While much of the attention Chicago is currently receiving revolves around the Jussie Smollett debacle, there are more serious matters afoot out in the streets. The Windy City has made some admirable, if slow progress in reducing its murder rate over the past few years, but gang violence remains an ongoing epidemic. None of this is new or surprising information. But an incident taking place less than two weeks ago is receiving national attention and it set off some alarms.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, on March 20th, two tactical police officers from the Chicago PD were in the process of arresting a suspected drug dealer on the city’s west side. After securing the suspect and confiscating a bundle of drugs as evidence, placing them in the patrol car, the officers were surrounded by a group of men who began to threaten them. At least one claimed to be armed and demanded the suspect be released or he would shoot the cops. Someone in the mob stole the drugs from the patrol car and fled, with one officer giving pursuit. The threatened violence surrounding the patrol car escalated and the cops wound up releasing the suspect and leaving the scene.

Yes, you read that correctly. A gang of young, potentially armed men forced two Chicago tactical police in the middle of an arrest to back down and release the suspected gang member. Chicago columnist John Kass is bringing national attention to the event and explaining why this is so much more than just a “local news story.”

What is learned here? The street is officially no longer afraid of the Chicago police.

If the cops had fired their weapons, news media would have been all over them, metaphorically skinning them alive. Politicians would have demanded their heads. Democratic presidential candidates, and the two campaigning for mayor, would have held repeated news conferences.

But this? Nothing.

I don’t see politicians convening blue ribbon panels of experts. I don’t see media bringing all the light they can bring to this…

The cops know they’re alone. That’s not a good prescription for what may come.

The scenario Kass envisions isn’t in any way crazy or even unlikely. If the cops had opened fire on those gang members, particularly if any of them were killed, it would have been national news. Chicago would once again be asking if the police had responded with “too much force” or if they were racists. The media would have a field day with it, and the police would once again be the ones facing accusations.

But this story hasn’t even registered on the national media consciousness. A gang of (very likely) armed men shut down a law enforcement action, threatening to kill the police officers and a criminal was sprung free. Gangs have less reason to fear the cops because they know that the municipal government doesn’t have the cops’ backs in too many cases.

One of the oldest assumptions in our system of American law enforcement is currently being tested. It’s long been understood that the police can only maintain order as long as the vast majority of people are on their side, cooperating with the police and recognizing their authority. Civilians massively outnumber the police at every level and the cops could easily be defeated by an entire community if push came to shove. The cops are out there to deal with the exceptions to that rule… the hopefully small number of people who choose to live outside the law, and the criminals have good reason to fear law enforcement.

But in Chicago, the gangs are apparently no longer afraid of the police. And how much support can the cops expect from the public when their own city leaders don’t support them? Kass is right… this is a very bad precedent and Chicago could have a lot more trouble coming its way.