Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant starred in the 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story. The movie was a happy feeling comedy based on divorce and remarriage; all’s well that ends well. The movie was set in Philadelphia and neither legal system failures nor anarchy were anywhere to be found. In the 1940 America of the movies and for those Americans usually depicted in the popular culture and news media of that era there was a symbiotic relationship between the powerful and the populace. But in today’s Philadelphia story of August 15, 2019 there is evidence of the current armed struggle for power among various factions and a lack of respect for the right to have opposing views.
Philadelphia police officers who were attempting to serve an arrest warrant were fired upon by a man wielding an assault rifle. Six officers were shot and after a stand-off of several hours the shooter surrendered. This might sound like the all too familiar genre of a mass shooting. Unfortunately, this incident involved some citizens at the scene taunting the police and a public dispute between U.S. Attorney William McSwain and Philadelphia Prosecuting Attorney Larry Krasner. McSwain was appointed in 2018 by President Trump to represent the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Krasner was elected in 2017 to represent the 26th District of Philadelphia.
Before Krasner was elected he was a criminal defense and civil rights attorney who, according to Wikipedia, “aggressively pursued police misconduct”. McSwain and Krasner have taken divergent approaches to criminal law enforcement. McSwain is conservative and Krasner is liberal. The two public servants see their duties differently. That is not unusual. Such differing philosophies are part of the complicated woof and weave of democracy. It is good to have more than one viewpoint represented in our government. What is not good is interference with the police by those the police are sworn to protect. Nor is it good when public officials do not, at least, accommodate various views of how our legal system should operate.
If our current Philadelphia Story is either a harbinger of worse law enforcement to come or stark evidence of a general desensitization in our culture to respect for our democratic system of government perhaps we should attempt to define the root causes and diagnose effective remedies. Neither of those tasks is simple. There are no silver bullets for complex and confusing conundrums. Of course, just saying it is too rich for the human mind to resolve may be the general societal attitude that brought us to where we are today. But if you, Gentle Reader, have some thoughts on these complicated but important matters you are most welcome to share them. Just check out the website (www.jamesmredwine.com) and, thank you. Perhaps in the next few weeks we might start something worthwhile.