In San Jose, Calif., Michael Johnson — a 14-year veteran of SJPD — was shot and killed by a madman on a balcony with a high-power rifle. He was answering a call about a suicidal male.
Earlier in the day, in Fond du Loc, Wisconsin, a yet-to-be-identified state trooper, was killed during a bank robbery gone awry.
Two men in one day, killed in the line of duty, their lives snuffed out just like that, their families left behind to suffer through the pain and loss.
Most of us, I think it’s fair to say, have love/hate relationships with police officers.
The police. Cops. Boys in Blue. Po-po. The Fuzz. Pigs. Flat-feet. Doughnut eaters.
Pick your adjective and depending upon your mood — did you just receive a ticket? — you might have uttered one of those words.
Growing up, my best friends’ father was a police officer. Overall, I think he was a good man, though, in the end I learned as I grew up he had made his fair share of mistakes, too. He’s human. Aren’t we all?
One time, when I was on a date in high school, I got into a minor car accident in the parking lot of a movie theater. The driver of the car I hit was going a bit berserk, and being a bit of an aggressive asshole to the scared the kid who had accidentally ran into his car.
When the police officer showed up to write up the report, it was my best friends’ dad, and the driver of the other car decided to get into my face one too many times.
He was the one who came close to winding up in cuffs. I got a wink and a nod from Officer Curtis. They say there’s never a cop around when you need one. Well, once in a while, there is. Thankfully.
Over the years, I’ve had the honor to sit down and have in-depth talks, interviews really, with two police officers — one of who was shot in the line of duty; the other who shot and killed a man during a stand-off.
It was during these emotional discussions when you truly understand the mind-set of what it means to be a police officer; especially when you line-up the two incidents side-by-side, separated by decades and two different police departments.
One officer gets shot and survives and wonders why none of his fellow officers fired back at the suspect. The second officer shoots and kills a man seconds after the deceased had opened fire on him and his brothers.
Hearing those two stories were both very special moments in my journalism career as both police officers seemed to open their hearts and souls to talk about things with me. They are interviews I’ve never forgotten.
But, I’ve also witnessed first hand the darker side of police work, too.
When I was in my 20s, I was once actually thrown up against the side of a police car by an over-aggressive officer who was proving his macho authority to a young kid; shoved so hard that my eye glasses literally flew off of my face and across the roof his car. My transgression? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time as they were looking for somebody who matched the description of me and most of my friends.
I’ve witnessed two different police officers working the same case literally tell two different suspects blatant lies in order to investigate whatever incident they were working. Just totally making things up and not even coming close to telling the truth. Why? Because the Supreme Court gives police officers the right to lie to us to get what they want.
Of course I say this is the darker side of police work, but what do I really know?
Watch movies and study history and you learn of the disgusting acts of Sheriff Jim Clark, or the four Los Angeles police officers who beat the living shit out of Rodney King, only to get away with it thanks to a jury of their peers.
There have been corrupt cops since the beginning of time, but there are also cops who will run into a burning building to help firemen save lives, or jump into a raging river in order to save a drowning young boy, or if you’re respectful and nice will let you off with a warning when you caught driving 72 in a 45 miles per hour zone at two o’clock in the morning.
When men and women put on a uniform, pin on a badge, and strap a gun around their waist, we the general public can certainly have a love/hate relationship with them.
It comes with the territory.
There are days police officers have my full respect. And there are days when police officers leave me shaking my head and disappointed in who we are as a society.
They are brave enough to do a job I would never do and they have seen things my eyes never want to witness.
And yet some of them take advantage of that badge and uniform and sully both their profession and their roles as human beings.
Like I said: Love/hate.
I understand why police officers have to pull that macho attitude with all the do-as-I-say power, I really do. After all, many of the people they are dealing with on a day-to-day basis are putting on their own act. It’s as if each side is starring in a play — or a reality show, for that matter — and putting forth an act for each others benefit. By doing that, though, it instantly creates a volatile situation that can flash into a wildfire in an instant.
But when the uniform comes off, when the gun gets locked up, and the policemen and policewomen of our world go home, they are just like you and me.
They have sons and daughters, moms and dads, wives and girlfriends. Or, boyfriends, I suppose. This is the 21st century.
My second-cousin is married to a Maine State Trooper and from everything I know of him, he is a good man. Every time he heads out to work, I can’t imagine the fear his wife and three daughters have, hoping he comes home.
Thus when you wake up on a Wednesday morning and read about two police officers far from you being gunned down and killed in cold blood, it makes you sad.
You mourn for them and their loved ones.
And you mourn yet again for the world we live in, the world we have created, where people kill people for no reason whatsoever.
It was just another Tuesday on the job, but for two police officers halfway across the country from each other, it would be the last days of their lives.
The rest of us move forward into Wednesday, vowing to make the world a better place.
But we never do.