When the “Officer down!” call goes out, his going home may well mean going home on the other side of death, where eternal life is that from which we are exiled on this earth until we join those who lead the way.
In honor of those who have led the way, I re-post this speech given by yours truly at our local “Officer Down!” Memorial Dinner which the town helped us put on at the end of Police Week this past Spring:
Just the other day, our friends at the FBI reported that police feloniously killed in the line of duty is up 89%. Up 89% in unrelated incidents, unrelated except for an un-American spirit of division which has made such violence possible. Those who facilitate this disintegrating culture say that to honor our law officers who died in the line of duty is partisan politics, that to honor our law officers who laid down their lives that we might live is vicious racism, that to honor our law officers who made the supreme sacrifice in the service of everyone in these United States of America is outdated and dirty patriotism, that to honor our law officers who wash away the dangers of terrorism with a flood of their own blood is religious discrimination. It has been said that to honor those who served honorably is tantamount to deceit, tricking people into overlooking one or another mistake among a million acts of kindness, the reason, it is maliciously said, why we must not have any law officers and, indeed, why all law officers must be killed.
And yet, these are also the people served and protected by our law officers by safeguarding the rule of law, the principle of E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.” No one could possibly feel more betrayed by an ideological spirit of division than our officers of the law who, with honesty, integrity and service as a way of life, are willing at any moment to lay down their own lives in death on behalf of this unity. Our law officers’ enthusiasm is to hold to the rule of law, and we the people of these United States are indignant with today’s hateful prejudice against law officers. We say that our officers putting themselves on the front lines protecting all of us is also appropriately a religious duty. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:3). The great Law Giver, the Great Unifier said that when He was to be lifted up on the Cross, He would draw all to Himself. E pluribus unum.
We the people of these United States say that patriotism, respecting and cherishing our country, is not an evil, but is manifestly a gracious invitation that is extended without political, racial or any other kind of discrimination, an invitation for all to have the joy of being good citizens, helpful to each other, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice, the benefit of law for all. This is what our law officers stand for, live for, die for. Every day we are the beneficiaries of our active and fallen law officers of the judicial and executive branches of government. While they do their work, we enjoy security and another day to live. They also want to live, but just by the fact of showing up for work day-in, day-out, night-in, night-out, always on call, officers who are alive today are making the statement that they are willing at any moment to be called out to dispatch, “Officer down! Another officer down!” It behooves all to know that of the 51 officers murdered this past year, only six attempted to draw their weapons, seven had their weapons stolen, one being killed with his own weapon. Where else does that happen in the world? How very much our peace officers want peace!
They can suffer debilitating life-long injuries. And with the intensity of training, of foot pursuit of an armed felon, or of a hostage situation, or of an out of control domestic dispute, officers can and do suffer fatal heart attacks. The last thing that someone serving others wants to see is rancor, discord, and violence. Vehicular pursuit of those dangerous to themselves and others can end all too suddenly, all too permanently. Assassinations, shootouts, aggravated assault all bring in the call to the dispatcher: “Officer down!” There are still officers to this day succumbing to cancer contracted during selfless service in the toxic dust and smoke of September 11, 2001. Some tours of duty run for decades. Some for just a few weeks. The day of the End of Watch, the day of the call to dispatch: “Officer down!” … comes on average every 50-some hours year-in, year-out. If officers come to work at peril of their own lives even while they continuously see the worst side of humanity, and sometimes the best, it is because they have hope that they can make a difference in life, in death, forever vigilant.
But here’s the deal: if we take pride in our officers who laid down their lives in the line of duty, this is nothing on our part unless we also take the challenge to try to live up to their good example, to live with the spirit of the honesty, integrity and service with which they died. We are to be forever vigilant with them. When our officers give their lives in localized unrepeatable circumstances, they nevertheless give their lives for the entire country. They make their own the words of revolutionary patriot Nathan Hale: “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country.”
We will now have the End of Watch proclamation. Our telecommunicator at central dispatch, […], will read the name, and how many years old the officer was, and the End of Watch date. Sergeant […] will read the length of the Tour of Duty and, in just a few words, the cause of death. We begin with five included from past years from our local area, lest we forget. This most solemn reading will take but thirty minutes. In the intensity of this short time our hope is renewed. For every “Officer Down!” we have hope that another of our officers has gone up to heaven where E pluribus unum reigns supreme, where the greatest love for one’s friends reigns supreme. Remember in your prayers also the surviving parents, spouses, children, friends, and fellow officers.
— Father George David Byers