It seems with each passing year, we are subjected to reading, hearing and watching the two major political parties trash one another over which is the king of the hill when it comes to “family values,” or the practice of moral and ethical conduct. They are egged on, pilloried and vilified by the media, special interests, religious entities and those who pass as today's stand up comics.
Viewed from my perspective, I am disappointed — nay — appalled at the deterioration of and utter disdain for these values during the 70 years of my memory. You may view it old fashioned, out of touch or even “uncool,” but we learned our morals, ethics and integrity at home, at school and in church. While perhaps hoary to the more modern generations, the Boy Scout Oath, the Ten Commandments and Robert Fulgham’s “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten” remain a strong foundation.
When and how did we reach the point in our society at which scofflaws, deadbeats and criminals are often absolved of personal responsibility and treated instead as victims? Most of my generation and the dwindling remainder of the previous one are neither prudish nor unforgiving, but we do recognize the difference between right and wrong and reject moral relativism as a substitute.
A highly visible example of the fading respect for personal obligations is seen in the TV, radio and other commercial advertisements aimed at those whose credit card debt or money owed to the IRS has accumulated beyond their ability to pay. A seemingly inexhaustible horde of attorneys and tax experts promise settlements to the tune of fractions of the amount owed.
Sympathy for someone in dire financial straits is normal but did the one in arrears not accumulate the debt and should the creditor be held responsible for an irresponsible borrower? Admittedly, it is difficult to feel for American Express, VISA, Master Card or the IRS, but fudging the difference between right and wrong is hardly the answer.
Another issue that begs serious discussion is that involving installation of red light cameras, one denounced by civil libertarians as well as by those who feel if the driver cannot be positively identified, the offense lacks standing in court. I find this attitude absurd — let us pose these questions to the red light camera opposition.
Is it not a traffic violation to run a red light? Is the operator of the vehicle not responsible to observe and obey the rules of the road? If the owner is not the operator, is he or she not responsible (except in the instance of automobile theft) for the individual he or she has authorized to drive, should the question arise? Any other conclusion violates common sense.
Finally, I will dwell, hopefully for the last time, on a subject upon which I have provided opinions in the past — the Columbia Police Department’s use of the Taser. This issue has grown, with all manner of citizens, news media, organizations and even legislators offering their two cents. The one area in which all, with the exception of Interim Chief Tom Dresner and his officers, share an utter lack of experience is in the situations those officers find in the streets of Columbia or any other city.
Grass Roots Organization, Coalition to Control Tasers, the task force of “experts” envisioned by the legislature’s HB931 and other groups' or individuals' opinions notwithstanding, the decision to act is in the hands of the on-scene officer. The very last thing a street cop needs is to be subjected to second-guessing or meddling by amateurs, regardless of how well-intentioned or solicitous it might be.
Of course, police will, at times, make mistakes of commission as well as of omission — they are human — but they are trained to make split-second judgments involving the use of deadly force in defense of their own lives as well as that of bystanders and/or the perpetrator. And yes, there is an inherent danger in employment of the Taser — but would anyone rather the officer fire a Glock rather than a non-lethal weapon?
Among the lessons I have learned is that when one in authority directs or requests an action, the only acceptable response is one of compliance. Accordingly, why is it difficult to comprehend that the individual who ignores the officer does so at his/her own peril? That small group of activists/alarmists among us who are quick to label the police as the bad guys and the lawbreakers as victims do us no favors.
Acting Chief Tom Dresner demonstrates a professional grasp of this issue and we should expect no less from his successor. We elect a mayor and City Council, hire a competent city manager and enjoy a watchdog press — sufficient oversight for any reasonable citizen.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.