I admit it . . .
I used to call them cops and pigs. I never saw them as policemen or policewomen. I never saw them as man or woman at all. I saw them as a badge and a uniform. I hated them the same as I assumed they hated me.
Given a safe environment, I grew up in a decent neighborhood with few to little stories about major crime. Most of the streets were quiet side streets with a few main roads. The homes were all well kept, the sidewalks, the streets themselves, and the town was in good condition.
We had a library and a firehouse. There was a bowling alley and a few movie theaters. There was Pizza King, which was probably the best pizza in town. We had a Waldbaum’s, a Pathmark, a Modell’s and a Mister Donut. We had a video arcade known as “The Wiz,” and another place known as, “Foosball.”
There was a Roy Roger’s at one point. There was a McDonald’s, a Burger King, Taco Bell, and a two Freindly’s restaurants. We had a Rock Bottom store too. There was a May’s not too far away. There was an Orbach’s back when I was a boy and a Gimbel’s.. We were not far from the mall or stores like Service Merchandise, Caldor, or Rickles. All of which are long since out of business since my time as a boy.
Usually a quiet place, my town made the newspapers a few times. Most of the news was local. With the exception of a few, most reports were unmemorable stories about small or less important problems. The only times my town was mentioned in the same sentence as murder is when serial killer Joel Rifkin was captured while driving on the parkway with a body in the back of his truck.
Aside from this, there was woman in the 80’s that looked to have her husband killed so she could collect on his life insurance. As it turns out, the father had his suspicions when it came to his wife. Unfortunately, his suspicions were correct. The mother of a local high school boy was arrested and shamed.
There was a woman named Mary. She was a local bag lady/hoarder. She lived in a home that was less than cared for. She smelled from urine and was often teased by the town’s misbehaved youth. Mary was struck by a car and dragged on Prospect Avenue. Her death was on the news, but more, I remember the outpouring love and turnout at Mary’s funeral
The only other time I can remember my town on the news is when someone set a cross on my neighbor’s lawn and lit it on fire. The cross was not what it looks like in the movies. It was not tall and wide, wrapped with a white sheet for better burning and dramatic effect. The cross was about 3’ in height and about the same in width.
I was little when this happened. I was at the age when I wore one piece pajamas—I mean the blue kind that zipped with a blue zipper from the top of my neck, down to the crotch area. I mean the kind of pajamas with the little feet in them that have white, slip-proof pads at the bottom.
It was summertime. I remember it well. The evening sky still had a little light left. The firetrucks were in front of my house on Merrick Avenue. The policemen were on the scene with spinning lights flashing colors from the tops of their vehicles. My Mother, The Old Man, and me were standing on the stoop in front of my home when The Old Man took my hand and said, “Come with me.”
The Old Man walked me to the next door neighbor. The owner of the home was a white woman. She was from Belgium I believe; however, Mr. P was from Brazil. His skin was the darkest I had ever seen. Mr. P spoke with a thick accent. He yelled sometimes, but I never understood what he said. Mostly, Mr. P worked around the house. He kept the house in good condition. He did the gardening and the maintenance. They were not married and I never quite knew the relationship between the woman and Mr. P. I was too young to understand that sort of thing. All I knew is that Mr. P was my neighbor and seen as a good man. I knew someone for some God forsaken reason burned a cross on the lawn—and I knew the cross had something to do with God.
Walking with my little hand wrapped inside the grip of The Old Man’s, we headed up the walkways where Mr. P was standing and giving his statement to the police. I looked at the blackened charred wood from the extinguished burning cross as we passed it. A haunting smoke lifted from the wood’s side to side reach. The Old Man walked right up to Mr. P and extended his hand.
“I want you to know that not everybody feels this way.”
The Old Man was upset. I never saw him this way. To a young boy, more traumatizing than seeing a cross burning; I saw my Father tearing up.
“Why would someone light a cross on fire,” I asked.
“Doesn’t the cross have something to do with God?”
“Some people are stupid,” said The Old Man.
“I don’t ever want you to be that stupid!”
Mr. P was in the papers the next day.
