Blow, Nocera and Collins

In “Don’t Mythologize Christopher Dorner” Mr. Blow says he is the wrong emblem for those wronged by the system.  Mr. Nocera has “Notes From a Gun Buyback.”  He says New Jersey is using “every means necessary to reduce gun violence, traditional and nontraditional.” That includes turning guns into bracelets.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Senators Overboard!”  She asks what’s going on with the process of getting us a new secretary of defense? Sometimes Washington really is a Carnival.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I am no stranger to people’s glomming on to deadly criminals and celebrating them as heroes. Bonnie and Clyde were killed just south of the town where I grew up. There was that movie made about the couple, as well as a musical and more songs that I can count. And every year the town celebrates the duo and their killing with a festival and a shootout.

Last year, one Web site promoting the festival read: “Bring your family and friends and join us each year as we remember the historical ambush of the infamous outlaws Bonnie & Clyde, with fun festivities, great food, music and authentic re-enactments.”

But as romantic as people try to make the criminal couple and the circumstances of their death, they still can’t erase the wrong the duo did.

The same is true for Christopher Dorner — the former Los Angeles police officer and fugitive accused of killing several people, including one police officer and a sheriff’s deputy — who died this week in a cabin fire while on the run.

A rambling manifesto Dorner issued had many gripes, but chief among them were that racism, abuse of power and corruption ran rampant in the Los Angeles Police Department and that he had been fired for reporting it.

Now Dorner is being compared to movie heroes, has a song written about him and has a long list of fan pages on Facebook.

But make no mistake: Christopher Dorner is no hero. Here are some of the other things in Dorner’s manifesto.

He says of his planned attacks on other officers:

“The attacks will stop when the department states the truth about my innocence, PUBLICLY!!!”

He threatened that he would “use the element of surprise where you work, live, eat and sleep,” and discover the officers’ “residences, spouses workplaces, and children’s schools.”

He continued: “To those children of the officers who are eradicated, your parent was not the individual you thought they were.”

Through his own words, Dorner forfeits any aspiration to the title of hero.

Some commentators have tried valiantly to thread an impossibly small needle in separating what Dorner did, which all people of good conscience despise, from the serious issues he raises.

Marc Lamont Hill, a Columbia University professor, said on CNN:

“This has been an important public conversation that we’ve had about police brutality, about police corruption, about state violence. I mean there were even talks about making him the first domestic drone target. This is serious business here.”

Hill continued:

“I don’t think it’s been a waste of time at all. And as far as Dorner himself goes, he’s been like a real life superhero to many people. Now don’t get me wrong. What he did was awful, killing innocent people was bad, but when you read his manifesto, when you read the message that he left, he wasn’t entirely crazy. He had a plan and a mission here. And many people aren’t rooting for him to kill innocent people. They are rooting for somebody who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system. It’s almost like watching ‘Django Unchained’ in real life. It’s kind of exciting.”

I agree that the issues of police brutality and corruption should now and always be part of the conversation, particularly when discussing police departments with a bad history when it comes to minority and other vulnerable communities.

But I do not see a need to explain why people — particularly many on social media — are mythologizing Dorner. Rooting for a suspected killer who makes threats against even more innocent people and their families is just horrendous. It’s not exciting; it’s revolting.

Hill later apologized for his choice of words. I applaud him for doing that.

Still, too many people online have portrayed Dorner’s actions as righteous retribution. But nothing can change the fact that those actions are wrong.

Fighting for justice is noble. Spilling innocent blood is the ultimate act of cowardice. Dorner is not the right emblem for those wronged by the system.

This is not a game or a movie. This is about real people who lead real lives and their real families who dug real graves. Let’s give everyone involved time to mourn. Let’s have the respect to not honor the person believed to be responsible for the mourning.

According to KTLA in Los Angeles, Dorner’s mother issued a statement that read in part: “It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we express our deepest sympathies and condolences to anyone that suffered losses or injuries resulting from Christopher’s actions.” They said it continued: “We do not condone Christopher’s actions.”

