From the Rider’s Desk

May 11, 2010

Among Us

Being a veteran of the most recent Iraq war, I learned about the value of human life and the massive black hole that is created when someone’s life is unexpectedly cut short. Military deployments are always a hard time on families. Their loved one leaves and the unspoken seed of doubt is laid in their heart. Will their beloved return? There is an understood possibility that their loved may not return. It’s a part of war. The first day goes, the second and so on. They wait until they hear that date, the estimated day of return. It is a slow and steady marathon and sometimes with no certain end point. We obviously can’t thank our armed forces enough and we can’t care for the loved ones enough who’ve been left behind after a soldier, sailor, airman or marine has paid the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom. I would hope that every American would consider this: Memorial Day is not just another holiday on the calendar. I’m lucky to be here and consider it my appointment in life to respect those who did not come back with me. I learned that in the sand and grit around the Tigris River valley.

A little more than five years ago, I became a police officer. I attended my first police funeral while still in training. Dallas Officer Brian Jackson was shot and killed while pursuing a man who had just threatened his ex-girlfriend with a gun.

I’ve often thought about what differs between the armed forces and police world. While our armed forces fight for our freedom, our police officers fight for something else. I think George H. W. Bush said it best at the dedication of the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial:

“Carved on these walls is the story of America, of a continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency, and to protect a national treasure that we call the American dream.”

Preserve democracy and decency, protect the American dream. Police officers wake up every day, or night, and they get ready for work just like everyone else. They eat breakfast, or dinner if they work night shift, and they take off, just like everyone else. For a police officer’s loved ones, it’s not a marathon; it’s a series of never ending sprints. Day in and day out, a police officer goes to work and comes home. Day in and day out, the police officer’s loved ones hold their breath and sigh with relief. But like most things, with repetition comes complacency. Its classical conditioning. A hypothetical police officer comes home from work everyday because that’s what he’s done for one month, one year, five years or twenty. His hypothetical wife comes to expect that same result because, for how ever long that that police officer has done his job, he’s always come home. Day in and day out, a police officer wakes up, eats his or her meal and goes to work. Day in and day out, he or she never makes it back home. If you don’t believe me, check the Officer Down Memorial Page. To date, there have been 61 police officers killed in the line of duty in 2010. It happens all the time.

And every time it happens, there’s a massive black hole. A vacuum takes the place of a person. Not just any person but, quite simply, some of the finest people our society has to offer. These are men and women who protect the American Dream at the risk of exposing their loved ones to an unimaginable nightmare. Where would our world be today if only one generation failed to produce these men and women?

Day in and day out, a police officer goes to work and doesn’t come home and a black hole is created. I’ve felt its massive gravity. I felt it at Officer Jackson’s funeral and I felt it at Senior Corporal Norman Smith’s funeral. It is an honor to ride to in his memory. As I’ve become more closely associated with honoring the memories of our fallen officers, I’ve felt that gravity many times. I felt today as we honored Trooper Jessica Cheney and Officer Andre Booker at a rest stop during our ride. I’ve been in the presence of those they’ve left behind. Trooper Cheney’s father and Officer’s Booker’s fiancé. Their presence has forced me to ask the question, if I can feel the gravity of this officer’s loss what is that same gravity doing those who were right next to them? Those loved ones closest to this newly formed black hole, is it crushing them? I only imagine that it can.

This is my third trip to the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington D.C. Every time I’ve gone, my wife has expressed supreme interest in joining me. This trip was no different. Before I left and as I was saying goodbye to my wife and daughter, my wife said, “I wish I could go.” My response, “Oh baby, you’ll make it someday.” Although I didn’t say it to her, I immediately wished I had not said those words. Visions of the bus loads of survivors being brought into Memorial struck my mind. Many of them are wives and daughters not much different than mine. I’ve given the universe a tremendous opportunity for tragic irony. I hope the universe doesn’t take it.

But if it were to happen to me, I wouldn’t want my wife and daughter crushed by the gravity of losing me. I’d want my brothers and sisters and those survivors who’ve been through that loss before to help them. I think they’d need it. I can only assume that all survivors need it. I can only assume that Brian Jackson, Norm Smith, Jessica Cheney and Andre Booker don’t want their loss to crush their loved ones. I assume with a fair amount of certainty they want us to help their loved ones, even if it means braving the gravity of their loss; something I think we’re sometimes afraid to do.

