Tuesday, January 17, 2017

People With a Mission

We suffered a loss here at The Home Office over the holidays when The Sole Heir’s uncle died way before his time at age 44. I didn’t know Shawn all that well. He came on the family scene well after TSH’s mother and I separated and I only saw him at family functions. What I saw was a gregarious and easygoing man who adored his family. I never had less than a pleasant experience with Shawn—his Ravens fandom notwithstanding—and I’m sorry we didn’t spend more time together. (We’re not going down that road. The list of people an introvert wishes he’d spent more time with is substantial.)

This post is less to talk about Shawn than his funeral. He was a highly-respected sergeant in the Baltimore Police Department. “Everyone is ‘highly-respected’ at their funeral,” you’d say, and you’d be right. Compliments and platitudes flow like water off a steep hill at such occasions. The BPD put its money where its mouth was. Shawn’s funeral was an hour north off Baltimore. The commissioner, two chiefs, a lieutenant made noteworthy by the fact he was a supervisor in David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, and a retired sergeant who flew in from Colorado for the event, all spoke. Shawn’s first assignment was the Western District in the days when the Western built the reputation that moved Simon to use it as the setting for The Wire. The chief who’d commanded him back in the day said he would have referred to Shawn as a gentle giant, except too many drug dealers feared him. For that many people to go that far out of their way puts to rest any thoughts of kind words as platitudes.

We’ve all seen police funerals on the news. An officer dies in the line of duty and cops from all over the country show up. Shawn died at home from heart failure. Still, he was on The Job even though off-shift at the time, and about a hundred officers of every rank showed up in dress uniforms and white gloves to send him off. A piper played them in, several spoke—along with Shawn’s grandfather and son, and a preacher everyone could have lived without—and the piper played Amazing Grace as Shawn’s remains were replaced in the hearse. Many of the cops shed tears while standing at attention while the pall bearers placed the casket in the hearse. Men—and women—one could be sure had busted their share of heads in their time and would do so again. The scene was touching beyond words, and I’ll not attempt to find any.

The words I can find have to do with the obvious bond cops feel toward each other. Their brother officer ended his journey with those he cared about and who cared about him in return. I doubt those of us who have not been either first responders or in military combat positions have a true understanding of what it means to know someone has your back like that. No breast-beating. More than a few smiles. A solemnity overhung everyone there as the cops’ respect and affection extended to all who’d come to pay their respects to their fallen comrade. Every civilian-police interaction I saw that day had a bit of it.

This is a difficult time in civilian-police relations. It is not a whitewashing to remember cops are the people who run toward trouble when the rest of us can’t get away fast enough. They’re the ones who listen to our bitching when they don’t get there as fast as we want them to. They’re not perfect except in how they reflect the greater community they serve, for better or worse. Cops come from the community at large. Much of the friction felt between cops and civilians may be due to the fact that cops respect their peers better than we respect our own.

Speaking of showing respect, Mission BBQ more than holds up its end. Shawn’s funeral was early in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Good luck arranging for a caterer on a few days’ notice. Not only did the York Mission BBQ step up, they donated everything for the meal, providing food for 150 guests, including delivery and set-up. It’s a standard service they provide for first responders. If you’re out and about and hungry, give them a try. The food is good and though it may be a little more expensive than some other places, remember where that money goes. (And they pay their employees a living wage. It’s a no tipping restaurant.)


pattinase (abbott) said...

It sounds like your daughter, the police department (and you) lost a special person. That is way too young to die.

Dana King said...

He was a good man and by all accounts a good cop. His daughters are treasures, both of them.