around them as long as it doesn’t adversely affect them. I know many people who live life with the schematic that asks, “What does this have to do with me?” A great example of this was the recent beating of a young Chicago student at the hands of several thugs armed with 2x4's. Onlookers thought best to videotape the beating rather than assist the student who would later die from the injuries he sustained. Were those spectators plagued with the disease of apathy? I often wonder what goes through a persons mind when they fail to answer the call for action.

I started thinking about the consequences of a police officer who decides they just don’t care anymore. Several weeks ago, an officer on the midnight shift saw several subjects sitting in a car in the middle of the night. When he approached the car, he noted that they were smoking marijuana and he subsequently arrested them and then searched the car. In doing so, he found proceeds from a burglary that the subjects had just committed. It was later learned that the same subjects were responsible for a rash of burglaries on the far east side over a several week span. No one would have been the wiser had that officer chose indifference and drove past the occupied vehicle. It would have been much easier not to stop - not to mention much less paperwork.

You don’t have to be a police officer patrolling the streets to care about what happens in your city or your place of work. I question the possibility of what would happen if we all stopped going through life so apathetic. Imagine what we could get done if we truly cared about our life’s work and the things that happen around us.

Interestingly enough, there are many people who exist just to do the minimum and spend their lives merely getting by while suffering no consequences. It may be a simple existence but it is also meaningless. Dr. Seuss perhaps said it best: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

Officers Debate Supporting Comrades who Commit Crimes

*Appeared in the Beacon News on Sunday, November 1, 2009

You probably heard about the Chicago police detective who was involved in an off-duty car accident last April that resulted in the deaths of two young men on the Dan Ryan Expressway. The detective was allegedly drunk behind the wheel and was charged with reckless homicide, DUI, and leaving the scene of an accident.

It goes without saying that the outcome of this accident is absolutely tragic. Not only did two young men perish, but the fact that the officer was purportedly driving while intoxicated, tarnishes the integrity of his badge and defies the oath that is synonymous with wearing that badge. Far be it from me to even attempt to defend his alleged irresponsibility and blatant disregard for the law that took the lives of two human beings.

It is always front page news when a police officer is involved in criminal activity. The story again made headlines last week, but for a very different reason. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Hall served as the venue for a benefit to raise money for the detective to assist with living expenses, legal fees and defense experts. The mothers of the 21 and 23 year old men who perished in the accident were outraged at the notion that other police officers would support someone who exercised such poor judgment. I vehemently agree.

This incident has sparked some interesting debate among my fellow police officers. It is not surprising to me that most officers say they would neither purchase a ticket nor attend a benefit for an officer who made such an egregious error in judgment. The majority couldn’t reconcile themselves to the moral disregard for the law and the subsequent consequences. I even took a momentary introspective and reflective look into myself and decided that if it had been me who had drove drunk and killed two people; I wouldn’t allow a benefit to be held on my behalf. My guilt and self-loathing would prohibit pity from anyone who genuinely tried to assist.

There were a group of my colleagues, albeit a minority, who said they would contribute to the officer and for every reason I gave in opposition, there were those with strong convictions in favor of the fundraiser. The common theme was that the money raised should go to the family of the accused officer. The thought was they were collateral victims and shouldn’t have to suffer a monetary hardship because of the officer’s actions. One officer took it ever further and pointed out that we can never really know the depth and breadth of a person’s suffering. By that, he wondered if the officer had a problem with alcohol that could have been recognized or diagnosed well before the accident.

Those who said they would contribute are not morally corrupt individuals. In fact, I consider those who held the opposing viewpoint to be ethical and levelheaded. Their perspective was rooted in compassion but we just saw the situation differently. I can empathize with the need to assist the officer’s family but my thoughts were never far from that of the families of the deceased men. You can’t empathize for one and not the others.

None of us who engaged in this discussion knew the Chicago officer. If it was a close comrade, we may have changed our stance even with the understanding that the officer made a horrible mistake. When human emotion is an added variable to decision-making, objectivity becomes clouded. In the big picture, our stance on the fundraiser is of little importance as compared to the lives that have been profoundly altered by this accident. Just ask the mothers of those young men.