Sunday, July 13, 2014










(Sunday July, 13, 2014 Jersey City, NJ)  It was not about money, drugs, or turf.  It was not a “random crime”, one of those inexplicable set of circumstances that introduce mortality into the equation.  Not at all.  Jersey City Police Officer, 23 year old Melvin Santiago was lead into an ambush in the predawn hours this morning.  The shooter lured his quarry under the guise of a robbery in progress.  The assailant entered the 24 hour Walgreen Drug Store at the typically busy intersection of Communipaw Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard approximately 4:00AM this morning.  There was no “robbery in progress”; quite the contrary.  Within minutes of over-powering the armed security guard and taking his firearm, the assailant laid in wait in the shadows of the early morning. While still inside the Walgreens it has been widely reported and confirmed that the assailant remarked to a customer that she should “watch the news…I’m going to be famous”.   What was the pathology darkening this man’s mind?  What social mores or gang affiliation demanded him to assassinate an Officer of the Law?  The answers to these questions will not be found if sought through the prism of violent intent or simply “malice aforethought”.  The cold blooded killer fatally shot Officer Santiago before he was able to fully exit his patrol car. Police Officer Santiago, just 10 months on the JCPD never had a fighting chance; actually, he had no chance at all. 

In a fundamental way it is easier to accept a Line of Duty Death (LODD) when the circumstances are such that the Police have a fighting chance in the scenario.  Some firmly believe that there is no nobler  action than to sacrifice oneself to save innocent lives, to prevent a civilian tragedy by assuming all the perilous risks associated with the job of a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO).  Across this country in big cities and small, in the suburban sprawl and rural expanses and every place in between the men and women of the Law Enforcement Community (LEC) assume those risks, usually anonymously, thanklessly day in day out.  Officer Santiago answered a call of a ‘robbery in progress’ no doubt without wasting any precious time considering his mortality.  Such a selfless response cannot be taught; it is buried deep with the genetic composition and mindset of the people that respond to events from which others naturally – and commonly –  flee. 


As the Members of Service (MOS) of the LEC know all too well there is no true cellar to the criminal mind, there is no final stop that indicates the ultimate of human depravity.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you catch a job that exceeds all previous experiences.  The daily headlines provide sickening proof of the depths of the darkness in our violent society.  Some of these crimes leave our minds numb and render it incapable of comprehension.  And that is how it should be; we should NOT be able to understand the etiology of acts of madness, the psychopathology of the murderous minds among us. However, we should take notice of the increasing violence that infects our country and grows like a toxic fungus within the fabric of our society.

In 1968 the legendary country music genius Johnny Cash debuted a new song while performing for the inmates in the California Maximum Security Penitentiary at San Quentin.  That song, “A Boy named Sue”, would go on to be one of his most popular signature songs.  In that song, Cash had a lyric saying, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”.  The inmates applauded wildly after that famous lyric while the wider world may have seen it as mildly amusing, perhaps as a hollow metaphor for the senseless banality of crime.  At that time most of America could not relate to the lyric within the catchy tune.  After all, who would shoot someone just to watch him die?  In the years since that song was widely popular we have become all too familiar with and sickened by the very real fact that often men (men commit murder on an order of magnitude of over 300% more often than women) kill men and sometimes for the simple reason of watching them die. In some of the most crime riddled pockets of America today some of the killing the thousands of street gangs practice are part of a twisted ethos to be conducted as a “rite of passage” for initiation into the gang. They celebrate the code of “Blood In, Blood Out” as a symbol of their loyalty and allegiance to the gang.  The grinding need to be accepted into a gang demands recruits to murder someone; either a specified target or a random individual.  If this is not one element of proof positive illustrating the cheapening of human life in high crime and gang occupied “turf” nothing is.

And then there are the “lone wolves”, again, usually men who decide to perpetrate a mass casualty/mass fatality spree of havoc in places such as a movie theater in Aurora Colorado, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and so many other places.  There is no practical remedy for the levels of violence, particularly murder, available today or tomorrow.  We live in a free and open diverse and disparate country of almost 450 million souls with a total of approximately 600,000 LEO combined.  That is truly the “Thin Blue Line” charged with the seemingly impossible mission of maintaining order, preventing entire segments of our cities and town from devolving into anarchy and chaos.  Think about those two numbers for a minute and you can grasp the magnitude of the challenges confronting the LEC today.