My house was on a main street. Merrick Avenue ran north and south. My home was five houses north of Front Street, which was somewhat of a busy intersection. I lived across the street from a large vacant field that was once part of airfield.
My history on this is slightly hazy and I have heard several different stories but as I knew it, the vacant land across from my home was once part of Mitchell Air Force Base. I believe the airfield closed down in 1961. All that remained was the empty lot to whisper about a piece of its history. There were a few old roads with abandoned fire hydrants. Other than that, the field was home to mounds of dirt, overgrown fields with tall grass, a few trails, some treehouses built by us local kids, some forts, and pathways created by dirt bikes, which were loud with screaming engines.
I once saw an elderly man walking in the fields. He was wearing a red jacket with khaki pants, and a pair of brown loafers. He looked around as if he was trying to see something that was no longer there. His eyes and smile seemed distant from the current time.
Perhaps the elderly man was trying to envision the airfield and the way it looked when he saw it last. He seemed pleasantly detached—like he was lost in a memory or dream.
“Do you know what this place used to be,” the elderly man asked me as he pointed around with his aged, liver-spotted hands. His white hair, parted to the side, lifted as a breeze came along.
“I think it used to be an airport,” I answered.
“Yes,” said the elderly visitor. “Yes it was.”
Perhaps the elderly man came home from Korea and landed on that same ground. Maybe he lived nearby. Or, maybe he just wanted to remember what it was like to be young and live in a country that still had its dignity in tact.
As a young boy, I ran safely through this field. I dug for buried treasure. I lit the occasional firecrackers and roman candles. As I got older, I grew a bit more mischievous. I had my share of, “Running from the cops.”
As a joke, I remember seeing a squad car and then dipping down. My knees bent slightly with my hands spread out as if to seem I was looking for balance in an unbalanced time, and in a blink, I took off running as if I did something wrong.
Once caught, I was shaken by the uniformed officer.
“Where you runnin to, boy?”
With the officers hand wrapped in a fist around the collar of my shirt, synching it tightly around my neck, holding me up slightly taller than my short pre-pubescent legs could stand, I answered, “That way,” while pointing to an opposite direction.
“Why are you running,” asked the officer.
“Because you’re chasing me,” I answered.
It was a game to me.
I never saw a policeman’s job as anything real or dangerous. I never considered that he may be a father as well. I never thought a policeman could have a wife or feel love like you or me. I saw him as an enemy in a uniform. I saw the cops as barrier between myself and the rebelliousness of good times.
I moved into the teenage years with longer hair and a worsening attitude. I was not liked by many and known for my behavior. I was taken into custody, questioned, and released a few times. I eventually had less reason to cause attention to myself, so games like running from the cops were less inviting to me.
I admit to my petty thefts. I admit to my share in the local but small drug trade. I admit to the damage I did, to the graffiti and vandalism. I broke a few windows. I did my share or breaking into schools, which made little sense to me.
I spent much of my youth trying to get away from school, but yet, on a few nights, I risked my legal freedom to break in.
I admit to being on the opposite side of the law. I found myself locked up. I saw the inside of the precinct more than once. I was cuffed to a rail beneath a wooden bench and sat behind a chain-linked fence while a desk officer took down my information.
I found myself cuffed to the side of a detective’s desk once. A few large men, all in shirt and ties, some with mustaches, but each with the heavy smell of coffee on their breath moved in and stood over me. The leading detective growled, “Okay, why don’t you tell me why you think you’re here.”
Inquiring with an level of sarcasm and trying to be tough, I asked, “Because you guys like picking on me?”
My answers were not pleasing to them. This led to a bit of rough stuff. One of the detectives (not sure which one or where it came from) slammed a thick hardcover book across the side of my head. I was knocked to the floor, but held up because my wrist was cuffed to a steel eyelet on the side of the desk.
“No, no, no,” said the lead detective.
“You’re a tough guy now. You don’t fall when we hit you. You have to sit there and take it.”
To which, I replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. Usually when someone hits me in the head with something I tend to fall down.”
This was not an answer that pleased the detectives. In response, I was hit a few more times across the side and top of my head.”
