By Clarence Page
Tribune Content Agency
News that the police lieutenant widely and affectionately known as "G.I. Joe" in the Chicago suburb of Fox Lake, Ill., is not the hero he made himself out to be has taken some fuel from the media-driven myth that has given us headlines like these:
"War on Police Sparks National Crime Wave" --Investor's Business Daily
Never miss a local story.
"Police face recruiting shortage due to war on cops" -- New York Post
"(New York Police Chief) Bratton warns of tough times ahead due to 'war on cops' " --New York Post.
Conservative politicians and pundits who promote the idea that there's a "war on cops" reacted with a bold message to the fatal shooting of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz in Fox Lake on Sept. 1. Their message: Blame 'Black Lives Matters' first.
Then blame President Barack Obama and anyone else who believes -- as the loosely knit Black Lives Matters movement does -- that protests over police killings of unarmed African-Americans over the past couple years are anything but a "war on cops."
The message from the "war on cops" crowd, which includes some Republican presidential candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a platoon of conservative commentators, has been simply: This is what you get when you question the police — dead police.
Alas, some of the steam has gone out of that message, now that investigators have concluded that Gliniewicz is nowhere near the heroic G.I. Joe of his nickname.
Lake County officials now say that GI Joe committed a "carefully staged suicide" to look like murder — and perhaps try to cover up his theft of thousands of dollars from the police department's youth auxiliary program, which he then spent on such nonessential items as porn websites, mortgage payments and gym memberships.
He also tried to arrange for a gang member "to put a hit" on a village administrator, officials say, because he feared she would discover he had been embezzling money.
But don't hold your breath waiting for apologies from those who would rather silence messengers like Black Lives Matters instead of dealing constructively with their concerns.
Instead, may I suggest a move toward common sense: Can we Americans allow ourselves to hold bad cops accountable without losing our respect for the heroic work that most police officers do?
That thought came to mind as I talked after Lake County's disclosures about their GI Joe with a police officer who has brought the world of police, politicians, the law and African-Americans together.
Chris Taliaferro, 49, is a black Chicago police sergeant and divorce lawyer who, after 20 years on the force, took a leave of absence to run for alderman of the city's 29th Ward earlier this year — and won!
The alleged "war on cops" took on a Chicago flavor recently as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and FBI Director James Comey alleged that police might be "going fetal," in Emanuel's colorful lingo, instead of aggressively pursuing criminals and maybe getting caught in career-damaging cellphone video.
In my experience, that notion is an insult to police. But that's easy for me as a non-police officer to say. I was reassured to hear Taliaferro say the same thing.
"We have a record number of guns confiscated in the city and a higher arrest rate," he said. "Those are indicators already that our officers are not going into a fetal position. Of course, we are in the age of cell phones and social media, which I believe does have some effect. But officers aren't helpless."
Quite the contrary, Taliaferro said, after working in internal affairs for more than nine years he sees an advantage to having a video account of what happened in questionable situations. "Truth can be told by way of video," he said.
Nor does he oppose stop-and-frisk efforts which Chicago's police are under pressure to ease up, as long as police are required to report their reasons for every search. Stops much be justified with a better reason than, say, being young, male and black.
Despite some who paint black communities as less law-abiding, voters in Taliaferro's mostly black ward weren't opposed to putting a cop in their aldermanic seat. There's no need to turn a war on crime into a war on the cops or a war on human rights.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.