The Thin Blue Line is Stretched by Violence

Last Friday, Nicholas County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Baker was shot and killed, and Deputy Josh Ellison was wounded when they responded to a domestic dispute complaint in the Birch River area. One suspect is dead, and another is in custody.

Deputy Tom Baker (Nicholas County Sheriff’s Department)

As State Police conduct their investigation into the Nicholas County shooting, the murder trial of Joshua Phillips is getting underway in Kanawha County Circuit Court. Phillips is charged with shooting to death Charleston police officer Cassie Johnson during a scuffle when Johnson responded to a parking complaint.

Both Baker and Johnson were killed because they were wearing a badge and had taken an oath to uphold the law and defend their communities. They died because they were holding fast to the Thin Blue Line, trying to keep it from breaking.

That demarcation is the separation between order and chaos, between peace and violence, between adherence to the law and lawlessness, and it is not defended without sacrifice.

Data from the FBI show that 503 officers were feloniously killed between 2011 and 2020. Forty three were killed while responding to domestic violence complaints, much like Deputy Baker.

Jon Shane, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told CNN that domestic violence complaints put police in the middle of highly volatile situations. “People’s emotions are already elevated due to whatever dispute they’re involved in and now you bring the coercive power of the state, people are angry and angry to see you, know that there’s potential to be arrested and incarcerated.”

Officer Cassie Johnson

Of course, the police are not without their faults. There are plenty of stories of officers abusing their authority, of crossing the line by using their considerable powers to become judge and jury.  The worst of the abuses gave rise to the “Defund the Police” movement that led some city leaders to withdraw their support for law enforcement.

That has turned into a huge mistake. Police officers have left the profession and crime is on the rise in those communities.

In Seattle, because of staffing shortages in the police department the sexual assault unit has stopped investigating most new rape cases involving adults.  In San Francisco, voters today are deciding whether to recall city district attorney Chesa Boudin halfway through his first term because he is soft on punishing criminals.

Alternatives to traditional law enforcement and sentencing are legitimate discussions, but the public’s patience for such exercises runs short when people do not feel safe in their communities. Public safety is a fundamental cornerstone of a civil society, and the police are the frontline guardians.

This week, West Virginia is reminded on two fronts—the shooting death of Deputy Baker in Nicholas County and the trial of the man accused of murdering Officer Johnson—that those guardians put their own lives at risk to protect ours.


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