Words can kill: tough talk and the death of Officer Bohach


Expanded from the 8-26-2001 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Last Wednesday morning, a twisted thug named Larry James Peck, 50, killed Reno Police Officer John C. Bohach, 35.

After fleeing a routine traffic stop, Peck barricaded himself in his central Reno home. There, he committed acts of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reportedly paranoid about the police coming to take his guns, he rigged the house with surveillance cameras and stocked it with an arsenal which would have made Slobodan Milosovich proud.

Peck's own actions guaranteed that his worst fears would be realized.

"He hated cops. He hated the government," Reno Deputy Police Chief Jim Weston said. It's understandable how someone who lived almost his entire life in trouble with the law could come to hate the government, but perhaps an additional factor was at work.

Has it occurred to anyone that Peck's paranoia found substantial succor and validation in the anti-government rhetoric which swirls around us every day?

Such tough talk is nothing new. In the greatest American novel, Mark Twain has Huckleberry Finn's father deliver a drunken anti-government rant. Like so many others, the senior Finn blamed the damn guv'mint for all his troubles. A life of shiftless bibulosity had absolutely nothing to do with it.

In our media-sotted society, such lampoons of this stereotype have metastasized, morphing into today's conventional wisdom.

Remember when President Reagan said "gov'ment is the problem"?

Such transparent rhetoric is far from harmless. Blaming government for all problems bedeviling the great unwashed is a very useful political propaganda tool. Fear sells. And generates votes.

Sen. Jesse Helms, R- North Carolina, has for decades portrayed himself as society's last defender against the nefarious conspiracies of homosexuals, blacks, feminists, unions and communists. Enough of his backwater constituents swallowed that shuck that they elected the scoundrel five times.

Corporate America learned to use World War I military propaganda techniques first to sell products, then to sell company ideas.

The Orwellianly-labeled "smokers' rights movement" did not spring up from dry ground. It was conceived and nurtured by the crown pimps of cancer among Sen. Helms' tobacco constituency.

Some people think they have a right to drive, drunk or sober. Others foolishly believe they have a right to work. A weird minority claims a right to rape and pillage the range just because it's called public land. A more dangerous breed feel they have the right to shoot anyone who trespasses on their sacred private property. None of the above rights exists. But mythological beliefs combined with fictional conspiracies can sometimes concoct a fatal conflagration.

Which brings us back to Larry James Peck. Where average mortals can listen to anti-government rhetoric and dismiss it as pandering for votes or talk show listeners, a very minor sliver of one percent take it seriously. As though it were God Almighty's voice transmitted into one's head via late night radio.

Imagine Huck Finn's violent dad in a paranoid rage and you have Mr. Peck, barricaded in a little house within easy firing range of a church, two schools, many other homes and businesses on an average weekday.

The day that husband, father and good cop John Bohach responded to a call to protect and to serve.

Guns don't kill, bullets do. I've heard that for years through all forms of media.

I've also heard that words can't kill. Last Wednesday morning in Reno, those assumptions were shot through the heart.

POST MORTEMS. A memorial service for Officer Bohach is scheduled for 12 noon Tuesday at Lawlor Events Center on the UNR campus. Contributions to help his family may be made at any Wells Fargo Bank. The Nevada State AFL-CIO, at its convention at the Reno Hilton, raised $1,040 from the assembled delegates upon hearing the news on Wednesday morning.

POWER OF THE PRESS. Thanks to an item in this column a few weeks ago, Rail City railroad retirees rampaged on congress a couple of weeks ago. After I printed a call from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers about a pension reform bill which had long been stalled by Republicans, local retirees rang Union President Joe Carter's phone off the hook asking for marching orders. Even Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., the lone holdout among Nevada's congressional delegation, felt compelled to finally support the bill, which increased surviving spouse benefits, among other things.

POWER BOOK, PART DEUX. Thanks also to Tribune readers who responded to an item about a Public Broadcasting System program entitled "Store Wars -- When Wal-Mart Comes to Town."

In June, the show aired nationally in the coveted, high-audience 2:00 a.m. time slot. I advised readers to contact KNPB TV-5 for rebroadcast at an earlier hour. They did and the station responded. The program re-airs this Tuesday, August 28, at 10:00 p.m. Tell your friends and set your VCR's.

The show documents what happened to a small town which mistakenly believed Wal-Mart's promises that it would benefit the community. The timing is perfect. The area's first Wal-Mart superstore is now hiring low-paid workers in anticipation of its opening in south Reno. Northwest Reno residents have so far successfully blocked construction of another such parasite. Full details in the Wal-Mart War Room at NevadaLabor.com/ For a preview of the documentary, go to the PBS website.

A LEAGUE OF HER OWN. A couple of years ago, longtime UNR journalism professor and Tribune columnist Jake Highton called hard-working Trib photojournalist Debra Reid the best news photographer in the state. She proved him right be winning the sweepstakes award at last year's Nevada Press Association Awards. I have been reliably informed that by the time you read this, Ms. Reid will have surpassed herself at this year's competition, scoring 10 awards in the five available categories. Not even San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds will perform at such a level this season.

Praise is one thing. A raise is another. And that's what she deserves for achieving such distinction for the little newspaper that could.


Be well. Raise hell.

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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 32-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org/ Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988 .

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