The Loss of Small Town Innocence…

Having grown up and spent the majority of my life in the South, I am no stranger to racism. The taunting, the ugly words, (the ones my Mom forbid in our house) the jokes that even the God fearing Church going folks I grew up with told without a second thought. I’ve never really felt it as strongly as I have in the last week, never seen it in all it’s horrible hate-driven glory. It’s impact on me has been tremendous.

On Saturday I stood with one of my closest friends and watched the funeral procession of a local  28 year old Police Officers shot and killed in the line of duty by a 22 year old Native American man. The sheer number of Law Enforcement vehicles (including several from different Tribal Police agencies around the State) caught me by complete surprise. I wept, and that also caught me by surprise because I had never met this Officer, nor any member of his family. 

Things like this just don’t happen here…

A 2nd Police Officer, age 28, who was also shot at the scene has now lost the fight for his life. And so we, as a Community, will honor him in the exact way we honored the 1st Officer. Tomorrow we will have another heartbreaking procession, another gut-wrenching funeral. I will once again proudly stand on the street beside my friend with my hand over my heart, because it’s the least I can do.

These were the first Police Officers killed in the line of duty in Rapid City in almost 100 years. Things like this just don’t happen here….

The young man who killed these Officers, and wounded a third, died the day after the shootout from gunshot wounds he received from the Officers returning fire. This incident was not the first time he had directed his violent nature toward Police Officers. He had a long sordid history of violent crimes for which he received one sentence after another, and more often than not those sentences were suspended including one that occurred just a few days prior to this tragedy. The Officers and the young man himself would still be alive if he had served his jail time. It’s probably awful to say but I think he is better off having died in the hospital, I shudder to think what would be happening now if he were sitting alive and well in our local jail. Racial tensions and emotions are running high…

The night of the shooting I read some horrendous comments made on a Facebook page that seemed dedicated to spreading hate and terror to anyone not belonging to one of the local Native Tribes. Huge mistake as I now find myself looking at Natives I encounter differently than before. I cannot help but wonder if is this the person who wrote “I wish I could have seen that cop lying in the street, choking on his own blood, LOL” ???  I am saddened, and deeply ashamed at my reactions but that statement made my blood run cold. I still can’t shake it….

I had the chance to talk to a friend about the way I was feeling, turns out he felt the same and like me had never met either of the Officers, but was deeply affected by their deaths. After we cried for a minute and gave each other a great big hug, he summed it up perfectly.  He said he believed we were so devastated because it felt like a loss of our small town innocence. He’s exactly right….

Things like this just don’t happen here.

I pray for us all. For the families of the fallen Officers left behind. For the family of the Officer who was only yesterday released from the hospital. And for the family of that 22 year old Native man who now have to live with the consequences of what he did. I pray for compassion and forgiveness to overcome the hate and violence in the hearts of so many….Because forgiveness and reconciliation have to start somewhere, right???

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