This holiday season, I found myself thinking about our men and women in blue, who had a very tough year.
An article appeared in last week’s Wall Street Journal titled “The Hidden Hurt of Life on the Beat” that poignantly described the lasting trauma that some officers face after being involved in what can politely be described as a hair-raising incident, and which often results in their injury.
The article stated that in 2015, over 50,000 officers were assaulted—an increase of 2.5 percent from 2014.
As I read this, I was reminded of a harrowing story that I heard from a federal agent I used to work with. He told me that he left the police force to join the federal service after he entered a home and encountered somebody who was high on drugs and doing something unspeakable to a baby who subsequently died.
Even though this traumatic incident had occurred years beforehand, his pain was still palpable, and I have certainly not forgotten it.
As Graham Campbell, a former officer with the New York Police Department, put it: “That’s what a cop’s job is: to swallow the sorrows of humanity—from the banal to the truly tragic—and to return to work the next day and do it all over again.”
Many officers, of course, do not return to work the next day, but end up paying the ultimate sacrifice. In 2015, 41 officers were shot and killed in the line of duty. With a few days to go, 64 officers have suffered the same fate this year (and one lies in critical condition as I am writing this).
Although police officers are deserving of our respect, they often face scorn. This past year, protesters affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement marched through the streets of St. Paul shouting, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.” Protestors in New York City chanted, “What do we want? Dead Cops! When do we want it? Now!” A group called the African American Defense League urged its followers to “hold a barbeque” and “sprinkle Pigs Blood!”
After five police officers were slain in Dallas, a man in Detroit posted on his Facebook page that “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter. Kill all white cops.” As Heather Mac Donald, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute and author of “The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe,” has reported, when police officers go to make arrests in inner city neighborhoods, they are often surrounded by angry mobs who curse and throw things at them.
Are all police officers perfect? Of course not—but then again, who is? Are there some bad apples among police forces? Yes, just as there are in every other walk of life, although there are far fewer that the critics of law enforcement would have you believe.
Nonetheless, what makes police officers, like fire fighters and soldiers, unique is that they run toward danger while others run away, so that the rest of us might be safe from harm.
There is a monument in Washington, D.C., that every visitor to our nation’s capital should see. It is the National Police Officers Memorial. It consists of two curving marble walls containing the names of more than 20,000 officers who have been killed in the line of duty throughout our nation’s history.
At the beginning of each pathway is a statue of a lion protecting its cubs—a symbol beseeching the divine to keep those who wear the badge safe from harm and a symbol of how the police protect us from harm.
Below the statues are carved quotations, including one from Vivian Eney Cross, whose 37-year-old husband, Sgt. Christopher Eney, was killed in the line of duty in 1984, leaving her alone to raise their children, Shannen and Heather. The engraving reads: “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.”
Here’s hoping that no new names are added to that wall in 2017.
So as the holiday season winds to a close, say a prayer for the men and women in blue. I will be hoping and praying that next year will be a better one for them than this year was. As the carol goes:
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep (peace on earth, peace on earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men
Note: This piece was revised to include an updated statistic on police deaths in 2015.