Madness and death in the nation’s Capital

A man doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire on the National Mall in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.  Though bystanders, quite nobly, tried to put out the fire, the man died of his injuries.  As of this writing, no one knows who he was or why he did what he did.

The day before a mentally ill woman drove through a barricade at the White House, hit a Secret Service agent with her car (though he was not seriously injured) and started a car chase with Capital police that scattered tourists and put Congress in a lockdown.  The chase ended near the Capitol Building when the woman’s car went through another barricade and got stuck on a median whereupon she was shot dead.  It turned out she was unarmed, with a one-year-0ld child in the car.

I don’t like to second-guess the Secret Service and the Capital Police.  They had no idea what they were dealing with and surely assumed this was a terrorist, possibly a suicide car bomb, attack.  But they fired 17 rounds at this woman, beginning at the White House, in crowded city streets at a moving car, which I believe is against normal police tactics.  When her car was finally stuck on a median–they couldn’t shoot her tires out with an accurate shot or two?–they just killed her.  Then they took her baby, who miraculously survived.

It turned out, the woman was a dental hygienist from Connecticut, an African-American who thought President Obama was broadcasting her life on TV.

Again, I support the police and everyone else who protects us from terrorism.  I think, though, that in this case they panicked.

The incident has sparked a debate over this particular use of deadly force in light of accepted police tactics.

But Washington, D.C., is on edge, what with the the Naval Yard massacre (perpetrated by another mentally ill individual), the government shutdown, and the overall malaise.

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About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.