When I arrived in Washington, DC for Police Week, I expected the airport to be full of police officers and that the crowds would part in appreciation of them. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected; I just hoped I would feel it the minute I disembarked. Instead, people were going about their business as if nothing unusual was happening less than ten miles away. It wasn’t until I arrived at the hotels that the full weight of its significance hit me.
My first stop was the Hilton, housing the “survivors;” it was magnificent. The families arrived by special shuttles with a police escort – motorcycles with lights and sirens ablaze led them to the entrance. Security and understanding met them in many forms – armed personnel secured the site and other survivors awaited them. The abundance of resources, support, and love was obvious. I’ve never seen such an incredible outpouring in my life.
My job was to sell books, the money is going to the charities and I wanted them to make as much as possible. Having never written a book before, or even attended a signing, I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing. I expected to be begging people to buy my book and hoped I didn’t embarrass the people who had believed in me enough to allow me to sign books.
What I found was incredible. People had purchased the book before I arrived so they’d get a copy in fear it would sell out. Others missed me at one event and took shuttles to locations 20 minutes away just to get my signature. Some people wanted their picture taken with me and, one day, there was a line of people awaiting my arrival. It was humbling beyond belief.
What they wanted most of all was to say thank you, to be understood and to know that someone was willing to stand up and say “I understand.” I really had no idea what I had done until I arrived at Police Week. Men, women, and children hugged me, told me their stories and cried openly. Understanding is powerful, mainstream media should pay them the kind of homage they so desperately need but they simply don’t understand.
More humbling was the reason for Police Week, the survivors to whom some of the proceeds will help in their grief journey.
It was obvious who the “first years” were, the people who lost someone in 2014. The grief was apparent even when they weren’t crying. There was something about their faces and bodies that spoke volumes. The grief was raw for everyone this week, but the first years were still adjusting to their loss.
It certainly wasn’t a place for children. But they were there.
L came in with A; he is nine-years-old and much too wise. As they approached my table, L said to A, “Do you want to buy a book?” A responded, “When the time is right”. And L quickly said, “This is the right time.”
L had recently lost his father to gunfire. He was sweet, chatty and scared. He held A’s hand so tightly that his knuckles were white. As A told me that L didn’t want to tour the FBI with the other kids, I don’t think he realized it wasn’t about the tour – it was about being away from the adults. He was afraid to leave their side because another one might be gone when he returned. He needed to hold A’s hand as long as they were there.
In the end, L convinced A to buy a book. He also convinced his mom to buy one for his siblings and himself. All he asked was that I sign it to his whole family; it seemed like such an insignificant gesture for the situation and I knew that it is by pure chance my children and I aren’t standing with the survivors.
C came in a short time later with his mom – his dad has also been killed in 2014. As I watched him walk around knocking things off tables and acting out, I could see that his mother was overwhelmed. She was raw, couldn’t speak without crying, and so engulfed in her own grief that she didn’t know how to help C through his.
C saw me sitting alone and immediately got as close to me as he could, knocking a few things to the floor on his way. He put his face inches from mine, stared into my eyes and began to make noises. His mother began to panic but I waved her off. C appeared to be the same age as my boys so I said, “Minecraft or Five Nights of Freddie’s?”
He blinked, stepped back and said, “What?”
“Minecraft or Five Nights of Freddie’s?”
With that, we chatted about video games, cheats, and high scores while his mother shopped. We talked about kid stuff, and not about grief. He helped me pick up the books and quietly left when his mother was done shopping. For a few minutes C was seen as just a boy, not the boy of a dead man. It gave him a few moments of respite before he had to continue finding his way in his new world.
It took every ounce of energy to remain at that table for the next few hours to be thanked for a book by people who had given their loved ones and their normalcy.
As I sat there and watched thousands of people mourn, I thought about the fallacy of perception. People believe that only a few officers are killed in the line of duty. The truth is, thousands more are collateral damage, and, as all the “survivor” hotels were booked solid, I knew that society doesn’t really know what these officers gave.
To Concerns Of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), I’d give you my soul if I thought it would help you do more, but I think you’ve got it all covered. The blue family has a beautiful blanket of love, warmth, and understanding that is wrapped around them when, God forbid, someone severs one of the links in the thin blue line. C.O.P.S. is there for them forever. They are a gift that can never be described; I am honored to have witnessed it.