It was less than one minute into the ceremony when my lip began to quiver. I didn’t even make it to the first introduction listed in the program.
The mood had been set.
A choir was singing something I didn’t recognize, but it was evidently melancholy; hundreds of formally-dressed officers were surrounding the rows of empty seats, standing straight with their arms crossed behind their backs in the scorching sun; countless American flags were blowing in the wind; a police motorcade was parked in an adjacent lot, their entrance certainly heard miles away while those of us close-by watched in silent agony.
And then the family members — those left behind when their loved ones were killed during an otherwise “normal” day at work — were escorted to their seats.
Some were dressed in black, others wearing floral sundresses on the nearly 90-degree afternoon. A couple of them had been widowed for just a year, while others were attending this ceremony as a survivor for the 20th year.
But, they all shared the same, pained look. It’s an expression worn by only those who have experienced the utmost trauma of losing a loved one, whose dreams of the future have been shattered.
This year was the first time I attended the Ohio Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremony, held annually at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London.
“If you haven’t gone, you must,” reporter Dean Shipley instructed me a few weeks ago while we were scheduling some conflicting assignments. Dean has attended for many years, and insisted it was something I must experience as well, especially since I have been a Madison County resident for eight years.
He was right. All of you should go, too.
That morning I had admitted to my best friend that I would likely cry through the entire ceremony — probably not the most professional thing for a reporter on assignment to do.
I’m sure it didn’t surprise her when I sent a text at 11:04 confirming smeared makeup. She knows I can be emotional, and I have a deep respect for law enforcement, despite what many believe to be a contractual divide between police and the media.
That’s something that always bewilders me.
Despite everything going on in Baltimore, Ferguson — and I’m sure many more cities across the country — I don’t hate law enforcement as a member of the media. During my years working in newspapers, I have had a strong relationship with many serving in those roles.
I think it’s because we have a lot in common.
We deal with the public a lot, and sometimes it’s not in the best circumstances. We both know what it’s like for someone to hate us or for a stranger to scream into the phone and threaten ourselves or our families, just because of our jobs. Yet, we continue to come to work each day because we feel our professions are a form of public service we were called to. Yes, it can be thankless, but what we do is important for society.
There’s also mutual respect.
Of course, there are some who do not share my ideology on this. They see me as a member of the media which is “out to get them” when reporting on a situation. That makes me laugh. It’s like me saying that the police are “out to get” someone who is breaking the law. We’re just doing our jobs.
Luckily, those individuals are the minority. I shrug those folks off and try not to get hung up on the stubborn few.
So, National Police Week celebrated recently, I’d like to take this space to publicly back the blue. Sure, there are a couple “bad apples” in their profession who make our headlines, especially during the past several controversial months. There are bad apples in every profession.
For the most part, police officers care about our communities. They live here. Their kids go to our schools. We shop at the same grocery store and browse the same department store and county fair. We share the same values.
But, when they go to work they often deal with folks who are having the worst moment of their life. And when people are under stress, they can commit violent acts.
It’s something most of us will never understand.
But, for just a few minutes last week, my eyes were just as misty as that fallen officer’s wife standing five feet from where my camera was set up.
And as I thought about the police officers in my personal life and those who I have formed relationships with on the job, she and I shared something: a love for someone wearing blue.
Andrea McKinney can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619 or via Twitter @AndeeWrites.