Sunday, May 20, 2001

Taking sides

Memorial service for fallen cops

        Amazing Grace — the song not the virtue — sometimes makes me cry. Inevitably, when it is played on bagpipes.

        So I wore dark glasses to the Police Memorial Day services Friday. I didn't want to appear to be taking sides. The annual event, hard on the heels of last month's riots, began on Fountain Square, with hand-lettered signs of the rift:

        “Thank you, friends in blue.”

        “Prison for Officer Roach.”

        The politicians received tepid applause, which warmed for Police Chief Thomas Streicher. Some people didn't applaud at all. They were on the other side. And the division was not exclusively black or white.

Roster of dead

        A parade followed, down Vine and over to the police memorial on Ezzard Charles Drive. Several hundred officers and supporters, I am guessing. Seated with dignitaries was the family of Officer Kevin Crayon, the most recent name to be etched in the black granite roster of the dead.

        Officer Crayon was killed last September in an unbearably ordinary incident, essentially a traffic stop. “The everyday things are the ones that can blow up,” retired Police Chief Mike Snowden said at the time. A seventh-grader drove a car that dragged Officer Crayon to his death.

        Shot in the chest by Kevin Crayon, the youngster died, too. Had he simply surrendered, he might have been charged with something like unauthorized use of a vehicle or a curfew violation. Misdemeanors.

The city wept

        For a while, the city wept. Sometimes literally. Bagpipes skirling. Impressive funeral processions. Flowers piled up at the feet of the bronze police officer at memorial plaza.

        But then another death. Some might say another unbearably ordinary incident. That same dangerous time — the “power shift” they call it — from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. when a 19-year-old man with 14 outstanding warrants, mostly traffic violations, was shot and killed while running from police officers.

        Sides have been taken.

        “Be dignified,” Col. Streicher warned his troops Friday. And he told the crowd that officers intended to protect us all, no matter which side we were on. His final word to police officers before the procession began: “Be humbled by the people who have come here today to support us.”

        An honor guard fired the customary salute. I was watching the mounted patrol. Almost as one, the horses jumped — startled but not scared. Their training showed.

        You could see it all from the elevated walkway across from District 1 headquarters. The riderless horse, a black cloak sweeping the ground behind him, boots backward in the stirrups. The signs. The movement of protesters. The answering movement of the white hats.

        The crowd that refused to be baited by protesters, facing steadily forward. Protesters who were not, for the most part, disruptive. And men and women in white shirts and hats, ignoring some ugly muttering, their training showing.

        Undoubtedly, there are bad police officers. Statistically, it's nearly guaranteed. But on this muggy day the speeches, the bagpipes, the flowers, the citations are for the ones who died serving us, leaving behind their kids, their spouses. The day was in honor of peace keepers who allow us the amazing grace of ordinary days.

        I took off my dark glasses. It was impossible not to take their side.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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