Editorial: Grim reality of crime
Any time law-enforcement officers have to use deadly force, it’s a traumatic event ó for the officers involved, for survivors of the dead suspect and for the community itself.
It reminds us of how randomly fate and criminals often choose their victims, and of the dangers that can lurk just around the corner ó or, in the case of Sunday morning’s fatal shooting, in the parking lot of a local restaurant and convenience store. Police say this deadly incident began when a woman reported that she had been robbed at gunpoint while gassing up her car. She gave police a description of the getaway vehicle, and authorities found a similar car parked at a nearby apartment complex. According to their report, when they knocked on the door of the apartment, a man ran out the back. Confronted by three officers, the report says, he fired at them with a handgun, and they returned fire, killing 20-year-old Alphonso Simmons Jr.
In the immediate wake of such incidents, rumors often boil up and emotions can overrule reason and restraint. There have been accusations that the victim was shot in the back and and some commenters on the Post’s Web site have even sought to use this issue to make political statements. Others have questioned why Police Chief Mark Wilhelm delayed releasing the names of the two Salisbury officers involved in the shooting, when county officials identified the deputy involved.
At this point, the best thing the community can do is to avoid inflaming the situation and allow the official review of the shooting to proceed. Given the intensity of this political season and widespread concerns about the economy, many people are already coping with high levels of stress. This shooting shouldn’t become a vehicle to exacerbate tensions.
Based on the initial reports, the officers were in a life-threatening situation. They were fired upon and returned fire, which would certainly be a justifiable use of force. But as with any such case, the State Bureau of Investigation is conducting an inquiry. That should yield more details and a fuller account of what occurred in the early morning darkness behind the Civic Apartments, although it may take weeks to produce a final report. Unfortunately, the absence of information can be misconstrued as the attempt to suppress information. In delaying release of the names of the two police officers involved, Chief Wilhelm said his first concern was their safety and psychological well-being. Those are important and legitimate concerns in the wake of a police shooting. But the chief also has an obligation to the community at large, and delaying release of information that is part of the public record can further fuel rumors.
Meanwhile, investigators would still like to talk with the woman who filed the initial robbery report and who appears to have been the target of a random crime, one that could have ended much worse for her or other potential victims. In worsening economic times, crime experts say, violence rises and criminals may become bolder and more brutal. Most of us, fortunately, never have to stare down the barrel of that reality. Those in law enforcement live with its grim possibilities every day.