Editorials

Rep. Josh Harder shouldn’t exploit a Newman cop’s death, even if he was a hero

Newman Police officer Ronil Singh and his dog Sam are pictured in a photo supplied by the Newman Police Department Thursday morning December 27, 2018 at a press conference in Newman, Calif. Singh was killed during a traffic stop in Newman on December 26, 2018.
Newman Police officer Ronil Singh and his dog Sam are pictured in a photo supplied by the Newman Police Department Thursday morning December 27, 2018 at a press conference in Newman, Calif. Singh was killed during a traffic stop in Newman on December 26, 2018.

The idea of naming Stanislaus County’s future courthouse after Newman Police Corporal Ronil Singh feels more like a publicity stunt than appropriate recognition for the fallen officer.

It’s not that Singh, who was shot after pulling over a suspected drunken driver on Dec. 26, 2018, doesn’t deserve our genuine gratitude, as suggested Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Josh Harder. We owe debts to everyone who puts on the uniform to help keep the peace.

And that’s the point — that there are others who also gave the last full measure, to borrow a military term. Why not honor them?

Why overlook Deputy Dennis Wallace, who was gunned down after coming upon a stolen van in 2016? His long career with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department included laboring as a bailiff in the very courthouse that the new one will replace (construction is expected to start next year).

Why not name the courthouse for Howie Stevenson, a Ceres officer killed in an ambush in 2006? Or for Steve May, a Modesto police sergeant who died in 2009 from injuries suffered in a crash seven years earlier?

Opinion

Although the courthouse is located in Stanislaus County, it’s run by a state agency. So why not consider naming the new one for Earl Scott, a California Highway Patrol officer shot and killed near Salida in 2006?

Why ignore Deputy Jason Garner and Community Service Officer Raschel Johnson, both killed while on duty in a 2017 crash? What about Deputy Bob Paris, slain alongside a civilian locksmith during a 2012 eviction ambush on Modesto’s Chrysler Drive? And Mary Donahou, a sheriff’s crime tech killed while processing a crime scene in 2011?

It’s interesting that Harder, in a press release calling for court officers to request naming the courthouse after Singh, mentioned that Deputy Sheriff Tony Hinostroza also was killed last year when his patrol car crashed near Riverbank. Harder doesn’t say why he wants to honor Singh over Hinostroza, and the others.

Harder probably enjoyed goodwill mileage in May after proposing the Corporal Ronil Singh and Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, a worthy piece of legislation that would guarantee access to federal Pell Grants for families of fallen law enforcement officers. Perhaps Harder wants another bite at that public relations apple.

Perhaps he took notes on this technique from President Donald Trump, who used Singh’s death to illustrate the president’s opposition to illegal immigration; the man charged with killing Singh was in the United States illegally.

Harder should be careful to avoid blurring the lines between public sympathy and exploitation for political purposes.

Only a few weeks ago, Congress updated guidelines for commemorating “distinguished contributions” by naming buildings and designing stamps in honor of various people. Earlier versions had been issued specifically to reduce the time legislators were spending on excessive honors.

It’s a popular move to hold up examples of good for public recognition. If our community wishes to honor anyone in this manner, it should happen after a full and careful public vetting of all nominations, and not just because a politician issues a press release.

Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.
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