That’s the right sentiment: condolences for the victims and condemnation of Dorner’s actions. Period.

Next up is Mr. Nocera:

The first gun turned in at the Calvary Gospel Church, in Newark’s tough South Ward, was an old shotgun. It wasn’t sawed off, and it wasn’t semiautomatic. It was made for hunting. The person who brought it in was paid $150.

It was early Friday morning, the start of a two-day gun buyback being held in Essex County, at sites in Montclair, Newark and elsewhere. A few weeks ago, when a gun buyback was held in Mercer County (which includes Trenton), 2,604 guns were turned in, 700 of which were either illegally bought or illegally modified. Among the guns turned in was a rocket launcher.

Things were slow at Calvary Gospel. Though other sites, especially Montclair, were buzzing with activity, the dozen-plus Newark policemen in the Calvary Gospel gym were mostly killing time. Every so often, an officer would yell, “Incoming,” meaning that someone was bringing in a gun. The police would snap to attention.

Most of the gun sellers looked embarrassed. “This is awkward,” said a man turning in three guns, one of them an assault weapon. A Newark police veteran later told me that he and his team could often trace a gun bought at a buyback to a particular crime or a particular dealer in the South, where many of New Jersey’s illegal guns come from. But, because the gun buyback came with guaranteed amnesty, they couldn’t pursue it any further. I tried to talk to some of the gun sellers as they were leaving, but most of them just looked straight ahead and kept walking.

By 10 a.m., about 20 guns had been turned in, including a half-dozen semiautomatic pistols. Just then, Jeffrey Chiesa, New Jersey’s attorney general, and Carolyn Murray, the acting Essex County prosecutor, walked in. They were providing the cash being used to pay for the guns with money confiscated from drug busts and other crimes. (The sellers got paid on a sliding scale: from $25 for a BB gun up to $250 for an illegal weapon.) Chiesa made a point of thanking the pastor, the Rev. Steven Davis. “It’s important that people turn guns in at places they can trust,” he said.

There are plenty of critics of gun buybacks. They argue that people turn in guns that would never be used in a crime — like that hunting gun I saw early on. They say that criminals are hardly going to be tempted to hand over their guns because someone is waving a few hundreds dollars at them.

But Chiesa wasn’t buying it. “The governor,” he said, referring to Chris Christie, “has told us to use every means necessary to reduce gun violence, traditional and nontraditional. We have collected a lot of guns in these buybacks, many of which were acquired illegally. Anecdotally, we know it makes a difference.” Later, over the phone, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark told me that while he had been skeptical of buybacks before he took office, he was now a true believer. “I have seen the kind of weapons turned in, and I know we are preventing some gun violence,” he said.

Chiesa went to another Newark site, the Paradise Baptist Church, where he held a brief news conference. “What are you going to do with the guns?” a reporter asked him. “We will destroy them,” Chiesa said.

It’s actually a little more interesting than that. Shortly before noon, a woman named Jessica Mindich walked into Cavalry Gospel, accompanied by Sgt. Luke Laterza, a Newark ballistics officer. A striking, 42-year-old mother of two from upscale Connecticut, she was going to be the recipient of the guns bought during the buyback.

Mindich runs Jewelry For a Cause, a company that designs jewelry tailored for specific philanthropies. In December 2011, she heard Booker speak so movingly about the devastation caused by urban gun violence, that she came up with the idea of designing bracelets made from melted down guns.

Though she had no ties to Newark, she soon convinced the mayor and the Police Department to back her initiative. To get her started, the police gave her the metal from some guns that had been confiscated in long-forgotten cases. She had the guns melted down and designed slim bracelets that included the gun’s serial number. In the nearly three months she’s been selling them, she has raised enough money to donate $40,000 to Newark — to help finance the next buyback. She calls it “The Caliber Collection.”

Around 7:30 p.m., I heard from the attorney general’s office that the gun buyback would acquire 1,000 guns on Friday alone. Montclair was such a hotbed of gun selling, that the Newark police had decided to send some officers there to help out on Saturday.

