A Call to Building Bridges
“I love you, be safe.” These words are a reminder of how my Nana waved me off and how I bid my loved ones farewell for 22 years…. I left home each day anxious to do good in our world — to protect my assigned and adopted communities.
But my joy was tempered by the sad reality check that occurred three years ago when I attended an art show at the Brecht Forum in New York City. A skit was being performed and at the end of the skit a police officer was shot and killed. Most of the young adults in the room cheered and clapped. It was at this moment that I recognized how much I was hated and feared by the very community I vowed to protect and serve.
After 22 years of service as a law enforcement officer in New York City, I had been looking forward to retiring on New Year’s Eve. I reported to duty on Christmas Eve feeling light-hearted, knowing this would be my last Christmas Eve serving. I was praying for a quiet evening for myself and for my fellow officers.
However, I was quickly reminded of the sacrifices law enforcement officers make everyday, even on Christmas Eve. A bulletin from the FBI flashed across my computer screen informing me that an officer was shot and killed in Tupelo, Mississippi. Corporal Kevin Gale Stauffer of the Tupelo police department was fatally wounded while attempting to apprehend suspects in a bank robbery. Officer Joseph Maher, his partner, was critically wounded. The suspects were thus far unapprehended. I paused for a moment of silence to honor my fallen brother. Deeply saddened, my thoughts went to his family. I was not really sure if Santa was coming to his home or if the story of the birth of Jesus was going to be told, but I knew for sure that the holidays would forever be different for this family. In addition, I soon found out he had left a wife and two children ages 2 and 6, on Christmas Eve.
While this tragic story was unfolding, a parallel light was emerging in this dark hour. Imagine this! A civilian bystander, who had witnessed this senseless act of violence, approached the two shot officers who lay there on the pavement, and quickly took action. The bystander picked up the officer’s radio and called for help! Help quickly arrived. The mayor proclaimed that this one brave heroic act saved Officer Maher’s life.
There was a profound sense of gratitude that the community and I had for this unidentified bystander. There was also an emergence of love, kindness, and compassion for the officers’ families. I wondered how, as a faith community, we build and sustain this type of powerful oneness of community even in the face of fear, the sense of betrayal, and the possible prejudice of the very people who are here to protect and serve us.
I am hopeful that we can create change by communication and the demonstration of one’s humanity overcoming one’s hatred and fear.
Guided by my spirit and faith I am ready to open up this conversation. I invite my fellow Unitarian Universalists and all other faith communities to join me. I am not asking you to forgive or forget. I am asking you to be open to allow our faith to heal the wounds that exist. I am standing waiting to listen, to be honest, and to share my journey as a law enforcement officer. Let us build this bridge together with love, kindness, compassion, and honesty, so that we can be part of a forever-changing world by creating a united oneness.
SEE YOU ON THE BRIDGE!