The murder of any police officer is an outrage, but when Highway Patrol Officer Patrick McDonald yesterday became the fourth Philadelphia cop to be gunned down in 11 months, the financial crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone the presidential campaign, seemed ever more like abstractions.
McDonald, a star athlete in high school and eight-year veteran of the force, was widely admired. The 30-year-old bachelor had bought and lived in the house in the Morrell Park neighborhood where he grew up, and neighbors considered him to be their son, their father and their protector.
For what it is worth, McDonald's assailant also died. For what it is worth, it will only be a matter of time before the handgun the perp used is likely traced through a series of legal transactions until it entered the city's thriving gray market in devices the kill. Because, you see, in Pennsylvania just about anyone can buy a gun with few or no questions asked. Just don't get caught smoking on school property or, heaven forbid, enjoy a puff of marijuana once in a while.
Philadelphia has been the epicenter of an epidemic of gun violence for years, but it is not permitted to enact its own tough gun laws like, say, New York City, because of an adamantly pro-gun state legislature.
I worked in Philadelphia for 21 years. I knew a lot of good cops and a few bad ones. The tears I shed last night when a television station's news helicopter followed the hearse bearing the slain officer's body from Temple University Hospital down streets, boulevards and freeways cleared of traffic to a mortuary were bitter.
Patrick McDonald didn't have to die, but he did because in Pennsylvania the love of guns is more important than the lives of cops.
Photograph by Steven M. Falk/Philadelphia Daily News