Many hours earlier, as I prepared to head back to the office, I said to one of the officers, “I wish you success with your buyback.”

“If we get one gun off the street,” he replied, “we’ve succeeded.”

Last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

We seem to be short one secretary of defense.

Well, there’s Leon Panetta, who has already had his farewell ceremony, given his farewell briefing and his farewell address, then flown home to California. But the Pentagon probably still has his cell number in case a war breaks out.

And there’s Chuck Hagel, nominated yet totally-still-not-confirmed by the U.S. Senate. A Senate that is beginning to resemble a bad Carnival cruise. They’re dead in the water, nothing’s working and the chief engineer is Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

People, what do you think happened with Lindsey Graham? Have you noticed that lately he seems to be on television more often than the Geico gecko? How does he manage to get himself interviewed so much? Do you think he lives in a tent outside one of the studios? Graham doesn’t hold any Senate position higher than ranking member of the Armed Services subcommittee on personnel. Yet there he is, on the air all the time, denouncing something.

And what do you think has happened to John McCain? Actually, we’ve had that conversation a number of times before.

When it comes to the Hagel nomination, McCain is supposed to be the Republican point man. If we were on a Carnival cruise, he would be the captain. A captain who got on the P.A. and announced that the ship was going to Mexico. No, Alabama! No, in a circle! Or maybe we’ll just stay dead in the water until a week from Tuesday and see what happens.

Both McCain and Graham have changed their tune repeatedly over what the critical, central problem is about making Chuck Hagel the secretary of defense. The goal posts have not just been moved; they’ve been put on a tractor-trailer and driven down every highway exit in the continental United States.

The complaints about Hagel that have come up so far range from the perfectly reasonable (seems to have trouble communicating), to the perfectly lunatic. During debate in the Senate Armed Services Committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican, suggested that Hagel had been “endorsed” by “terrorist-type countries.” This presumably had to do with a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry saying he hoped Hagel’s nomination would improve relations between the two countries.

Let us all stop for a minute here and say a prayer that someday a spokesman for the International League of Puppy Murderers appears out of nowhere to announce that he thinks James Inhofe would make a great animal warden.

McCain and Graham have been particularly obsessed with the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya — from the “talking points” given to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to the president’s phone calls in the wake of the tragedy. “I’m not going to stop until we get to the bottom of it,” Graham said on — yes! — a Sunday morning talk show.

The only problem is that Hagel wasn’t in government when the attack occurred. He had nothing to do with it. Watching the Republicans fight this nomination over Benghazi is sort of like watching the crew of a disabled cruise ship racing around yelling about a bridge being out on the Amtrak route to Montreal.

On Thursday, the Republicans declined to permit an up-or-down vote on the Hagel nomination, something that has never before happened with a prospective secretary of defense.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee argued that it wasn’t such a big deal, because there were plenty of precedents for holding up even good ideas for no reason whatsoever. He pointed to the dreadful time 20 years ago when a single senator from Ohio caused an 87-day delay on “a fairly noncontroversial nominee” for secretary of education. Who happened to be Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

The Republicans said what they were doing didn’t count as a filibuster since they just wanted to bring all progress to a screeching halt temporarily, while the senators took more time to study the issues. This translates into letting the Tea Party crazies have another week to look for a smoking gun — in the form, perhaps, of a hitherto-undiscovered video of Chuck Hagel on a camel, leading a tribe of Bedouins across the desert in an attack on Aqaba.

“After the break, we can have a cloture vote, and I feel pretty comfortable I’d vote to move on — unless there’s some bombshell,” said Graham.

Let’s take a vote ourselves. Would you rather have the Senate:

A) Spend one week on vacation studying and then the last week of the month debating Chuck Hagel, or

B) Stay right where they are and figure out what to do about those enormous, economy-blasting spending cuts that are scheduled to kick in March 1.

O.K., I see a whole lot of hands for staying and fixing the spending cuts. None of you are ever going to get to be a U.S. senator.

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