As the elderly African-American woman emerged from my cab, I watched out for her in the approach to her doorstep. It was a desolate winter night in the heart of a high-crime district in West Philadelphia.

After I was sure she was safe, a police cruiser passed slowly near my vehicle, a feeling of relief overtaking me. The officer had spotted my dome light, and was there to oversee both my own safety and that of my passenger.

Back then, I always rode with a drawn switchblade beneath my fare clipboard. It created a measured feeling of security in a world where I had a virtual target on my back.

In that era of the early 1970‘s, there was no Plexiglas shield between the passengers and driver, as I worked to supplement my college education. Weeks earlier, a fellow driver had been found slumped against his steering wheel in my own neighborhood of East Mt. Airy, a fatal gunshot having been delivered into his skull.

These memories have recently returned, as I watch what seems to be a hysterical reaction to policing. It has sprung from the apparent horrible instances of police executions of several Black people across the nation.

Let’s be perfectly clear: there is no justification for an officer being apprehender, judge and executioner. But the bulk of those in law enforcement are not that. And their services are both appreciated and necessary in what has become an increasingly violent region and country.

Proponents of Black Lives Matter have claimed that police profile Blacks, causing unnecessary grief and harm to those who are innocent recipients going about their normal days. Surely, it must be more than difficult for Black parents to have a cautionary discussion with their children, telling them to be watchful of police who may be automatically suspicious of them.

Still statistics point out that there is an inordinate rate of violent crime committed by members of that community. Surely, there needs to be a greater effort by Black mentors to address what may be the biggest contributor to lawlessness: a widespread lack of structure and values due to a breakdown of the nuclear family, particularly in that grouping.

When I drove that cab, I was selective in whom I picked up. Oftentimes, my fares would be elderly Black people. I did tend to shy away from male teens, however.

Let’s be perfectly clear: there is no justification for an officer being apprehender, judge and executioner. But the bulk of those in law enforcement are not that. And their services are both appreciated and necessary in what has become an increasingly violent region and country.

There was little margin for error on my part, I reasoned. One poor decision could result in the loss of my life. Police share the same concerns.

In this same period, I had a summer job at Philadelphia City Hall, handling police transcripts.  Each morning, criminal activity reports were received from the various police precincts in the city.

It was eye opening how many crimes were committed in a given night and how many of the suspects were repeat offenders with extensive records. Clearly, criminality was a culture unto itself–as it is today.

Along with more delays in police action, we have seen a spike in crime locally and nationally. Since the apparent George Floyd execution by a bad cop in Minneapolis, criminals have bastardized otherwise peaceful, constitutional expressions of free speech through protest marches.

Too often, they have often gone unrestrained. A CNN report on August 11 placed Philadelphia second among the big cities in terms of increasing homicide rates for the year through July 26 compared to the previous year. Its 32 percent rise was behind only that of Chicago–at 52 percent.

The pendulum of justice has swung way too far. It is even being seized by an incumbent President as an example of what one can expect should his challenger win the general election. It is also fuel for a citizenry which rightfully opposes anarchy and pleads for a return to the rule of law.

Perhaps it was best put by philosopher John Stuart Mill, who said: “The difference between a bad and good man is not that the latter acts in opposition to his strongest desires; it is that his desire to do right, and his aversion to doing wrong, are strong enough to overcome…any other desire or aversion which may conflict with them.”

The now blurred distinction between right and wrong needs to be clarified. Let the good people from all backgrounds emerge as citadels of proper conduct. And let those in law enforcement do their job, devoid of the generalizations that compromise their functions.

Jeff Hurvitz (jrhurvitz@aol.com) is a freelance writer and native Philadelphian.

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