When most people imagine an LEC being killed in the LOD, they do not think of such events as assassinations or ambushes.  Typically, they might read about an Officer involved in the shoot-out, an Officer responding to a crime in progress who intercepts the suspects during or after the crime.  But in the annuals of Metropolitan New York City Law Enforcement there is a long history of assassinations and evilly concocted ambushes.  Earlier today when Officer Santiago was responding to the call of a crime in progress he had no way of knowing he was quite literally walking into his own death.  By the words of the perpetrator himself, he was out to assassinate an Officer to be “famous”.  His was a chilling statement but one increasingly common among cold blooded killers who are getting younger and younger.  Within some of the best organized street gangs it is not uncommon to find 13, 14 and 15 year old members with multiple murders on their hands.  Death, murder in particular, as an excepted, encouraged, and required ritual as a requisite of gang life reduces innocent human life to nothing more than shooting randomly at an inanimate object.  Once a killer kills for the first time that threshold has been forever lowered and easier to cross with each notched death on his belt. 

In the long hot summer of social unrest and racial strife that blazed across cities from coast to coast in 1971, a militant band of Black Activists associated with the Nation of Islam actually declared “war” on the NYPD.  Members of the Black Liberation Army placed a bogus 911 call to lure Police Officers to a site on 135th street in Harlem where they laid in wait for their quarry.  NYPD Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones , responded, walking in a well-planned ambush and into their deaths. 

In the frigid early morning hours of February 26, 1988 was a time when many of the neighborhoods in NYC were rife with drug trafficking and related crime, when some of the large housing projects were overrun by drug dealers and thugs while the innocent residents lived under siege in their own freezing apartments or small homes, too intimidated to speak to the Police fearing for their lives.  One brave family had agreed to step forward and agreed to testify against the drug kingpins that were running roughshod over their community.  To protect the house of the witnesses overnight an NYPD Officer, a rookie, named Edward Byrne held vigil alone in his patrol car and was ambushed by four men, shot five times in the head at point blank range.  We could keep citing scenarios such as these.  The murders of NYPD Detectives James Nemorin and Rodney Andrew in March 2003 were particularly brutal.  They had been working under cover and had made a “deal” with a known gun trafficker.  The night the deal was to be finalized, Ronell Wilson the gun dealer and a career criminal, entered the undercover car, sat behind the unsuspecting Detectives and shot them both, “execution style”, in the back of their heads at point blank range.  He then dumped their dead bodies out into the street.

Just a few weeks ago two North Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officers were assassinated in the restaurant they had stopped for their noontime meal.  It takes a very particular kind of beast to murder Law Enforcement Officers.  Anyone capable of callously calculating and coldly crafting to assassinate, ambush, or execute an Officer would not hesitate for a heartbeat to kill any other member of society.  The nature of this beast be they created by nature or nurture, is becoming a more prominent wildcard in the social deck of our country. 


Back in the New York City of the 1980’s a practice, for lack of a better word, became popular among street gang members and other groups of aimless marauding young men known as “wilding”.  In the summer months in particular bands of young men would venture out of their neighborhoods in The Bronx, Washington Heights and Harlem and descend upon places like Central Park.  They would roam while intimidating, sometimes robbing and beating up people, and otherwise creating mayhem and a free-floating sense of anxiety among all New Yorker’s most especially those from the tonier neighborhoods of Manhattan and in the subways. 

