After a while, we being getting phone calls: friends, neighbors, coworkers. They tentatively say hello, but we cut to the chase, aware that they don't know how to ask the difficult question: Our officer is fine. He wasn’t hurt.
Others aren’t so tactful or gracious.
“What, I can’t eat?” says one man who’s being denied access to the restaurant where two of our officers were shot just an hour before.
“We might as well shut down for the day,” complains the car dealer next door, whose employees — witnesses — are being asked to stay and give their accounts of the shootings. “I guess they’re more important than we are,” he adds, as the friends of those men gather spent casings and take photos of the bloodied ground.
“Did one of ya’ll get shot today?” a fair-goer asks on-duty officers, without any salutation or introduction.
* * *
These were officer shootings number three and four in our city of 200,000 souls in just three years. There could have been more. There should have been less.
The only thing I can say is that the cocktail of emotions when something like this happens leaves you feeling sick: relief that it didn’t happen to your family, regret that it happened at all, survivor’s guilt, pride, indignation, defensiveness.
And the next day your husband…wife, significant other, son, daughter, whoever your officer is to you…the next day, he puts on his uniform and goes about the business of self-sacrifice while his colleagues lay broken in hospital beds and operating rooms as (barely) living reminders of what it is that must sometimes be sacrificed for the sake of this city and the people who live in it.
There is more to the story than what’s been written about in the paper — there always is — but I can say this with confidence: Those two officers saved lives last week.
* * *
Less than a month after a detective was killed in an off-duty accident, the Chief of Behind the Blue Line approached me at the local National Police Week memorial service. That day, I accepted the role of Sergeant of the Bereavement Committee, the portion of the group that organizes assistance to the families of fallen officers.
"Hopefully I won't be needed," I had said to the Chief of BTBL.
I still hope.
* * *
Back in college, I very much admired a professor who practiced pacifism. His decision made sense to me, and his beliefs were grounded strongly in the Bible. To this day, I believe that people of faith should embrace nonviolence. Naturally, when Noah decided to join the police department, I felt conflicted about the fact that he’d be issued deadly weapons.
Over time, though, I’ve developed a new understanding. In our protests and arguments, our confrontations and disagreements, nonviolence should be the standard. Yet there will always be people who seek to take, to harm, to kill, and those people cannot be allowed to freely move through our communities.
"I know there are some people who will say, 'That's it for me,' after something like this happens," Noah told me. "But not me. This makes me proud of what I'm doing."
Perhaps it's the altruism gene that fuels Noah. He says he feels compelled to do the job because most people don't want to. That compulsion can be hard on the spouses of the ones who feel it, because we must accept the potential for a sacrifice that we ourselves are unwilling to make.
For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done here
In order for the majority to live in peace, a few will never have that luxury. We are those few.