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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Joseph Sabino Mistick: Officer Shaw stepped up to confront evil

| Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, 2:18 p.m.

Thomas Hobbes, the English political philosopher, claimed in his 1761 book “Leviathan” that we would all lead “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” lives without civility and law.

Hobbes believed that, uncontrolled and in a natural state, everyone would know that they have the “right to all things” and just take what they want, resulting in chaos and anarchy.

Without order, Hobbes said, there would be “no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth.”

There would be “no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death.”

Because of this, Hobbes concluded, “the state of men without civil society is nothing else but a mere war of all against all.”

That can suddenly become crystal-clear, as it did last week with the death of Officer Brian Shaw.

The rookie New Kensington police officer was shot in the chest after stopping a vehicle and pursuing the fleeing suspect on foot.

Brian had stepped up, choosing what is a foundational occupation for civilization, without which there would be no order.

And we lost him.

Like all police officers, he could have done something different with his life, something less likely to run off the rails without warning.

His friends say that he liked helping people. There are other ways to do that, but Brian's calling was to become a police officer.

Or he could have found a police position somewhere else, where the streets are quieter.

But Brian was at home in New Kensington, one of those honest and tough working-class towns that have gotten tougher with the closings of the mills and factories.

There are still civic-minded citizens fighting to save the neighborhoods, and the churches continue to fight for lives and souls, anchoring the community. But none of them would have a chance without police officers willing to fight alongside them.

Brian knew that.

It is not an easy job. The police see us at our worst, and they often need to make snap decisions about how to handle situations none of us can imagine.

They must rescue us when we are facing peril, with little regard for their own safety.

And they have to deal with the bad guys.

They do all this in the public arena. These days, everything they do is recorded, often by the body cameras many of them wear or someone's cellphone, and they are judged in hindsight.

Most of the time, police officers get it right, but sometimes they fail, and they know that when they fail, they will be called to account.

They start every day knowing that.

We pay them, as best we can. But at times like this, we know that we can never pay them enough.

They know that, too, and still, they show up.

Officer Brian Shaw is a hero, but that did not just happen.

That happens when a few among us answer the calling to become police officers.

And when evil appears, they will be there to confront it. They are the force for order, and without them, civilization would be impossible.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (

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