Why I’m Walking Tomorrow

[Slightly revised after first posting. I do that.]

A couple of weeks ago, student-leaders at American Fork High School latched onto the idea of honoring Sergeant Cory Wride on the first anniversary of his death. That anniversary is tomorrow, Friday, January 30, 2015.

They immediately began to think big.

I helped last year with some press releases and a smaller, more permanent piece of writing, when American Fork City undertook to honor and remember Sgt. Wride. So I suppose it made sense to invite me to help with this too. Soon I was meeting with student-leaders, other adult volunteers, and City officials whose assistance is essential, even though the Wride Memorial Walk is not a City-sponsored event.

Before we were done — and we’re not quite done — there was a web site (wridewalk.com); a six-minute, professionally-produced video about the people and the event; two hash tags (#wridewalk and, for tomorrow night, #irangthebell); a Facebook event; a videotaped statement of support from the President Pro Tem of the United States Senate (with more endorsements still on the way, we think); numerous inquiries and expressions of support from other schools around the state; and growing buzz about the event on social media. I don’t deserve credit for most of that; these students and the other adults who are helping are amazing. And this isn’t about credit anyway.

What you and I are doing here — and thanks for being here, as in reading — is noting the reasons why I’m attending the Wride Memorial Walk tomorrow evening, and the reasons why I should attend. I leave it to you to ponder the reasons why you should join the Walk, whatever they may be.

By the way, if you cannot join the Walk in person, that’s what social media are for. You might consider sharing one of the above links with your friends.

Here are my reasons – not in order of importance.

First

Before I knew about the event, and before it had a name, there was surprising enthusiasm for it among a large and growing number of students at American Fork High School. Bear in mind that these are teenagers. Bear in mind that the heroes they are eager to salute are a slain sheriff’s deputy most of them never met and his living comrades — whom they may have met, if at all, when red and blue lights started flashing in their rear-view mirrors, after which they found themselves on the business end of a drawn ballpoint pen.

Cops. They want to honor cops.

Not superstar athletes, who may or may not be taking PEDs or beating their spouses — (which I know a lot of athletes don’t do).

Not young stars of the large or small screen, whose lives underneath the publicity likely need every form of adult supervision they can get, and then some (which I know is not true of all of them).

Not rap stars who chant — I don’t want to say sing — vicious, misogynistic, anarchist lyrics about treating women as soulless playthings and police officers as uniformed targets.

They want to honor cops.

Second

For every cop who makes the news (or the blogs, which still aren’t quite the same thing) for something bad he actually did, there are multiple cops who make the news for doing their jobs right. Sadly, that could mean shooting an unarmed man who might have been a fine, upstanding college boy (but really had just held up a convenience store), and who might have been a gentle soul trying to surrender (but really charged the officer and tried to take his gun), and who might have been the race victim the voices of political convenience said he was (but really was a tragic cautionary tale —  a mother’s baby and a father’s son who reaped the consequences of his own reckless, criminal choices).

Tomorrow is not about Ferguson, even if Ferguson is part of the context which makes tomorrow remarkable.

For every hard leftist or extreme libertarian who automatically believes that cops are crazed shooters who see ordinary citizens — especially black citizens — as targets; for every blindered, apolitical humanitarian who thinks cops are combing the streets for any justification, however flimsy, to discharge a weapon and get away with it; there are crowds of us who don’t normally get quoted in the media, who instinctively grasp or actually know that almost every cop out there goes out of his way to be a lot less violent than the law permits him to be.

For every cop out there who thinks his brothers and sisters in the system will let him get away with assault and murder, there are hundreds or thousands of cops who know that, if something violent happens and they manage to survive, even if they did everything right, the Blue Wall may well be the only demographic which doesn’t abandon them. Even it may abandon them.

And that’s when they get it right. If they get it wrong, they may land in jail, which is not a happy place for former cops. Or they may be dead.

For every officer in a bad movie who straps on his weapon at the beginning of the shift, hoping he’ll get to use it, there are thousands or tens of thousands of real officers who pray that they won’t have to.

Third

For every loud citizen with an agenda that is served by stereotyping cops as villains and instruments of tyranny, there are hundreds of quiet citizens who are grateful to the brave souls who stand between them and chaos, and who wish there were more of them on the streets, not fewer.

For every blogger who agonizes over the militarization of the police (which would be a bad thing if unneeded, or a sign of very bad things if needed), there are many citizens who wish their defenders were better armed and better armored. For some reason Nan Wride comes to mind.

Fourth

In some jurisdictions — I am told by insiders — the divorce rate among married officers exceeds 80 percent. Divorce invites the rest of us to pass all sorts of judgment about character and motives and priorities — most of which judgment is ill informed and unnecessary. Officers and their spouses look these risks in the eye and serve (and marry) anyway.

I know some who divorced and some who didn’t, or haven’t yet. I don’t know anyone for whom it has been easy, or who didn’t care about his or her marriage going in, or who hoped that it would end in unhappiness.

I cannot pretend that some of my reasons for attending the Wride Walk are not personal. So indulge me, please, if I am very personal, starting now.

