The First Casualty...

A Boston Cop Shooting and Our Post-Truth Era

A career criminal shot a good cop. There’s no dispute over the facts. But that doesn’t mean everyone accepts them.

03.29.15 11:01 PM ET

A career criminal, Angelo West, 41 years old with several of those years spent in prison, emerged from a car Friday night in Boston, gun in hand, and shot 34-year-old police officer John Moynihan in the face, the bullet entering just beneath the cop’s right eye. Moynihan and his partner are with the city’s gang unit, and they had pulled West’s car over looking for weapons.

The gun in West’s hand was a big one, a .357 Magnum. And right after he shot Moynihan he decided to take on the rest of the cop crew and he ended up dead on the street. The policeman was rushed to the hospital and put into a medically induced coma until he underwent several hours of successful surgery Sunday to remove a bullet from near his right ear.

Moynihan, apart from his duties—his job actually—as a sentinel of the city, has a background to be admired. After high school he joined the United States Army, went to Ranger school and then shipped out to Iraq in 2006 to help fight another war far from streets where he combated the daily scourge of violence that alters the existence of so many who live in urban areas where guns and sudden death are more common than playgrounds or fire hydrants.

On another night almost exactly two years ago, Moynihan was again on the job helping chase down two terrorists, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, then being sought for setting off bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The brothers had been pursued into Watertown, Massachusetts, where they chose to shoot it out with police. During the gunfire, a police officer named Richard Donohue was badly wounded and lay bleeding to death in the street when Moynihan helped drag him to safety, stopped his bleeding, and saved his life.

That was certainly not the first time John Moynihan was engaged in a firefight and it would not be the last. For his effort that night he was awarded the Boston Police Department Medal of Honor and was given the nation’s Top Cop Award by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony.

At the time Angelo West had been right where he belonged: in prison. He was sent there after being convicted of shooting at two other policemen in 2001. And across most of his 41 years he had lived only under his own law, a gun his constant companion.

Then, Friday night, with Moynihan near death on a city street, a bullet threatening his life, there occurred a predictable and alarming sequence of events. A crowd began to gather near the site where Angelo West was killed in an exchange of fire with police.

According to several Boston cops at the crime scene, people began calling them pigs, shouting “Ferguson…Ferguson” and “hands up…don’t shoot.” This despite the fact—the fact!—that an outside camera from a store next to where the shootout occurred captured the image of West emerging from the driver’s side of his car to instantly shoot Moynihan, who had not even drawn his weapon.

“This is where we are now,” one of the cops said. “Everyone has their own reality. Their own facts. The truth of the situation doesn’t matter. People want to believe what they think happened. Not what really happened. That’s the recent history of almost every encounter we have lately on the street.”

Sadly, it seems as if there is no longer any real history. Just momentary reactions to events that disappear like sky-writing with items like Twitter, texts, Meerkat, Snapchat, and Instagram. And in this, our snap-of-a-finger, Chernobyl-like culture, with almost daily explosions occurring only to be eclipsed in a single news cycle, email and Facebook can resemble the National Archives.

A majority of Americans are more aware of what happened in Ferguson last summer than with what occurred on a city street in Boston on Friday night or on too many streets and neighborhoods nearly every day. Know more about the life of Robert Durst than that of a parent who is afraid to let a child play outdoors in places where guns are more accessible than text books.

We have more tools at hand, literally, to make life easier and more productive than ever. We have Google, Wikipedia, iPads, iPhones, iTunes, YouTube, Netflix, and 600 cable channels. We can shop, pay bills, order food, and get nearly everything delivered, all of it with the touch of a finger on a device in the palm of our hand.

Yet we have a criminal justice system that seems unable to deal with proven violent career criminals like Angelo West who threaten lives every day. Our jails are crowded with those doing extended time for possession of drugs while those arrested multiple times for possession of handguns are often free to walk streets like time bombs eager to explode.

We are at the point where the immediacy of the moment crowds out any thought of reflection. Everyone has a smart phone and everything is recorded. One event spills into another. Conclusions come quickly at the near total expense of consideration of what just actually happened. Reality is self defined as the mob, any mob, writes its own history, never to be contradicted by the quiet statement of truth.

And the truth today is that one young police officer, brave and without fear, fights for his life in a hospital while another man, a wrecking crew all by himself, is dead. John Moynihan was shot on streets where he sought to protect residents from career criminals just like Angelo West who lived and died while ruining the lives around him.