This is My Community: This is My Family
I am a resident of Monroe County, and on Friday, September 12th 2014, the lives of my fellow residents were altered when suspect Eric Frein directed the intentions of his rebellion against two Pennsylvania State Troopers in Pike County, PA. Since then, I have been on a terrible emotional journey that has encompassed fear, a bit of paranoia, and a heavy sadness. I am not sad because I’m a former cop and a brother was murdered. I am saddened because the life of a person, a human being, was unnecessarily brought to a brutally violent end. To many, Bryon was a Trooper, a police officer and symbol of authority. But to others he was a friend, a father, a husband, and a son. I did not know him, but there was a time in my career when I would have risked my life to defend him.
Risking it All
Over the past 10 days, I have witnessed three identical events that have almost moved me to tears. Despite the lockdown issued for my entire county, I still had to commute to work. On three of my morning drives, I saw lights in the distance. They first started as a small twinkle but quickly and silently grew into a blaze of blue and red atop a convoy of police vehicles, 10 – 20 in total, racing toward the manhunt. Despite the sirens, there was a silent serenity about them and I found myself remembering what it felt like to go; when the call came to respond to a violent incident. I would find an inner calm, despite the raging voice of fear in my head. I often wanted to turn and run to the safety of my home had it not been for the voices of my fellow officers, my friends, who were racing as fast as I was to help someone in need. As I pulled to the side of the road today to let a convoy pass, I was reminded of those feelings and of an even greater call. I remembered 9-11, and the many lives we lost. I remembered watching officers and firemen calmly walk back into the towers, telling cameras there were still people who needed help. I remembered moments later, watching those towers fall. Despite the fear I felt on that day, I wished I was there as well.
Fear and Hatred
Since Trooper Dickson was killed, I have been glued to the Internet and police scanner, desperate for information. When it first started, I was terrified for my family and fearful that Frein was hiding in my community, waiting for an opportunity to shoot his way into my home. Through my endless hours of scrolling through Facebook, I became appalled at so many of the threads I was reading and the sudden surge in #PoliceState comments filled with such malice and hatred for a community of helpers I care so deeply for.
Patriotism & the Disconnect
I am a patriot. I served my country proudly in the United States Army and returned home wanting to continue my service as a police officer because I believe in the potential of what this world can be. I have come to know police officers as some of the most caring and selfless people I have ever met, despite the façade of a hardened exterior. As a civilian and urban educator, however, I have realized a strong disconnect between police officers and the citizens they swore to protect. This disconnect bothered me so much that I spent 5 ½ years writing my memoir, hoping that the honest insight into my mind and feelings would help bridge this terrible divide that seems to grow with each new posting of an anti-cop YouTube video.
Police Corruption & Poor PR
Corrupt cops exist. They have done some terrible things, and hurt many innocent people. But they are not the majority. They are a select few in a fraternity of selfless warriors who are just barely staying ahead of a barrage of hatred and violence in their everyday lives; and they are terrible at public relations. They fail to promote their good deeds on YouTube and Facebook because cops are humble creatures. In some cases they choose not to put videos and pictures of themselves online for fear of a bad guy using it to later target and harm them. As a result of such humbleness and Internet silence, they are losing the war.
What started as a war of information is rapidly becoming a rebellion with violence. As I stated in an earlier article, I encouraged departments to improve their community outreach programs. I put the burden on police to fix this growing divide because as officers, that is our main function: to provide a safe environment for all members of our communities. This also includes identifying those officers who give all cops a bad name and dealing with them appropriately. But I fear we are beyond that point now. I fear the information war of propaganda and exploitation of select incidents has moved from the passive to the active phase with 4 targeted acts of violence against police by so-called revolutionaries since May 2014.
Society: Today & Tomorrow
As I sit in my home wondering when the current manhunt will end, I am thinking about our society. How did we get here and where are we going? To those who are angry at the growing “police state,” I caution you. I caution you not as a threat, but as a plea to readjust your focus and approach for fear of what the future may hold. Remember that the police are a reactive force, trained to respond to any given threat. When faced with violence, they are trained to react violently. Please, I beg you, ask yourself what you want. Do you want to live in peace, with an honest and ethical police force? Or do you want a war raging in your back yard with guns, death, and violence? I’m not going to debate who is in the wrong, or who started what, but I am going to say that the responsibility rests with all of us to fix it. We, the entire community encompassing police and citizens, need to start a dialogue and develop new methods of training, communication, and trust between citizens and police, holding the values of discussion over aggression, honesty over deceit, and reflection over deception.
I challenge the citizens to think about the bigger picture. With each cop-hating image or video you post, you fill the magazine of a revolutionary’s rifle. With each thread you share, you bring the alleged police state one step closer to reality, not because of the actions of the police, but because of your reactions to them. The Internet is a powerful tool, and has demonstrated its ability to manipulate the minds of countless Americans. I understand your frustration with the actions of police officers. I understand your fear and anger when it appears an officer goes undisciplined for his or her actions. But I implore you to find a peaceful solution. For it is the actions of our citizens that will drive the reactions of our police officers. One only has to look at the North Hollywood Bank Shootout that occurred on February 28, 1997 to understand this concept. Two men wearing body armor and carrying automatic weapons of war introduced a level of combat never before seen by law enforcement. As a reaction to that incident, more high caliber rifles were issued to departments along with armored vehicles and the support of the public.
When I left the police department in 2008, I was charged with the responsibility to be a good witness; not for the police but for my community. That meant something to me, and I’ve done the best I can. I call 911 when I see something’s wrong. I introduce myself to officers I see and encourage them to do the same among the citizens in their communities. I try to step away from the Internet and remember that these men and women with badges and guns are also friends, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. They are husbands and wives, and they are members of my community who would willingly risk their own life to save the life of someone they never met.
As citizens we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and take ownership for the state of our society. Get involved. Build your community, and please, discourage acts of war. As I said in the beginning, I am terribly saddened by all of this; at the loss of life of another human being. And I can’t help but to wonder, if Eric Frein is killed, how much pain that will cause his parents, despite his terrible acts. Will the citizens cheer at his death, or make jokes about this man? I can only wonder what that must feel like: to mourn the death of your child while the world cheers in victory…