There is going to be a funeral in Aiken today. My husband and I are attending, as will be thousands of others from around the country. Most of us in attendance have never met the woman we are saying goodbye to but all of us know her. You see, what happened was that our sleepy little Southern town has lost another police officer to gun violence. Master Corporal Sandy Rogers will be laid to rest in the same manner and with the same honors that were bestowed upon Officer Scotty Richardson only six very short weeks ago.
There is going to be a service, held at the Convocation Center of the University of South Carolina in Aiken. After this ends, there will be a procession which will take her to the cemetery. Miles of flashing blue strobe lights will light the way en route. Residents and business owners will line the streets bowing their heads out of respect as she passes. Those of us who once wore a badge and those who still do will salute. When the hearse reaches the front of the police station on Laurens Street, her casket will be carried by her brother officers to a caisson, pulled by two horses wearing black plumes. A group of bagpipers will walk behind, playing “Amazing Grace”.
Prayers will be said graveside. Taps will be played and a flag will be placed into the arms of her grieving family by the Director of Public Safety. There will be a volley of rifle rounds fired in salute. Then the police dispatcher will call out her Unit number, three times, each time without response. Her watch is over.
Many of us will share a beer or two, swapping “war” stories and jokes, anything to avoid talking about we have just been through. It is a police officer’s unspoken fear, every day. On these solemn and tragic occasions, we ask each other “What do we do now?” The answer is always the same – “We go on”. Everyday the possibility exists but you don’t allow those thoughts to linger for long because you have to go to work. For those of us who are retired, we are grateful that we have survived. Everyone of us will hold our spouses, parents and children just a little tighter.
This is neither the time or place for trying to offer any reason or make sense of this. That is best left to a time when hearts are healing. It is a discussion for people who will need to make decisions about how this town, its government and its officers work, together, to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
I’m writing this before we leave the house to join the others, so I apologize for writing in the future tense. I didn’t think that I could do it afterwards. It was hard enough just getting our badges out of storage again and placing that black band around them. I might have “revenge” or “Top Chef” playing on my television tonight, maybe not. Chefs and judges and the problems of Amanda Clarke won’t really matter for one night.
I’m going to ask you for a favor on behalf of all of these men and women who I respect and love dearly. If you happen to pass by one these public servants as you go about your days, stop and say “thank you”. Trust me, they’ll understand and they don’t hear it nearly enough.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012