The old saying of life imitating art has rang true in many facets of American life throughout history. In New York throughout the 1970s, amid the lax criminal justice policies of Mayors John Lindsay and Abe Beame, the 1974 blockbuster film "Death Wish" about a mild-mannered architect turned gun-wielding vigilante took the nation by storm.
Many regarded the box office success of the film and its four sequels as the nation reacting through art to a staggering rise in violent crime in America's cities. However, in 1984, life imitated art when Bernhard Goetz, a thin electronics technician shot three alleged muggers with an unlicensed revolver on the New York City subway.
Recently, even amid what should be the massive crime prevention driver of national COVID-19 lockdowns, a "perfect storm" is brewing that may lead to a return of to the eras of crime and fear reminiscent of the urban decay of the 1970s and "crack explosion" of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In looking at the rising violent crime rates in cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and others, many see the intersection of the election of progressive mayors and radical prosecutors, the use of COVID-19 as an excuse to release criminals from jails, emergency non-enforcement policies and existing agendas such as bail reform as primary contributors to this rise in crime.
Recent events in Philadelphia, are acting as a "canary in a coal mine" for the argument as to why effective criminal justice administration is the vital component of public safety needed for citizens to rely on law enforcement.
This week, the Philadelphia District Attorney charged a legally-armed, off-duty security guard with shooting three teens on a city bus last month, in an incident reminiscent of the Bernhard Goetz shooting. According to police, 24-year-old Brandon Ferguson is facing a number of charges, including aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.
However, investigators also said the three teenagers were in a physical altercation with Ferguson while riding the bus in Northeast Philadelphia around 1 a.m. on April 16. According to investigators, the three teens approached Ferguson, who was sitting in the back of the bus when the fight ensued, at which time police said Ferguson drew his permitted weapon and fired.
What is unclear is how and why it took the District Attorney's Office, led by Larry Krasner over three weeks to file felony charges against Ferguson, especially given initial reports that, given the fact that he was outnumbered three-to-one and properly licensed, the shooting's initial indications were justifiable.
What is concerning is that, instead of addressing public safety issues that led to the shooting, the District Attorney's Office may be indicting Ferguson to send a message to a public that may be inclined to start taking the law into their own hands.
While this seems far-fetched, consider the fact that the district attorney has never honestly addressed the rise in violent crime throughout the administration, before and after the COVID-19 lockdowns. As police are ordered to disregard preventive policing measures proven in the "broken windows" theory, minor criminality goes unchecked. This emboldens small-time criminals, who graduate to violent felons.
If the mayor and district attorney were honest about the issue and committed to preserving public safety, then the public may have more faith and trust in them to protect them. However, following a national trend of electing radically progressive candidates to prosecutor's offices, District Attorney Krasner has advocated more vocally for accused criminals than he has for crime victims.
Worse, when citizens filed lawful public record requests to show the correlation between Krasner's radical policies and a rise in crime, the District Attorney's Office said he didn't have them and later fought an appeal saying it lacked merit. Given this confluence of public safety and public integrity concerns, it's only a matter of time before the public may start to believe that they're "on their own," and protect themselves accordingly.
Furthermore, in my opinion Krasner has a history of politicized prosecutions in his administration. It should not go unnoticed that the same administration that is prosecuting Ferguson is also currently facing civil rights litigation for threatening the malicious prosecution of an African American detective who refused to change his testimony to enable the scandal-ridden district attorney to prosecute a case police shooting declined by their predecessor and the state attorney general.
So, is the prosecution of this case about a mere concern for public safety, or is Krasner trying to nullify the "good guy with a gun" argument? The parallels of the Ferguson case with that of Dick Heller, the D.C. security guard whose self-defense argument led to the most seminal gun control case in a generation are unmistakable. Like Heller, it appears that Philadelphia's elected officials are taking the unfortunate path taken by those in D.C., where prosecutors dedicated public resources to make criminals out of law abiding gun owners to defend unconstitutional gun control efforts. As the Supreme Court ruled in D.C. and Chicago, these resources are better spent on going after the predatory criminals targeting society.
Either way, if you want to make the argument for a reliance on law enforcement and against vigilantism, officials need to pursue their sworn duty to protect law abiding citizens from the criminal element, and not vice-versa.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his two and a half decade career on both sides the criminal justice system. Mannes served in both federal and municipal law enforcement in though the 9/11 attacks, D.C.-area sniper task force, homeland security exercises and natural disasters. Mannes' work in D.C. led to personal encounters with the D.C.'s unlawful personnel actions, unconstitutional gun laws and criminal justice inequalities, which led him to become an advocate for public integrity. Thereafter, Mannes served for nearly nine years as the Director, Office of Investigations for North America's largest medical board, as a Chief Compliance Officer, consultant, expert witness, nonprofit board member and political adviser. Read A. Benjamin Mannes' Reports — More Here.
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