San Diego Plays 'Sophie's Choice' for Fascists

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July 16, 2008

Anyone who has seen the 1982 film Sophie's Choice remembers the acting of Meryl Streep. She played the role of Polish immigrant Sophie Zawistowski, who revealed the lurid details of an ordeal at the Auschwitz concentration camp. There, a Nazi officer forced her to make a terrible 'choice.' She had to decide which of her two children would be allowed to live and which would be condemned to death in the crematorium. At the conclusion of the film, memories of this sick game of government power and coerced obedience led her to commit suicide. But what if the tables were turned? What if those who wore the 'official uniform''or their enthusiastic supporters'were forced to make a similar choice? Well . . . for the past several months, San Diegans have been revving up for precisely that opportunity. With a population swollen by military families, DEA and FBI agents, border-control officers, customs officials, admirers of the militarized police force, weapons manufacturers, surveillance technology companies, and the usual surplus of uniform fetishists, San Diego has'for quite some time'presented a ripe target. The demographics are perfect for a no-holds-barred game of Sophie's Choice in which all of the 'players' are deeply enmeshed in the welfare-warfare state.

Cop Shoots 8-Year-Old Son (and Former Wife) of U.S. Marine

First let's take a quick look at the facts. On March 25, 2008 , off-duty San Diego Police officer Frank White fired five shots at Rachel Silva (divorced wife of a U.S. marine) and her 8-year-old son. The shooting was the culmination of a road-rage incident that took place in a parking lot after Ms. Silva's 1991 Honda Accord cut off and sideswiped Officer White's much larger Mercury sedan. As a result of the shooting, Ms. Silva was hit twice in the right arm, and her son was hit once in the left knee. Both were hospitalized. As to automobile damage, 'the car had some minor body damage, such as scratches on the right front bumper, a scratch and vertical mark on the back right corner, but nothing significant,' said an attorney representing Ms. Silva's son.

And what are the legal ramifications? Ms. Silva was charged with five misdemeanor counts. These included two drunken driving allegations (she was tested for alcohol), driving with a suspended license and a revoked license, and driving while in possession of marijuana. In addition, Ms. Silva faces child endangerment charges because she 'willfully put her son . . . under circumstances likely to produce great bodily injury or death,' said Special Agent Stephen Duncan, acting as a spokesman for the police. In contrast to the pickle facing Ms. Silva, Officer White was not subjected to any screening whatsoever for illegal substances. Furthermore, he faces no charges for shooting Ms. Silva and her son. His side of the story? The standard line of all policemen who shoot civilians: he feared for his safety. Ms. Silva, however, claims that Officer White is 'manifestly unsuited' for his job and that Oceanside police are showing favoritism toward a fellow police officer. In an attempt at damage control, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne tried to reassure the public. He claimed that 'all officer candidates are given a thorough psychological screening before being hired.' He added, 'We have a very good system.' Gee, for some reason, the boy's father disagrees. Currently stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton (on emergency leave from Iraq ) to be with his son, Mr. Silva filed his own lawsuit. He claims that the San Diego Police Department failed to properly screen and train Officer White.

The Jury's Choice: Drunken Military Wife or Maniac Cop?

What a conundrum! It's an authoritarian nightmare with no way out. Representatives of two powerful systems of Big Government'one foreign and one domestic'have collided to form a Perfect Storm of state-sponsored violence laced with oodles of bad judgment all around. On one side, representing the bone-headed failure of bloodthirsty foreign interventionism is the former wife of the Marine and her son. On the other side, representing the Nanny State and its meddlesome 'policing' of everything except genuine criminal behavior is the off-duty cop with a trigger finger, seeking obedience even when not in uniform. The only innocent casualty is the 8-year-old boy. He had no choice in selecting his parents or his shooter. His mother demonstrated bad judgment both while driving and in picking as a husband a man whose life's work is to kill people on the orders of a cocaine-addled frat-boy-in-chief with a Decider complex. And what about his father's judgment? Well . . . he chose the woman who chose him. My sympathies to the 8-year-old, who will probably have a hard time accepting the concept of Officer Friendly when the D.A.R.E. program gets a hold of him.

Sophie in Wonderland

But which party should win the legal battle? To which uniform should the jury bow down in worship? And who should they stuff into the maw of the government's overfed penal system? It's a thorny issue. Do they side with the donut-eaters of our militarized police force? Or do they stand tall and opt for the drunken wife and injured progeny of a true-blue Marine hero? After all, heroes need closure, and this one needs to get back to the important work of taking oil away from Third World countries and shooting up terrorist wedding parties that 'hate us for our freedom.' Gosh, there's enough confusion here to choke a congressman looking for military pork-barrel projects to support. San Diego is a military town, but it also worships its police force. What should the jury do? What would Sophie do? Either way, the state wins. And if the recent $5.5 million settlement in the shooting of San Diego linebacker Steve Foley by an off-duty cop is any indication, the city's taxpayers will be poorer. What's my guess? A jury will award the boy a mega settlement because he's the son of a 'hero,' and the policeman will keep his job because he, too, wears a uniform. As Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.'

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Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture
Columns on STR: 37

Lawrence Ludlow is a freelance writer living in San Diego.