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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For What It's Worth

*** This post is dedicated to the memory of Poughkeepsie City Police Officer John Falcone, and to "Scribbler."***

The Stephen Stills song "For What It's Worth" starts like this:

"There's something happening here
And what it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there"

It's the beginning of one of America's most popular songs to have come out of the sixties. On its face, though, it could very easily be the set-up for a call that goes out over police radios thousands of times every year in this country.

"Unknown trouble."

"Man with a gun."

"Shots fired."

And off they go. Off they go.

On Friday, February 18th, Poughkeepsie City Officer John Falcone received a "shots fired" call over his radio. He was just a block away. The call was hot, as they say. He keyed his mic, indicated that he was responding, and he gunned the engine of his radio car. What he saw when he pulled up at the scene was a man waving a handgun. This scenario would present the responding officer, an eighteen-year veteran, with quite a challenge-- possibly the challenge of his career. How do you deal with an armed man? You draw on him from behind the safety of your door (that hopefully has a ballistic panel) and you command him to drop the weapon.

Sounds simple enough, right? But there's a little wrinkle with this particular event. See, the suspect in question has a gun in one hand, and a three-year-old child in the other.

When he sees Officer Falcone, he turns and runs. Falcone gives chase. It is procedure. It is instinct. It. is. heroism.

It would have been a heroic act even if Falcone had not been shot dead by the suspect. Sadly, though, he was, which is why it made the news. The officer died, but not before wrestling the child out of the suspect's arms, and handing the child over to a bystander. He then engaged the suspect in a struggle for his weapon, a struggle that ended in Officer Falcone being shot in the head, and the suspect, as they so often do, taking his own life. The original shots fired call was prompted when the suspect shot his estranged wife in the head, also killing her.

Officer Falcone's parents will now have to stand by as thousands of police officers from across the country bury their 44-year-old son. It isn't supposed to be that way. This three-year-old child will have to grow up and learn the tragedy that culminated in such a stinging bloodbath on a Poughkeepsie street one Friday afternoon. It isn't supposed to be that way.

When I listen to people who content themselves with criticizing "The Police," as if they're criticizing some homogeneous, corporate entity like "McDonalds" or "Rent-a-Center," I cannot help but get my back up. Maybe it's because I'm older than they are. Maybe it's because I have stood in my EMT uniform, a black band across my badge, and saluted the lifeless body of a Philadelphia Police Officer shot in the head for no reason other than that some shithead with nothing more to lose decided to John Wayne his way out of one more spot of trouble. Maybe it's because I've seen widows, barely old enough to be married, stumble out of churches sobbing hysterically on the shoulders of their fathers, bewildered at how their lives are falling apart just as they've begun.

Maybe it's because I'm a privileged, wealthy, caucasian whose mind has been successfully infiltrated by left-wing mass media and right-wing propaganda. Or is it right-wing media and left-wing propaganda?


Maybe it's because I see a middle-aged man risking everything to save the life of a three-year-old child. Maybe it's because they see a cog in the wheel of corruption and oppression doing his job like the governmental tool that he is, the occasional good deed amidst a thousand pilfers from the evidence locker, the roughing up of suspects, the planting of dime-bags in the pockets of baggy jeans, the perjuries and the abuses.

If you've read the posts in this blog for any number of weeks, you know that you are reading the words of a cop wannabee. I tried. Oh, God, did I try. I hit the gym. I lifted weights. I was at the firing range-- unloading .22s and .38s at target after target. And I got pretty good, too. I ran my lungs out at the track. I trained. I tried.

But it wasn't enough.

I couldn't lift that barbell with 83% of my bodyweight on it, and that's the sad truth, because we're not talking about a lot of weight to begin with. I didn't do so hot on the written tests either. The FBI rejected me after I answered a long series of questions about situational judgment and my belief-structures, which, apparently, do not align themselves with a successful career in law enforcement.

The funny thing is-- in the job I do now, I do something very police-like, and I never really thought about it until just now. I'll be standing in the chart room at the hospital, joking around with a nurse or a doctor, and, cutting through the air, is the alarm that sounds when somebody pushes the panic bell.

There is trouble.

I'll let loose an automatic expletive and dash out the door, along with my coworkers, towards the trouble. It could be a patient in medical distress. It could be an assault or a suicide attempt in progress. Whatever it is, somebody thought it was emergent enough to summon help. And I go, because, when the bell goes off, somebody is in trouble and needs help. Plain and simple.

"You don't have to answer the bell, you know-- there's paperwork to do. There's other people here to answer it," my supervisor said to me once a couple months ago. I laughed in her face.

"And if everybody said that to themselves when the bell went off, nobody'd answer it," I retorted. "When that bell goes-- I go."

Because, in this life, there are the people who need help, the people who answer that call, and those who offer either support or critique. And maybe my tendency to offer support makes me naive or manipulated, and, if that's the case, I very much prefer it that way.

For what it's worth.

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