I had a bunch of funny stuff — or at least stuff I thought was funny — cued up for the blog this week. But I’m not in the mood to be funny today.
The Tube City Online Radio studio is in the old McKeesport Daily News building, which looks out across a parking lot at the McKeesport Public Safety Building.
Most every Saturday, when I leave the studio after my show ends at 3 o’clock, I have to drive down the alley behind the police station, which means I pass through right around shift-change, which means I usually wave to the police officers as they’re either heading out to work or returning.
At least once a month, I also walk over to the station to pick up the police reports and select the most newsworthy ones for Tube City Almanac. (I should go more often than once a month, but I just don’t have the time.) I’ve been doing that ever since the McKeesport Daily News closed at the end of 2015.
On my proverbial desk right now is a burglary report from Officer Sean Sluganski. He investigated a house break-in a few weeks ago and arrested someone for stealing a gun.
One of the officers I occasionally see as I drive up the alley, or when I drop into the station, is Officer Chuck Thomas. He’s hard to miss, because he’s almost always quick with a one-liner.
I don’t know either of them. Just to say hello, that’s all.
Officer Sluganski is going to be buried next week. He leaves a fiancee and a daughter who isn’t yet 2.
Officer Thomas is recovering from a gunshot wound to the face.
You know why.
I’m not going to make this about me. No one cares about how I’m feeling — not when so many other people who I know, and have known for all my life, are grieving.
I also don’t want to make this about the politics of policing in this country.
I guess I’m just struck by the senselessness of it all. And I guess I’m really, really over our collective fascination with guns.
I know a lot of “defund the police” advocates who have already said, “well, this is why we shouldn’t send the police to deal with a mental health crisis.” It’s true, but it’s also besides the point.
Frankly, I don’t know a single police officer or sheriff’s deputy who wants to be put in the position of helping someone in a mental-health crisis. Police officers don’t feel they’re the best people to deal with those, either. Our fucked-up system is responsible, not your local police department.
Besides, if a mental-health worker had responded to this incident, isn’t there a possibility that the suspect would have shot them to death, too?
When are we going to deal with the fact that there are now more firearms in the United States than there are men, women and children? There are literally 120 firearms in this country for every 100 residents.
The country with the second-highest rate of firearm ownership is Yemen, which has 52 firearms for every 100 residents.
Yemen has been engaged in a literal civil war since 2014.
I guess I’m part of the problem. I’m a gun owner and have been for years. I hope I’m one of the “responsible” ones you hear about, because it’s apparent to me, at least, that there are way more guns than responsible owners in this country.
I was in college the last time a McKeesport police officer died in the line of duty. I saved the newspaper from that day, and Monday night, I pulled it out of storage:
To the left of the main story is an AP dispatch about the so-called Brady bill, which requires background checks and five-day waiting periods before the purchase of a firearm. Although it’s since been weakened by state legislators and the Supreme Court, it remains in effect, despite the best efforts of the NRA. That was 1993.
In 1994, an assault weapons ban passed the U.S. Congress.
Those were the last two substantial restraints put on firearms possession in the United States. Thirty years ago. And the assault weapons ban has since expired.
There will be more police officers shot, and more civilians, and more funerals and more grieving families. The news will move onto the next shooting, and the next one, and the next one. Chances are, in the time it’s taken you to read this far, someone’s been shot in the Pittsburgh area.
In fact, it’s getting to be that a shooting, even of several people, barely rates more than 30 seconds on the nightly news.
A friend of mine who teaches at McKeesport Area High School, which is less than a half-mile from where the two police officers were killed, says her students heard the gunfire. The campus was on lockdown for most of the afternoon. “It’s getting really scary around here,” she texted me.
It’s getting really scary around everywhere.
So anyway — no, I’m not in the mood to be funny today.
When are we going to do something about all of the goddamn guns?
P.S.: A GoFundMe has been set up to support Officer Sluganski’s family. It’s here. There’s also a GoFundMe set up to aid Officer Thomas; it’s here. There will be a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. tonight (Feb. 8) at the Jakomas Blue-Top Pavilion, just off Eden Park Boulevard in Renziehausen Park.