“Outrage Over Police Shooting Dominates Council Meeting”

So reads the headline of the March 26 Voice of OC article on public speakers who voiced their outrage at last week’s  city council meeting.

To recap the shooting:

  • Two probation officers checking up on a parolee, approached three men in broad daylight near the intersection of La Palma and Citron. Two of the three men ran away. One of those was Robert L. Moreno, Jr., a documented gang member and felon with a violent criminal history.
  • While fleeing, Moreno brandished his weapon at a mother and her young children who were getting out of their car, threatening to kill them if they talked to the police.
  • Moreno was hiding behind a trashcan when K9 Bruno (on a 20-foot leash) found him. Moreno opened fire, hitting the dog.

So, the parade of angry speakers at last week’s council meeting were outraged at Moreno’s callous disregard for life, at his threatening an innocent family with death, at firing his weapon at law enforcement officers – right?

Wrong.

They were outraged…at the police.

Remember – Moreno fled from the police. He threatened to kill innocent people. He fired at the police. Moreno hit Bruno but could have hit the officers or innocent bystanders. This was a guy who had just gotten out of prison. A guy whoafter he was tackled during an arrest in 2011, he told a deputy in county jail that he struggled with the officer to get away, and had “even tried to reach for his gun.” When the deputy asked why he tried to grab the gun, Moreno said, “Because if I did get the gun I would have killed him,” according to court records.”

And yet, in the eyes of those speakers and their sympathizers, the Anaheim police are the bad guys in this incident.

The usual suspects who voice their opinions in these matters have negatively contrasted the outpouring of support for K9 Bruno with what they see as a lack of concern for human life –  in this case, the life of Robert Moreno Jr. The life of a person is worth more than the life of a dog, they complain.

Of course it is. God creates each unique human life in his image. He loves us all equally and desires the salvation of all of us. And He gave us free will to choose between good and evil, and do what we will with the life given to each of us. Lent reminds us that Jesus suffered on the cross and died to ransom everyone from their sins.

But the aforementioned critics ignore the moral landscape of the shooting – which the general public, on the other hand, has no trouble grasping. One side there were law enforcement officers trying to protect the public, and on the other a violent criminal with no regard for human life.  The shooting incident served to illustrate there really are criminal predators in our communities, and the police exist to protect us from them. So, of course, the public will applaud the bravery of Bruno and the police, and rally around the brave K9. It isn’t disrespectful of human life to praise someone – in this case, a dog — whose ultimate purpose is protecting human life.

Robert Moreno Jr. lived a life of crime and violence. His family and friends no doubt see him as more than that, and rightfully grieve for him. But the sad reality is his end was fashioned by the choices he made.

Wrongly Blaming The Police 
Nonetheless, the a procession of speakers cast the police as the villains, several of them accentuating their comments with F-bombs. Genevieve Huizar went so far as to claim the police murdered Moreno (to which a supportive member of the audience shouted “F–k Bruno!).

From those calling for compassion and respect for human life, I heard no concern for innocent bystanders’ lives that were jeopardized by Robert Moreno Jr., no compassion for the police officers who could well have been on the receiving end of Moreno’s bullets had Bruno not gotten in the way.

On the hand, we did see those same police repeatedly condemned as murderers and assassins and pigs by speakers clearly painted law enforcement, rather than criminal gangs, as the primary threat to public safety. We heard calls to “Film the Police.”

We heard a young revolutionary say, “We don’t meant to be violent and aggressive because that’s not where we come from. We’re just trying to change things. but how else are we going to change things when we come with peacefulness and it still doesn’t change?” – which is another way of saying violence is, ultimately, a legitimate means for achieving political ends.

We did hear the Mayor of Anaheim very pointedly assuring these speakers that the police would not retaliate against them for their comments. Think about it: the underlying the mayor’s assurance is the premise that the police are dangerous and lawless. One wouldn’t make such a promise unless one believed Anaheim police officers would seek those speakers out for retaliation. Put yourself in the shoes of an Anaheim police officer listening to group of protesters accuse you and your colleagues of murdering a gang member who directed deadly force against pursuing officers – and then hear your mayor tacitly validate those protesters’ characterization of police of lawless brutal.

Free Speech, Yes; Obscene Speech, No
A final point – and this one about free speech. There has been a great deal of debate in media about what action the mayor (or whoever happens to be presiding at an Anaheim council meeting) can take regarding vile, obscene and disruptive comments made during the public comments. William Fitzgerald has plumbed the depths of such speech, and last week the anti-police speakers further pushed the envelope by adding F-bombs to the council meeting vocabulary.

Mayor Tait and his allies contend the microphone at the podium is “sacred” and speakers should be free to say absolutely anything they want no matter how vile, hateful, obscene or slanderous. City Attorney Michael Houston concurs to the extent of stating his belief the mayor or presiding officer is powerless to stop such behavior. In other words, if someone decided to read from “Penthouse Letters” at every council meeting, nothing could be done about it (except leave the building, especially if you had children with you).

I disagree with that absolutist stance, but concede I could be wrong. But in the case of last week’s F-bombers, that isn’t the most pertinent question.  Everyone at no one at these council meetings knows they are free to publicly state their political opinions, whatever they are.  But when the mayor, painstakingly and repeatedly informs the audience they can say absolutely anything they want no matter how hateful or slanderous, should anyone be surprised when some individuals respond by doing exactly that?  What the mayor intended as an explanation was instead taken as an invitation.

Damion Ramirez’ obscenity-laden rant could be seen coming a mile away.

Free political speech is sacred because it is a bulwark against government infringement of our liberties. At the same time, does it really make sense to measure how free our speech by how depraved or obscene it is? Is it an infringement on free political speech for a city council to tell citizens they are free to come to council meetings and declare “I hate the police, I think they are lawless thugs” but they cannot say “F–k the motherf—-ing police!”?  Shouldn’t responsible civic leadership seek to foster political speech that elevates and informs, not speech that denigrates and intimidates?