Some politician once described the Port Authority Police Department as a bunch of “glorified mall cops.” Well, he should have been there on September 11, 2001 when I watched my friends and colleagues charge repeatedly into one hundred stories of burning steel and concrete.
For a lot of us, this was the second time we’d rushed into those Towers following a terrorist attack. Back in 1993, it had been bad, but not like this. I saw things on 9/11 I wish I didn’t remember; but then again, I also saw things that day I hope I’ll never forget. So I guess it’s true that sometimes it takes the worst of circumstances to bring out the best of mankind.
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Christmas message from son of slain police officer: Why I Can't Breathe (12/24/2014)
I can’t breathe. It’s December 22, 2014, approximately 10:30 Eastern Time, and I’m short of breath. You see, I always get uncomfortable at about this time, even though it’s been thirty four years. Thirty four years during which I’ve grown from a devastated six year old boy to a forty year old man with a son of my own. A son named after a grandfather he’ll never know, because thirty four years ago his grandfather, Port Authority Police Department Patrolman William Perry was gunned down while simply trying to do his job so he could go home and spend Christmas with his family.
Let me be perfectly clear: there is no excuse for excessive police brutality. A single life lost is one too many, and my greatest wish is that there be no further mistakes. But I do wonder if we don’t lose sight of the fact that police work is an inherently dangerous job. Maybe if we all had to walk a mile in a cop’s shoes, had to feel that ever present nagging fear that maybe this is it, maybe this traffic stop or this arrest is the one where I come across the madman with a gun, well maybe then we wouldn’t be so quick to condemn the actions of people that risk their lives every day as they do their best to keep us safe. Are they perfect? No, far from it. But they do their best and society is far better because of them.
Let me be perfectly clear: my heart aches for the parents of Michael Brown and the wife and children of Eric Garner. Now, this is the part of the article where the writer usually says something along the lines of “I can’t even begin to imagine their pain.” But unfortunately, I can. And it really doesn’t matter that I am white and they are black, or that my dad was a cop and their loved ones weren’t. We all grieve in the same way. Loss is loss. Tragedy is tragedy.
And murder is murder. And now we have two more cops, senselessly gunned down for no reason. Targeting two people sitting in a car and then executing them in cold blood is murder, pure and simple. Put aside for a moment the uniforms they wore and see them just as people. People undoubtedly looking forward, just like so many of us, to completing their shift so they could get to the mall and finish their Christmas shopping.
People, just like so many of us, looking forward to Christmas and the look on their children’s faces when they came down those stairs and saw those presents under the tree. I often wonder about my own father’s final moments, as he lay there gasping his last breaths three days before Christmas, and I can’t help but think of how sad he must have been, not only for himself, but for the six year old son and four year old daughter for whom there would be no Christmas that year.
And now we have more families for whom Christmas has been cancelled, and the endless cycle of violence continues. When will it stop? Why do people behave this way? Everything we need to know about Ismaaiyl Brinsley can be summed up by the fact that he subsequently took the ultimate cowards way out by killing himself rather than facing the consequences of his unconscionable sins. Decent people of faith will no doubt take comfort in the fact that he is undoubtedly now facing sentence in the final court, the one from which there are no appeals.
For the rest of us, we are left to grieve with the widows and children, the parents and siblings, the friends and colleagues of both cops and citizens. So if you’re a cop today, I know better than most that it’s a hard job, but please try even harder. And if you’re an ordinary citizen and you get a chance today, thank a police officer officer for their service, just like you would a member of the armed forces.
And while you’re at it, please keep my mom and sister in your thoughts and prayers. Because no matter what they say, time doesn’t heal all wounds, and losing your husband or father isn’t really the kind of thing you ever completely get over.
And that’s why I can’t breathe today.