“I guess this is what they mean when they say, Book’em,” I thought to myself.
Two things happened when that thick hardcover book slammed me across the head. First, I sobered up rather quickly. Secondly, I solidified my hatred for law enforcement. I saw them as perverse—as if they got off on this the same way a pedophile would get off while chasing after a teenage boy.
Back in those days, I never owned anything so I never knew what it meant to have something stolen from me. I was unaware of loss or what it meant to have my life threatened. I never owned a home, so I never knew what it was like to have my home burglarized or vandalized. I never had a business so I never knew what it was like to worry about someone stealing my product, or trying to rip me off with some kind of fraud.
I never called the cops because I never had a reason to.
In all honesty, I think of that kid I used to be. I think of the detectives that sat me down and hit me with the book. I wished they hit me harder. They should have hit me harder. Maybe this would have beaten some sense into me.
Yes, I grew up in a good middleclass, middle income neighborhood. The streets were safe to walk at night. It was a good enough place to raise a family. It was a good enough place to play baseball at the baseball fields, or swim in the town pool, or have picnics in Eisenhower Park.
It was a good enough place that a man could rest his head at night and not worry if someone was going to force entry. There was a reason why my hometown was rarely on the news. Aside from the community being mostly good; we had policemen and women that took an oath to serve and protect the community.
An officer takes that swears to:
“WELL AND TRULY SERVE – OUR SOVEREIGN COUNTRY AND STATE – AS A POLICE OFFICER WITHOUT FAVOR OR AFFECTION – MALICE OR ILL-WILL – UNTIL I AM LEGALLY DISCHARGED, THAT I WILL SEE AND CAUSE OUR COMMUNITY’S PEACE TO BE KEPT AND
PRESERVED – AND THAT – I WILL PREVENT TO THE BEST OF MY POWER – ALL OFFENSES AGAINST THAT PEACE – AND THAT – WHILE I CONTINUE TO BE A POLICE OFFICER – I WILL – TO THE BEST OF MY SKILL AND KNOWLEDGE – DISCHARGE ALL THE DUTIES THEREOF – FAITHFULLY – ACCORDING TO LAW.
SO HELP ME GOD.”
Becoming a man of my community, a father, a homeowner, a car owner, and a tax paying, productive member of this thing we call society, I realize that anyone who sees someone willing to take such an oath as an enemy—is in fact, an enemy themselves. The reason why I hated law enforcement is because I was on the opposite side.
There is a movement which banners that statement, “Black lives matter.” I agree they do. I also agree that white lives matter. I agree that Asian lives matter, and so do Hispanic, or any other race for that matter.
I do not argue about racism or social biasness. I do not argue that some men or women with badges should be stripped of their privileges, because yes, it is an honor as well as a privilege to be considered an officer of the law.
I do not think many could wear this uniform properly, which is why I am a supporter for continuous training and education for men and women in uniform. And do you know why? I will tell you why. Same as my parents wanted to raise me in a safe neighborhood; I want to raise my family in a safe neighborhood. Same as black lives matter and white lives matter; blue lives matter just the same!
I have a family. I own a home. I have property with a nice yard, and a small aluminum windmill on a tripod that changes direction when the winds switches from east to west. I moved quite a distance from my old home on Merrick Avenue.
I have grown considerably since then. I have grown not only in size, but in age, ability, as well as improved my direction in life. I am a sober, responsible adult. I understand what it means to work and work hard. I understand that a man or a woman has the right to feed their household, which, in the end is exactly what a police officer does.
They’re not just cops. They have names like Steve or Marc. They have friends that love them and families that depend on them. They are depended upon to not only feed, clothe, and shelter, but to nurture, love and protect their family as well as their community.
As I write to you, two officers lay in the hospital with gunshot wounds received while trying to fulfill their oath. These are men. They are men with families and loved ones. They have friends and hobbies. They have passion and purpose. They are more than a blue uniform and a badge; they are somebody’s son, and grandson.
I will end here and say that yes, blue lives matter. They matter because beneath the blue uniform beats the heart of a man whose goal is no different from mine, and whose dream is the same as mine, which is to define their own path of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.