The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks shone a white-hot spotlight on several defining characteristics about American society. One of them – perhaps most important of all – is the reassurance that, when our security is threatened, Americans become as one, setting aside political, cultural and other differences to stand united against those who seek to do our nation and its citizens harm.
Another important reality the tragic attacks illuminated is the remarkable bravery and fortitude in the face of danger shown by the nation’s first responders in the course of their daily service. Knowing the situation was unsafe – yet not privy to how truly and unimaginably perilous it was – they rushed in to aid the men and women who desperately needed their help.
In other words, they did the jobs they were sworn to do.
More than 400 first responders – 343 firefighters and 60 police officers – made the ultimate sacrifice that day. In the weeks, months and years that followed, a grateful nation solemnly paid tribute in words, thoughts and silent prayers to the heroism shown by those first responders on that horrible day, and thanked them for all they do on a daily basis.
What a difference 14 years makes.
Today, the post September 11 sentiment of admiration and respect has turned to a growing sense of mistrust, disrespect – and even danger.
Six officers were killed in August alone; so far this year, a total of 25 peace officers have been killed across the nation, approaching the 30 who were killed in 2014. Just this past Sunday, two Las Vegas police officers were ambushed as they sat in their patrol car at a traffic signal; fortunately, neither one received serious injuries and the suspect was apprehended without the officers discharging their weapons.
The shocking, indiscriminate violence has left families, departments and the communities they serve reeling.
“The hate for police right now is none like I’ve ever experienced in the past 21 years,” wrote a Los Angeles Police Department officer on social media. “I have never brutalized or beat anybody, but people look at me in uniform now like I am scum… it hurts!”
These are scary and stressful jobs, and the vast majority of police officers and firefighters serve their communities honorably.
Actual instances of abuse are rare – a miniscule fraction of the millions of interactions first responders have with the public every day.
Not as rare are instances where first responders have saved lives, solved crimes and make a difference in their communities.
It’s disappointing that men and women just like those who raced without hesitation into the World Trade Centers 14 years ago are being portrayed as villains.
Every day, police officers and firefighters show up to work never really knowing what dangers may await them. But in the name of public service – and in honor of the oaths they swore to uphold – they must face the day with courage.
For that reason and so many others, please take a moment today to consider what it’s like to be a police officer or firefighter. Imagine racing into a dark alley in the middle of the night to talk to gang members who may be armed. Imagine carrying 50 pounds of gear in 100-degree heat to battle a wild fire that threatens homes.
Underneath those uniforms are people.
“If one person waves and smiles or give you a thumbs up during a shift it lifts your spirits,” the LAPD officer wrote.
If you see a man or woman in uniform – not just today, any day, please thank them.
It makes a difference.