A variant of this form of intimidation has developed lately.  With each passing week we  read about some unguarded, unsuspecting pedestrian becoming the victim of a brutal from-out-of-the-blue sucker punch.  The danger of a sucker punch is that the victim has no chance to react; once struck by an unabated roundhouse to the chin, jawline, temple or behind the ear, they are usually rendered instantly unconscious only to keel over striking their heads on the unforgiving concrete sidewalk, black asphalt or cement of a subway station.  The blow itself delivers a concussive force which is exponentially accelerated when the victim drops backwards like a felled tree creating another concussive force.  The locations and victims of these assaults are as random as can be.  We have seen them in all Five Boroughs.  It is both an act of extreme brutality as it is of profound cowardice.  NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has asked for a rapid study of this trend seeking to find patterns in their occurrence.  Since there is no firearm involved other pedestrians, even ones in close proximity to the victim, do not realize what has happened until they hear the victims head crack on the cement.  Many of these victims have sustained serious cranial fractures, intracranial bleeding, and for a few the punch has left them comatose.   Like so many other violent urban trends that seem to appear suddenly, there really is no way to accurately analyze and access the collected data and translate it into actionable intelligence.  Needless to say these random attacks have some New Yorkers already bemoaning the believe that NYC is in some ways reverting to its “bad old days” and this could not be further from the truth.  NYC and the NYPD are leaps and bounds from where we were in the 1980’s and there is no going back.


An immediate extension of the Greater New York City Metropolitan Area, Jersey City, with a population nearing 250,000 is the second most populated in the state.  It sits directly across from lower Manhattan and is even linked to Manhattan Island via the public transportation subway network known as the PATH Train.   Over the last two decades of development and gentrification along New Jersey’s “Gold Coast” – Jersey City and Hoboken to be precise – the eastern section of Jersey City bears little resemblance to the rest of this old blue collar industrial town.  Crime overall has declined in Jersey City yet, as in so many other cities there remain pockets of tenacious crime, drug use and associated criminal activity.  Jersey City has its share of active street gangs some of which are “heavily involved” in the illegal gun trade along the infamous “I-95 Corridor”; that stretch of the Interstate Highway System that runs from southern most Florida to Bangor, Maine.  The New Jersey State Police and Law Enforcement Agencies whose jurisdictions include long segments of the corridor as well as task forces from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency (ATF) who routinely run “sting” operations in various locales along the heavily traveled route seem unable to staunch the flow of illegal firearms into the NYC Metro Area.


The depraved, conscienceless career criminal who set up the fatal ambush where the 23 year old Jersey City Police Officer, Melvin Santiago was summarily executed, 27 year old Lawrence Campbell, has a lengthy criminal past and has been wanted for questioning in another homicide in Jersey City.  At the present time the JCPD have scant information to work with given the fact that Campbell’s atrocity appears to have been hatched in his own deranged mind.  Killing for fame (or infamy) has become all too disturbingly common in recent years as the death toll for active duty LODD continues to trend upwards.  All the criminologists, studies, internal and interagency reviews fall short of identifying causative factors except the most obviously disturbing one; these people do kill for “sport”, they view murder especially the murder of a Police Officer as a jewel in their crown and an act of such explicit brutality and barbarism does provide the perpetrator with some “street cred”, a mutant form of respect meant to endow them with some degree of “respect”.  This malignant logic is the motive behind far too many murders of rival gang bangers, targeted enemies, innocent by-standers, and Police Officers.  One need not do more than scratch the surface of the mentality of the “sport killer” or random "gang-banger" to get a glimpse of true evil.

The only redeeming element to this tragic story is that Police Officer Melvin Santiago’s death was immediately met by the death of his murderer.  There will be no arrest, lengthy evaluative process including mental and psychological testing, no protracted legal maneuvers of filed motions, extended habeas corpus and postponements.  No, not this time.  Lawrence Campbell no doubt found himself rapidly en route to hell just as the last breath of life escaped Officer Santiago’s lungs.  And that is how it should be.  Justice, street justice applied swiftly and finally.

The Brooding Cynyc extends to the family of Police Officer Melvin Santiago our condolences, thoughts and prayers.  We hope they can find some comfort that young Melvin lost his life doing what he had so badly wanted to do since his boyhood.  He did his family proud, served his Department bravely, and acted on the behalf of all those residing in Jersey City as a sentinel assigned to protect others from madness; the very same madness that sent him to an early grave and into the arms of the Lord.  He made the supremely unselfish, valorous act and the ultimate sacrifice.

Rest Easy, Officer Santiago.  Your work here is done.  Thank you for your Service and Sacrifice.  Bless.

EOW July 13, 2014

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