Thursday, August 08, 2019 - Updated: 2:39 pm
To be honest, I don’t have the chance or the time to watch much TV, with one exception. Every Friday eve (when it airs), I have my DVR set to record the latest installment of “Blue Bloods.” This long-running CBS series stars Tom Selleck as the patriarch of a blue-collar Catholic family that includes three generations of New York City law enforcement officers.
The characters struggle with moral and political questions and dilemmas as they seek to keep the residents of the “Big Apple” safe from harm. They gather in prayer around the dinner table each week to mull over these questions with each other and seek God’s guidance. None of them is perfect, but they strive in difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching circumstances to protect and to serve.
The civic and religious devotion of that fictional family came to mind last week as our city and our news were filled with all-too-real news of violence and vitriol aimed at police.
On the very day that Pittsburgh Police Officer Calvin Hall was laid to rest — after he was shot in the back off-duty while trying to calm a rowdy block party — an alleged drug dealer in Ross Township shot and wounded an undercover officer from the state Office of the Attorney General during a sting operation. Meanwhile, in New York City, police officers were doused with buckets of water — and one was struck in the head by the bucket — as an expression of derision.
Making communities better, safer
None of these appear to be officers who were suspected of abusing the power of their uniform. The attacks — deadly and otherwise — were attacks on the spirit of service that inspires some people to rush toward danger to protect the rest of us.
From all that I have heard, Officer Hall, who was just 36 and engaged to be married, was a model of what the future of policing should be. In an era when the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of some police who abuse their power have led a number of people of color to fear the uniform, Officer Hall was an African-American who embraced both the uniform and those who were at loose ends in some of this region’s most distressed African-American neighborhoods.
“His compassion for others and the love he had for others was like no other,” his sister, Eugenia Hall Miller, said at his funeral. “He was determined to build a bridge between civilians and police officers.”
His death affects Pittsburghers of every color and background because he stood to make this community better for all of us.
In the shooting in Ross, officers who returned the suspect’s fire fatally wounded him. But as soon as the suspect fell, police officers performed chest compressions, trying hard to save the life of the man who had shot their colleague. Though forced to defend themselves, they recognized his humanity and acted as public servants.
While the New York City officers were hit with water rather than bullets, their treatment illustrates the heart of the matter. They were judged for the uniform they wore. There is no indication that they had abused their power as they tried to keep peace among people cooling off from sweltering heat in the spray of a fire hydrant. They walked away quietly, with dignity, in their soaked uniforms. Some of their superiors criticized them for not retaliating. But to my eyes, they demonstrated the forbearance that Jesus preached, refusing to strike back at those who treated them unjustly.
Sept. 11 heroes
Lately, our nation has experienced too many ugly incidents in which people are judged by color: the color of their uniform, the color of their skin, or of the flag that their parents or grandparents were born under. We are all one people: we are all children of God. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prayed that we would judge each other not by outward appearance, but by the content of our character. In all of these incidents police officers demonstrated conduct that was intended to serve others, to make their lives better, to prevent violence, to remove poisons from our streets, to bring peace.
When I think of real New York City police officers — not the fictional ones on my favorite show — my mind goes back to Sept. 11, 2001, when hundreds of them rushed into danger to rescue others from the World Trade Center. They acted without regard to color, social status or immigration status. In the billowing debris clouds of the collapsing towers, they were all one ashen color: the color of wounded humanity.
In June, one of those New York City police officers testified before Congress about the deadly illnesses that so many of those who were first responders and recovery workers at the toxic site have since suffered. Retired New York Police Department bomb squad detective Luis Alvarez was an immigrant who literally gave his life in service to make his city and our nation a better, safer place. He died June 29 at age 53, of cancer that has been linked to the World Trade Center site, where he labored for months. His last act was to successfully lobby Congress to replenish the fund that provides compensation for the living and dying victims of 9/11.
In an interview on Fox News days before his death, he explained that he was only doing his job when he rushed toward danger: “It’s my job as an NYPD detective to respond to emergencies,” he said. “So no hesitation. I’m no one special, and I did what all the other guys did. Now we are paying the price for it.”
Police officers are not the only ones who serve you and me by risking their lives. Firefighters do so, our military do so, many medical professionals do so, as do the PennDOT workers who repair roads while too many cars speed past. Countless others give their precious time and energy to make our communities better and stronger, and to ensure we have the services we need: teachers, utility workers, bus drivers, construction workers, cooks, delivery people and countless others make our lives better each day.
It’s time to stop making assumptions about others based on the color of their uniform, their skin tone, their hairstyle or their heritage. Let’s be aware of each individual as a child of God. Let’s think about the ways that they make our lives better through the work that they do. And let’s be especially grateful to those who run toward danger to protect us.