The American flag at my house has been at half-staff since August 4 pursuant to a declaration by the President, honoring the victims of the tragedies in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Today at sunset, according to that declaration our flag will return to its rightful place at the top of its staff. Since I was a small boy, my father, a soldier, taught me flag etiquette.
This week I’ve watched along with so many others the unfolding events in the aftermath of these national tragedies. Walls of honor consisting of flowers and remembrances of those killed have been erected. People from all walks of life, from all races, from all cultures, have come together to mourn and denounce these mass murders fueled by extreme misguided hatred.
However, even before we have begun to heal, while even our flag bows to honor those killed before we have buried our dead, the togetherness seems to be disintegrating. It is deteriorating as we look to place blame for these tragedies, someone is responsible. Even more than the murderer who pressed the trigger all of those times to kill so many people, there are groups vicariously culpable. We charge them with being responsible for these murders because of their actions, policies, or rhetoric. The murderer seems to almost lose significance as we look to attach blame to this unimaginable tragedy. The root cause is not the murderer anymore, he was only the means motivated to deliver the fatal blow.
The five stages of grief have been talked about this week as we try to find some tangible way to explain and cope with the intangible. Individually we try to understand how this could have happened, our anger that it did, and in the days and months ahead we will find ways to cope with our losses and hope for some level of healing. There is no right or wrong, there is no rational reasoning, it just is.
Yesterday the President of the United States traveled to the cities of El Paso and Dayton as our most senior government representative to express condolences on behalf of our nation. Our flag was bowed, no more significant statement of honor can possibly be presented from the United States of America. The President was the bearer of that bowed flag in those two cities.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley criticize congressional inaction on gun legislation: “Do I think that we’re going to see another mass shooting tomorrow, or Friday?” Whaley says. “Probably, because Washington will not move.” https://t.co/mm5KI86Nuk pic.twitter.com/5sJOHwix07
— ABC News (@ABC) August 7, 2019
Occasionally I tuned into either CNN or FOX News as the day progressed and watched some of the interviews with elected officials in those areas who for the most part put political differences aside. Politics aside, they joined the president with families who lost loved ones and recognized our first responders and medical heroes. For a few minutes, we came together as a country in those community centers, police stations, and hospitals. At least in those environments, if only briefly, the deep-rooted differences and yes even hatred was put aside as we came together as people.
One other thing caught my attention though and prompted me to write this article. In El Paso, and maybe in Dayton police officers wearing crowd control equipment were standing in formations, preparing for the unimaginable, especially on this sad day. We called that riot gear in the old days; sticks, helmets, shields, and gas.
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Those police officers, some in uniform, different uniforms, and even civilian clothes were preparing to stand on the blue line if they were called to do so. Wait a minute, don’t these officers represent the same ones who responded to arrest the murderer in El Paso? Don’t these officers represent those in Dayton who responded in 30 seconds to neutralize the threat? Don’t these officers represent every police officer in this country who is prepared to go into harm’s way to act similarly and protect people she’s never met. How is it then these officers are now standing on this line and preparing to use whatever level of force may be necessary to quell a disturbance?
I found these images troubling as I prayed a silent prayer that these officers would not be called upon to perform these duties. I’m absolutely sure there were a few silent prayers from officers on that line, asking for that same dispensation. The police officer above all other people prays for peace in our cities.
Gun violence is rampant, and it is not only mass shootings. People are dying in our streets from gun violence across this country, and most people have had quite enough of it. The police officer is the leader of that voice because it is the police officer who must go into harm’s way when these shootings occur. It is my sincere hope that rational actionable conversations can happen to stem this violence.
For today, at sunset, I will return the United States Flag of America to its rightful position at the top of the staff. I will render a solemn salute and pray for peace in our country.