I never know what to say to a survivor. In fact, I told a survivor that. Upon finding out that that he’d lost his brother I literally said, “I don’t know what to say.” His response, as if he’d said it a thousand times, “What can you say?” I guess some people might have the words but I never do. Instead, I’ll hold onto their loved one’s memory and I’ll hold on to the survivors if the opportunity is there. Maybe if we all hold onto each other, everyone will feel the gravity of the loss but no one will be sucked in. And if someone is, we’ll all be their pull them out.

Day in and day, there are survivors among us. Day in and day out, they hold onto the memory of their loved ones. If one day, you find yourself in close proximity to the black hole their loss has created, before you turn away from the gravity, take the time to hold onto a survivor. If you think it’d mean a great deal to your family, it probably will mean a great deal to the survivors. I would hope that every free person in the world would consider this: May 15th is Peace Officer’s Memorial Day. It’s not just another holiday on the calendar. Every day is a gift and it is my appointment in life to respect those who’ve had that gift taken from them while protecting the American Dream; while protecting democracy and decency everywhere. I learned that on my city’s streets, a few church pews, a bicycle seat and in the gravitational pull of several massive black holes.


May 9, 2010

Family Matters

Why do I ride?  Two reasons: In memory of the fallen Officers, and to support the surviving family members.  Simple enough, right?  I was naive enough to think it was that simple when I first began riding in these events three years ago.

Here is some insight to the Police Life to explain what I mean.  When a person is going through the hiring process to become a Police Officer, they have to go through a series of tests and what is called a Review Board.  This board asks questions of the applicant to determine whether or not they have what it takes to be a cop.  One question that is consistently asked during these boards is “Are you willing to take someone’s life?”  Well, what would you say if you wanted the job?  The same thing most everyone else says…”Yes.”  This question is often answered without truly thinking it through.  Unfortunately, most of us come across situations, while on the job, that confirm that answer. 

You see, unless we have been in a situation that called for that to truly be considered, we naively give the “right” answer.  Well, I found myself answering a very important question, for a second time, without really knowing what I was talking about.  Now that I have experienced this as well, I can now say “I ride in memory of fallen Officers, who gave the ultimate sacrifice” and “to support the surviving family members who not only gave that same sacrifice, but now endure the pain of having to continue living with it.” 

As an Officer, I acknowledge, understand and readily accept the dangers I face, as do all other officers.  That is what must be done.  My heart goes out to each Officer that has to pay that price.  My soul breaks, though, when I see the families forced to cope and push through this horrific event.  Allow me to share something I saw at the Candle Light Vigil last year, at the Police Officer Memorial in D.C.: 

The Memorial has two living walls, with the names of the Officers who died in the line of duty.  At the front of the Memorial are two stands that have books listing the names and locations of the Officer’s names on the wall, as well as rectangle pieces of paper and pencils.  When you lay the paper over the name, and color the pencil on the paper, the name is revealed.  This allows people to take the name back home with them. 
I had just escorted a survivor to her seat, just before the ceremony began.  As I was walking back to meet another survivor, my attention was pulled to one of the walls.  I saw a young boy, probably about 12 years old, who appeared to have Cerebral Palsy.  The muscles in his arms and legs were contorted so that he could not extend any of them.  I noticed that his mother, with the assistance of another family member, was lifting him up off of the ground and leaning him to the wall, so that he could scratch his father’s name onto a piece of paper.    In an effort to protect and take care of his community, this boy’s father was slain.  That boy now does not have his father to protect and take care of HIM.  That wife and mother is now alone. 

Unfortunately, we can find ourselves taking blessings we’ve been give for granted.  I find myself no longer naïve when answering that question.  Why do I ride?  Because, family matters, and I refuse to let these families suffer alone.

Ofc. Anthony Taylor

May 5, 2010

Why I ride?

