The early morning crash of a Brink's armored truck on a Miami highway in January held up a mirror to our nation's cultural decline. While the driver and a fellow Brink's officer lay bruised and bleeding, a festive atmosphere broke loose outside the truck as thousands of dollars blew n the breeze.
Motorists stopped in rush hour traffic, then scooped up cash before resuming their commutes to the office. Thousands of crisp bills and shiny coins rained down an overpass onto a Miami neighborhood. Below, mothers with babies grabbed coins and piled them into strollers. An elderly woman filled a box. A young school girl dumped her book bag and loaded it with coins and bills.
Onlookers and participants had plenty of justifications and rationalizations.
"Which is more moral,? asked one resident of the impoverished neighborhood, 'to return the money and leave your children improvised-or maybe send them to college and enrich the family for generations"'
"We deserve a little something,? said another.
"The Lord was willing for it to happen here,? one man commented. 'there's a lot of poverty. It was a miracle.'
Police estimated that more than 100 people helped themselves to money during the melee. Middle class on their way to work made off with thousands.
Was this a shocking event? It shouldn't have been. What happened in Miami was born out of a cultural drift that has left us unsure of absolute right and wrong or at least unwilling to live by such a code. We reward rule-breakers and ridicule those who extol morality. Life's ultimate reward is money and having it is the end to our worries.
Ralph Reed said that the 1996 presidential election was about the character of the American people. Maybe the Miami incident says more about that character than we care to consider.
There were some heroes on that day in Miami. Several people came forward and turned money over to authorities.
"I have children, and I needed to set a good example,? said Faye McFadden, a mother who earns $5.00 an hour at a department store. "It was important for me to do what I felt was right.'
Herbert Tarvin, 11, came forward after his teacher at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School lectured students about making the right decision. He went to police with 85 cents.
"I knew it was wrong for me to keep anything,? Herbert told a television reporter, "and I knew if I kept it I would have been stealing.'
Manny Rodriguez, a firefighter who recovered a bag containing $330,000 in cash, summed things up pretty well.
"People were almost killed in that truck and people are calling it a blessing from God. That wasn't a blessing; it was a test. The rich, the poor, the middle class-everybody should have a conscience.?