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Thursday, September 29, 2011

When you tarnish one badge, you tarnish them all

Nothing infuriates me more than a police officer who abuses their authority. Whether it be an overt action of excessive force or a seemingly minor compromising of one’s moral compass, there is no room in this profession for those who use their position of authority with dishonorable intention.

Take for instance, an off duty Chicago police officer who was on her way to work and running late when she was deterred in traffic by a funeral procession. Clearly impatient and agitated, she began weaving in and out of the line of mourners’ vehicles. Debra Green was one of those mourners in the procession for her deceased sister. She yelled out to the rude driver and pointed to the funeral procession flag to put her on notice.

We’ve all been in the unfortunate position of being late when an obstacle presents itself. When I’m running behind schedule, I’m convinced that the traffic lights conspire against me in perfect harmony to redden themselves on my approach. This is masterly choreographed the entire length of my commute. The days I’m stuck awaiting a train are notoriously when I need to be on the other side of the tracks.

Since I’m a naturally impatient person, I’m always in a hurry even when I’ve nowhere to go. I’m also guilty of letting out a groan of annoyance when I approach an intersection to see that I will be delayed by a funeral procession. However, in that circumstance, I’m able to snap out of my own selfish need to continue moving and put things into perspective. I remind myself to be grateful that I’m not in the procession mourning a loss, or the one for which everyone is gathered. This is why I was so annoyed by the actions of the off-duty officer. But the story gets better.

After Debra Green yelled out to the rude driver, the police officer radioed for assistance saying that Green threw a bottle at her vehicle which went through an open window and hit her in the face. Green was detained by the police and subsequently charged with battery which resulted in missing her sister’s burial.

Investigators from the Independent Police Review Authority discovered that a Chicago Police blue-light camera had captured the incident. The footage revealed that the officer’s account of the episode was skewed. Her windows were rolled up when she alleged that a bottle came barreling through. This was uncovered after the officer had already lied on the witness stand in her testimony against Debra Green.

To be clear, I am well aware that there may be some missing data from this incident for which I am not privy. I don’t have documentation of the court transcript, the police report or the subsequent internal investigation and I have learned over the years that there are three sides to every story: one side, the other side and the truth. But I do know that the charges were dropped against Debra Green and the police officer has since resigned from the Chicago Police Department and has been charged with felony perjury awaiting a hearing.

I’m wondering if this officer has had a chance to reflect on the circumstances in which she finds herself. I empathize with that panicked feeling of being late to work but I’m so disturbed by the tangled web of lies that were spun so she could justify her actions. Had she been late to work, she may have incurred some minor discipline and the story would end there. Because she was a police officer, she was able to use her position of authority to manipulate a situation for her own benefit. She did so at the expense of her career and the expense of the rest of the law enforcement officers who practice nobility and upstanding character both on the job and in their personal lives.

When you tarnish one badge, you tarnish them all.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Symbolism of a tree

The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks caused us to pause and reflect as a community on the profound tragedy that fundamentally changed us as a nation and as human beings. Like many, I was glued to the television last Sunday watching the memorial ceremonies taking place at the crash sites in somber remembrance. Tears were shed in solitude as I listened to the personal stories of loss and sacrifice. I thought of my police and firefighter brothers and sisters who perished that day while running towards the catastrophe instead of away from it. Those first responders are credited with saving the lives of thousands of people and they are what we epitomize when we think of heroes. In the middle of the melancholy, I heard a story about a pear tree that was planted at the World Trade Center complex more than 30 years prior to the 9/11 attacks. It stood as part of the scenery and like most gifts of nature, it was taken for granted as it was rather unassuming. After the attacks, the tree was found clinging sideways in a pit in the middle of the destruction. It had dwindled to an eight foot stump and was covered with ash. The towers crushed the tree’s branches and it was scorched so badly that the vibrant, green color had been replaced with black and gray. There was little hope for its survival as its roots barely clung to the earth. It looked like a wounded soldier. The tree was plucked from the rubble and transported to the New York Parks Department where many attempted to nurse it back to health. It lay dormant during the winter months that followed the 9/11 attacks but in the spring of 2012, green buds poked out from the stump creating hopes it would survive. Through careful pruning and constant care, the tree grew and flourished only to suffer another setback last March when it was uprooted during a storm. Amazingly it recovered yet again and grew to a height of 30 feet in time for its return to the place we have come to know as Ground Zero. The symbolism is quite majestic when you stop and think about it. With assistance from the parks department employees, the tree was able to grow new roots and become stronger. We as a nation suffered a horrific loss and in the dark days that followed the attacks, we felt broken, uprooted, and vulnerable to further terrorist acts. The color drained from our lives and we were left with shades of gray. Life as we knew it had changed. But in the face of adversity, we found hope. Despite the deplorable actions of terrorists that were rooted in hatred, Americans locked arms and stood together as one. We focused on the stories of heroism and kindness that occurred on that fateful day. In the days that followed, we nurtured our survivors back to physical and mental health and supported those who incurred personal losses. At ground level, workers rolled up their sleeves and cleaned up the debris. At higher levels, security for our nation was revamped and new measures implemented to prevent further attacks. Out of the dust and debris, we rose as a nation. While attending the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony at the Aurora Central Fire Station, I looked around at our police officers and firefighters mourning the loss of the first responders and it was clear to me that each will still run toward the gunshots and into the fire because that is their call to duty. Like the pear tree, we as a nation and as a city have grown new roots and are stronger and more resilient than ever before. The loss brought us to our knees and yet we rise, dust ourselves off, and do what we were called to do.