My daughter-in-law married a cop. He’s not a cop any more, but he was when she married him, and he wanted to be. She married him with her eyes open — and she married him anyway. So I’m walking for her.

I’m walking for all the spouses and siblings and parents who put on a brave face when their loved one’s shift begins and sigh in relief when it ends, day after day, year after year. I’m walking for the people whose loved ones survive the risks to live out their lives on a pension which some taxpayers resent, but which is rarely as large as they deserve.

We don’t try to measure their sacrifice, but it is real.

I’m walking for the people who eventually receive the very news they have feared — and for the children who don’t understand or contemplate the risks until they get that news, but who then must grow up with the devastation. We sometimes try to measure their sacrifice, but we fail.

Fifth

I’m walking for the officer who pulled me over in downtown Provo several years ago, after I thoughtlessly made a prohibited left turn, whose conversation with me was cut short, because he had to go break up a fight involving who knows what weapons.

I’m walking for the cranky, unreasonable officer who cited me for making another left turn at the University of Utah — but making it safely, after waiting for four minutes at an inoperative stoplight that was literally frozen by the extreme cold. I figure that whatever make her so cranky and unreasonable that morning probably had something to do with her career choice.

I’m walking for the state trooper who was helping someone change a tire in the winter cold the other day, a very few feet from freeway traffic which was quite literally speeding.

I’m walking for the AFPD officer who, near midnight, saw a car driving slowly around a church building about which we were perpetually concerned, and raced from several blocks away to investigate. When he discovered that I, the driver of said car, was both serving as the friendly neighborhood LDS bishop and making a routine neighborhood watch patrol, we had a friendly conversation. I thanked him for his vigilance.

I’m walking for the officer who came to my door one afternoon, looking for the previous resident of my home, who had just committed another felony. He was cautious, yes — but also calm, reasonable, and professional.

I’m walking for the AFPD sergeant who sat my four-year-old in the driver’s seat of his patrol car and spent ten minutes explaining everything and answering a child’s questions.

I’m walking for the detective who was always happy to educate me about anything, such as whether an LDS bishop should be suspicious when someone wants a large amount of chlorine bleach as part of one of those food and commodities orders we so often process in our church welfare system. (Yes, you can use chlorine bleach to make meth — and after navigating that long sentence, you might want to. Don’t.)

I’m walking for the officers whom I have encountered in various settings in the community, who have nearly always impressed me with their decency, their professionalism, their knowledge and training, their sound judgment, their restraint, and their concern for the welfare of the community and the people who comprise it. I’m planning to wear tomorrow the Citizens Police Academy jacket they gave me, after they spent dozens of hours over a period of weeks teaching me and others about their jobs.

I’m walking for the series of AFPD chiefs who willingly sat down with me in their offices or answered my written inquiries, when I wanted to discuss what had happened when neighbors or members of my congregation ran afoul (justly or unjustly) of law enforcement — leaders who gave me generous amounts of their scarce time to explain the law, police procedure, actual events, and occasional mistakes.

Sixth

I’m walking for Sgt. Cory Wride’s wife and family. You know of their sacrifice. You may imagine their struggles and their grief. But allow me to tell you more than you’ve seen.

I’m walking for Nan Wride, who literally stopped breathing when she learned of her husband’s death. (Fortunately, she was at work in a hospital.) And when I contacted her almost a year later, to see if we might interview her for a little video to promote the Walk, she welcomed us warmly and gratefully. When I told her what questions I thought I needed to ask in the interview, and told her I wouldn’t ask any questions she didn’t want me to ask and would be pleased if she didn’t answer any she didn’t want to answer, she urged me to ask her anything I thought would help. So I asked her my questions, including the hard ones, and she answered them all with candor and grace. She told us in that interview things I didn’t see or hear in the news reports. She told us more about her experience than we could or ever would put into our little film.

I’m walking for Shea Wride, Nan’s son and Cory’s adopted stepson, who hasn’t talked to the media in the past year — but who was eager to talk to us. He was candid, poignant, and articulate. He wants to be a cop.

I’m walking for Nathan Mohler, Nan’s son and Cory’s stepson, who has talked to the press over and over again, but still wanted to talk to us. He teaches junior high, which seems a lot like law enforcement, but without the weapons and body armor.

I’m walking for the rest of their family, whom I haven’t met, including Sgt. Wride’s parents, who reportedly like me without having met me (maybe that’s easier?), just because I once wrote a few inadequate words about police officers. (In that context, if the words “forgive the foe” sound familiar, you should know that Sgt. Wride’s family insisted on the theme of forgiveness and its prominence.)

Seventh

I’m walking for Sergeant Cory Wride of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, who went to work a year ago tomorrow and never returned.

It’s the twenty-first century, in which WordPress keeps a running count of my words, so I know full well that this essay has passed 2000 words, which is probably too long. But if that’s somehow not enough for you, may I respectfully recommend a monument and a six-minute video? The video follows, and you’ll see the monument at the beginning and end of it (which wasn’t my idea, but works).

I hope to see you Friday evening. (Details about the Wride Walk are here.) I’d be delighted if you somehow found me and said hello.

Leave a Reply