Friday, December 28, 2001 was just a regular work day.  We were still wondering about the 9/11 attacks, I remember the weather was in the mid 60’s.  I was training a new officer who was in his second day of training.  We were at the police department when over the radio came the words “Officer down, officer down”.  The time was 8:52 am.  We ran out of the PD and headed towards the last place our motorcycle officer checked out on traffic.  I arrived at the scene to see a co-worker and friend, Michael Johns, laying on the ground.  His bike was several feet away.  He lay motionless on the ground and I could tell he was gone.  As the fire department arrived,  I contacted the command staff to inform them of what had occurred.  At the time, I was the supervisor on duty and also the accident investigator.  I began working the wreck and preparing to bury my friend.

For several days and weeks, I would drive around in a blind fog.  My wife would ask if I wanted to talk about it, but I am a Police Officer and felt I had to hold it inside.  I just did not know how to move on from that day.  I am not talking about forgetting that day, but how to stop reliving it everyday.

Eventually, I played it off as though it did not bother me any longer.  In May of 2004, I was able to ride from Virginia Beach to Washington DC during Police Week.  I arrived at the National Law Enforcement Memorial and searched out the name of Michael Johns.  His name is engraved forever on the wall on panel 17E, Line 22.  Upon finding his name, I was able to cry like I should have three years before.  It seems I just did not want to forget him, so I held him inside.  But seeing his name, I knew that I could let go.

So, in May 2010, I will participate in my 5th bike ride.  I tell people and they just do not understand.  I do not ride for self glory or satisfaction, I ride so that friends, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles that have fallen in the line of duty are not forgotten.  I ride to remember and ride for hope.  Hope that the families are taken care of and they know that their loved ones will live forever.

Friday, December 28, 2001 at 8:52 am.  I don’t know where you were that day, but I can tell you where I was and as if it was yesterday.

CPT Pletcher

May 2, 2010

Unfortunately, we hear the news far too often that we’ve lost another brother or sister in the line of duty. So it was on January 6, 2009 when I heard a Dallas Officer had been shot and killed while trying to serve an arrest warrant. I wish I could put my mourning band away long enough to have lost it but I knew exactly where it was. The next day the news had gathered what facts they cared to. Tragedy on display for cannibalistic voyeurs, indifferent bystanders, coworkers and loved ones alike. Senior Corporal Norman Smith was murdered the day before his 18th anniversary with the Dallas Police Department. Senior Corporal Smith was the “field general” for the Dallas Gang Unit. After years in the unit, he was also an expert witness in regards to gangs.

In January of 2008, I was waiting in a district attorney’s workroom for the punishment trial of two defendants that had plead guilty in attempt to work the system. These two had gone on a rampage throughout the city I worked in. In a single night, they committed five aggravated robberies that we know of, all at shotgun and pistol point. When I learned that they plead guilty and that I was there for sentencing that would be imposed by the Judge, I felt powerless. There was nothing more I could do. I had done a lot to prove whodunnit and they just stood up and said they did it. Sharing the workroom with me was a Dallas Officer. This was not unusual since the courts typically scheduled multiple trials for the day. He was a large chested man with the pale blue eyes that contrasted a sort of olive complexion. When it became obvious that the punishment phase of my case would be going, I became curious why he was there. We talked for a bit and I learned he was there for my defendants. It turned out he had seen some pictures we seized from one of the defendants’ cameras and noticed certain tattoos, clothing, signs, symbols and gestures which indicated they were gang related. A key fact that had gone entirely unnoticed by me, a young officer whose exposure to gangs was mostly limited at the time. When the defense attorney tried to paint the defendants as desperate young men short on rent money, this Dallas officer’s expert testimony showed that these young men were in fact affiliated with a gang and fascinated by a lifestyle involving guns and violence. As a part of the plea deal, the defense had put a cap on the maximum sentence the defendants could receive from the judge. The judge gave them both every day of the capped sentence. Just another day exacting justice for Senior Corporal Smith. A year later, on another day exacting justice, Senior Corporal Smith’s pale blue eyes were closed forever. He’s now walking Heaven’s beat. It is an honor to ride in memory of Senior Corporal Smith in the Inaugural Law Enforcement United Road to Hope.

Officer Kue

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