When I heard the news that New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were assassinated in cold blood by some ruthless thug (in keeping with my practice I neither use the killer’s name nor photo because he deserves no publicity) as they sat in their patrol car, I immediately thought of their families. Besides the senseless loss of their lives, their friends and loved ones suffer incalculably from such a loss.
As someone whose father spent twenty years in the NYPD, I can empathize with young Jaden Ramos, Rafael’s 13-year-old son who, instead of preparing for Christmas, is mourning his father and trying to make sense of a world where someone would kill someone just because he was wearing a uniform. Of course, there is no making any sense of such things because they go beyond rational thought and understanding.
My family has bled NYPD blue for over a century – my great grandfather, grandfather, and Dad all served the city as police officers. In following the family tradition, I took the police test and did extremely well. As I waited to be called to serve as the fourth generation of my family in the NYPD, I got an offer for a teaching position in Brooklyn. I was going to skip the interview, but Dad became very adamant – he said that he feared the city had changed and that cops were targets for just wearing the uniform (and this was thirty years ago). I went on that interview, got the job, and thus ended thoughts of following in Dad’s footsteps.
I still worry about family members, friends, and sons of friends in the NYPD. Every time I hear something like a cop being shot, I feel a rush of fear and also remember my own palpable worries as a kid. Again and again I saw my father getting dressed for work knowing that he was going out of the house for maybe the last time. This took a toll on my mother too, but she deftly put on a happy face for us and never once revealed her fears about losing him.
This is a reality every police family faces on a daily basis. Just one glance at a the list of killed NYPD officers is a stark reminder of the toll on the department and city. While we have tremendous pride in our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, and friends for doing a job many would not do, we also know that it is very dangerous work. The worry never goes away until that last day on the job, and then finally you can breathe a sigh of relief; however, the fear still goes on for all those families of current cops. That is rule number one of police work: cops are going out into something similar to a war zone, and there is nothing their families can do about it but pray that they come home.
This has to be something Jaden Ramos always feared because he is old enough to know how tough the job his father did was, but there is always a defense mechanism you use to get through the day and night. I used to think, “Dad’s smart; he can take care of himself; he was a street smart city kid and knows what he’s doing.” All those things help you cope, but none of them take into account a maniac who is bent on killing a person just because he is wearing a uniform.
My heart breaks when I read about young Jaden mourning his father. On his Facebook page he writes “This is the worst day of My life” (sic). He posts pictures of his father and him, and you see the love emanating from the images. You can’t imagine what he’s going through, but you know that there will be a good deal more bad days ahead and that his life is forever altered and that he will carry this loss all the rest of his days.
When I think of Jaden I know that I was one of the lucky ones to see my Dad retire and enjoy the rest of his life. I count that among my blessings, but now I worry about those other family members and friends who are still out there. They are working hard for the city they love. The vast majority of the NYPD (and police everywhere for that matter) are good people who are in the job because they care and want to make a difference.
They don’t get the press coverage and the stories on CNN. We only see media saturation when a rogue cop does something. As in all careers in all walks of life, there will be a few bad apples. Unfortunately, this is what we get on TV and in the papers and what they make movies about. The world sees a “bad cop” and has a tainted image, thinking his story is a microcosm instead of realizing that he is an anomaly.
Most cops are good people, have loving families, and hope to be lucky enough to come back home to them again. Despite all the dangers, they go out there every day knowing it could be their last day on earth, but that doesn’t stop them. You have to admire that kind of dedication and determination; I know that I do.
Photo credits: NYPD, Facebook
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