Recently, my small city of 75,000 people was rocked by something out of the headlines of a major city: a public safety officer was shot in cold blood on duty.
For context, this was the first time in the history of the department that an officer was killed in the line of duty, and only the 2nd officer in the entire county to die on the job in nearly 150 years.
But this isn’t about the tremendous loss our community suffered (for it undeniably did, with the passing of this man/father/son/brother). This is about the community that came together in his wake.By the close of the day following your murder, neighborhoods came together to hold vigils — neighborhoods you patrolled, with faces who knew you. Blue lights lit up our city that night. And marches to end violence commenced from three sides of our town.
The week unfolded under a concrete sky as the press covered on. If only we could be as stoic as the sky above us. But each new photo, every story inked, brought on a new onset of tears. Tears for a man most of us never met. And now never will.
And on the holiest of Sundays, hundreds came from across our state to pay respects. After family brunches with loved ones, brothers and sisters from police departments on the other side of the state came to our city in your honor. They said, “Our pain is shared.”
And then it was Tuesday. The concrete sky that had watched over you this last week kept watching on, periodically crying, mixing rain with our own tears. And all your brothers and sisters in our city’s department stood by your side — a feat made possible by the generosity of neighboring and not-so-neighboring departments who served our city that day, so each officer could be with you.
With stiff upper lips and furrowed brows, hats over hearts, and pain deep inside, every one walked across the auditorium stage… the only venue fitting for the thousands present in your honor.
And hundreds more, representing departments far and near from across our state and elsewhere, each came in full dress to walk across that stage and honor you. To stand in solidarity with our city’s own. Your own.
A sea of blue lights danced off the wet parking lot full of cruisers, as your procession unfurled from the top of the hill and rolled toward downtown. And people lined the streets. Rain and tears stained our shirt collars, on this dour April day, and they waited for you in eerie silence. With flags. And more tears. And as the fire truck brought you through our city, they saluted. And cried. And applauded. And honored you.
Rolling under enormous American flags, hung between ladder trucks and bucket trucks along the way, your loop took you, not only downtown, but around the neighborhood where you last stood a week earlier. And people came out to see you there too. And wave flags. And cry.
As the evening rush hour wound down to a soft buzz, they slowly scattered. A fire truck with full contingent of officers inside got on the highway and drove home to Greenville. A police cruiser headed out of town toward Royal Oak. A ladder truck headed south to Constantine. And another cruiser to Michiana. And Detroit. And Grand Rapids. And Oshtemo. And Eaton County. And Muskegon. And Jackson. And Ingham County. And Flint. And Traverse City. And they went home to Canada. And Florida.
Unable to raise the officer, the dispatcher resigned, “The time is 23:28 hours. The date is April 18, 2011.”