Gracious. The readers comments and the e-mail in connection with my column on the shooting of the customs officer have been wild. Much of the criticism wasn't what was actually written in the column but what was inferred. What some readers thought they saw lurking, like a nefarious rodent, between the lines.
I didn't write that the search for the cabbie killers was inadequate. I wrote:
Hollywood police sent a swarm of patrol cars and police dogs on a serious search for criminals so depraved that they'd kill a man for 40 bucks.
Note the word "serious."
I don't begrudge the overwhelming show of force South Florida police officers demonstrate when a fellow officer is shot. If I had been bothered, I would have had earlier opportunities to complain following the deaths of four law enforcement officers in the last year. I wrote:
The massive police turnout in Pembroke Pines conveyed the grim warning that if someone shoots a law enforcement officer, he can expect an overwhelming, unified, angry response.
That was a complaint. It was an observation. It's the reality. But my column pointed out that this particular case seemed incongruent with such a reaction. The indications were that the slain customs officer was not involved in a law enforcement matter. That he and his assailant were involved in a foolish road rage incident. He chased the retiree into the post office parking lot and the retiree shot him. Wrongly, of course. It was a criminal act. It was a horrible, stupid, tragic crime. Whether or not the crime holds up as first degree murder is another question altogether. But the shooting of Donald Pettit was, in my view, both criminal and outside the bounds of civil society, no matter what loopholes are afforded the shooter by the state's very loose self-defense laws. I'm glad they got him.
But surely, most police officers must secretly think that some small percentage of culpability might be attributed to the victim for allowing a fit of temper between two drivers to escalate into a face-to-face confrontation. Pettit's actions seemed inconsistent with that of a responsible law enforcement official.
It struck me that most street cops looking for Pettit's killer last week knew from experience that irrational rage can lead to life-altering acts. Irrational rage, after all, is what can make a police intervention in a mundane "domestic disturbance" so potentially dangerous. It's hard to imagine a responsible policeman pursuing another motorist in a pique over a traffic incident. Not with his daughter in the car. Not in South Florida. Where so many people are armed, disaffected and ready to explode.
It was this case that was bothersome. This case in isolation. This case in particular. This case specifically. This case with the absurd assertion from the assistant chief in Pembroke Pines that the shooting stemmed from a law enforcement matter.
It seems doubly wrong to place this shooting into the same category with the still unsolved murder of Sgt. Christopher Reyka, the well respected Broward sheriff's officer who was ambushed by cowards in the dark of night as he was investigating a drug store burglary.
Sgt. Reyka's murder was one of those brutal incidents that grips the entire community. I felt it. Everybody felt it. His killing was worthy of the overwhelming response. His murder was different from the usual stuff on the homicide dockets. Reyka was killed in the line of duty, protecting society from dangerous criminals. We owed him, in that instance, a massive show of public outrage. And the criminals who killed him, though still at large, must know that all of South Florida wants them brought to justice.
But the case in Pembroke Pines was not the same. That was my opinion, one which I think is defensible, even if someone disagrees with it. What I did not do, despite assertions by e-mail and by reader comments under the column, was besmirch all police officers, disregard the dangers of their job or forget what happened in New York City on 911.