Examiner, 8 Jun 2011
Summer 2011 has just begun, but things have been plenty hot in Prince George's County ever since the first two weeks of the year when 13 people were slain. More recently, a Memorial Day bloodbath in which four men met violent ends upped the body count to 46 for the first five months of the year -- a 28 percent increase in homicides over 2010 levels. This trend is intolerable and obviously must be stopped. But how can law and order be restored in a county where even the top elected official felt free to thumb his nose at it?
When former County Executive Jack Johnson pleaded guilty last month to extortion and evidence tampering in a pay-to-play scandal (serious crimes that could have sent him to prison for 40 years in the absence of a plea bargain), he exposed his utter contempt for the law and his constituents for whom the law was designed to protect. The consequences in terms of increased street crime of the exceedingly bad example set by Johnson and his wife, Leslie, who still sits on the County Council despite federal witness and evidence tampering charges against her, should not be discounted. As former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani proved, criminals are exquisitely sensitive to leadership -- or lack of it -- at the top and to the quality of the law enforcement brought to bear against them.
So Prince George's police have a double hurdle to surmount. They must solve dozens of murder cases while trying to prevent further killings and at the same time attempt to restore the community's shattered respect. It certainly doesn't help matters that one of the accused killers is a D.C. police officer who lives in Oxon Hill. Richmond Phillips is accused of shooting ex-girlfriend Wynetta Wright in the head the night before the two were scheduled to appear in court to determine the paternity of Wright's infant daughter, Jaylin, who was found days later inside her mother's abandoned car and may have died of heat exposure. After the results of tests by the medical examiner, Phillips could be charged with the horrific death of the 11-month-old as well.
When elected officials and law enforcement officers are accused of breaking the same laws they are sworn to uphold and enforce, they cause a serious breach of public trust and confidence in government that takes a long time to repair even under the best of circumstances. And these are hardly the best of circumstances.