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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

Debt to Police Is Beyond Salaries

November 03, 2002|Roger von Butow

There was a gunfight very close to my home in Laguna Beach on Oct. 23. I was only a block from the action, and I was trying to find the source of the staccato-like bursts.

I wasn't in combat when I served as a Marine in the 1960s, but my training forced me to gravitate toward the action. That is what the military teaches you. And after growing up on the mean streets of Wilmington and Harbor City, I wasn't a stranger to the violence of gangs and their guns. Coincidentally, I had just picked up my old BMW from the lot where the suspect was lying when I finally figured out what had happened.

My local Police Department was outstanding in its response and demeanor. But my curious and shocked fellow citizens gawked -- and uttered the infamous "How could this happen here?"

Frank Zappa once wrote, "Everybody's safe and it can't happen here." These Laguna residents were missing the point. It can and did happen here, just as "it" is happening all over the United States and the world.

As if death's honesty can be held at bay forever. As if we aren't a country in love with and awash in guns, guns and more guns. Even our president waves missiles around, threatening innocent civilians thousands of miles away. When is someone going to explain that the mythology of the Wild West should be put to rest along with those already dead from senseless violence?

The National Rifle Assn. advertisement featuring Charlton Heston issues a five-word challenge about prying his gun "from my cold, dead hands." Well, in Laguna Beach, they did. But what about that poor store clerk? Or try asking the unbelievably brave officer, the "thin blue line" that protected law-abiding citizens from chaos and anarchy.

"Boys and their toys." Let's be honest: Men are the provocateurs for an overwhelming majority of these wanton acts of violence. Maybe Freud was right: We are downright fascinated with our phallic symbols, literally dying to pull them out and use them.

I had a whacko pull a 9-mm rifle on me about 10 years ago in Laguna Beach. I tried to back him down with my framing hammer -- and found out only much later that his rifle wasn't loaded. Three squad cars and a motorcycle officer responded within three or four minutes to a 911 call from a neighbor.

The police officers didn't know what to expect, but there they were: ready, willing, and able to defend a total stranger. My actions that day with the framing hammer were, in retrospect, not very smart. The Laguna Beach Police Department did its duty. But the rifleman turned out to have had a long history of violence. He continues to be a thorn in the Police Department's side to this day. A year later, surprise! He tried to run me over with his car.

Ask yourself: What are you doing today, as an individual or member of a group, to ensure that police officers and their families can lead long and happy lives? They put their lives up for grabs -- in some neighborhoods on an hourly basis -- so don't they deserve something more than a mere paycheck?

Support handgun control measures by contacting your state and federal legislators. Notify your police department if you see guns being inappropriately stored or brandished, especially if it occurs around children.

Call the police if you know of individuals who are threatening others with weapons. If only one officer's family is spared a horrible nightmare, the call will be worth it.

We owe these men and women more than money. You may, as I did, owe them your life.

*

Roger von Butow has lived in Laguna Beach for 30 years.

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