Leslie's Voice

Blue Canaries

Photo Credit: davidsonscott15 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: davidsonscott15 via Compfight cc

My fiancé arrives home from a twelve hour shift. He left in the pre-dawn darkness, and has arrived after winter’s dusk.

“Who died?” I ask when I greet him at the door, motioning to the black band across his badge. A thin blue line on the band serves as a marker for his profession.

“The deputy in Leon County,” he says, leaving his boots by the door. “You didn’t hear?”

“No. What happened?”

He tells me about the fire and the ambushed deputies, and I’m reminded of the nickname firefighters have given cops–blue canaries. As far as first responders go–firefighters, EMTs, the works–law enforcement are known for running straight into the fringe with little to no protection. They carry a gun, pepper spray, TASER, and often wear a ballistics vest, but that is not always enough to save them. They are the canaries in the coal mines of burning buildings and rubble.

We’ve been over this before. Deputy Pine. Officer German. Deputy Pill. Too many others. I see that black stripe across his star more often than I expected I would.

I browse the Officer Down Memorial Page–it seems like there’s a new entry almost every day. I understand the very real dangers he faces on each of his shifts–he jokes that it’s 98% boredom; 2% sheer terror. I try not to think about that 2%.

But that 2% is why I keep my lips pressed tightly together when I hear about officer-involved shootings where the officer or deputy lives.

There’s plenty of scrutiny regarding the appropriateness of law enforcers’ interactions with civilians, and sympathy often lies with whomever is perceived as the victim. I’m not one to take sides, but I wish we’d take a few seconds to look beyond the uniform and all it stands for, and consider the lungs and beating heart of each unique individual who chooses to be a blue canary.

Over dinner, my fiancé reads aloud from the obituary of his fallen brother. “Deputy Smith,” he reads, “is survived by his loving wife and two children.”

“That sucks,” I say, pushing the food around on my plate with my fork. “That. Sucks.”

It sucks for the deputy’s family. It sucks for the community. It sucks because I know there is a very real possibility that one day the Sheriff may roll onto my driveway, ring the doorbell, and ask me to have a seat.

It’s the same knowledge all law-enforcement spouses have, the sinking rock in our chests, to know it could be any one of us on the other side of that door. We share our loved ones with the law-breakers, rapists, and murderers of the world so that others may sleep safely and soundly through the night.

So I cherish the few short hours I get with my fiancé between his shifts. After dinner, we marvel at the newness of our engagement; the flood of messages and texts from well-wishing family and friends punctuates the twilight. I watch my blue canary as he adjusts the black band on his badge before setting it back on his nightstand, and wonder if this–the black band, the thin blue line–is one of those things that never gets easier.

A time-honored tradition will follow. Deputies and officers from near and far will pour in to the community, dress in their sharpest Class A uniforms and stand united for their fallen brethren. Despite recent or long-standing hostility toward law enforcement, together they find solace and fraternity and strength. They endure, and continue to stand watch.

4 replies »

  1. On the eve of the Ferguson decision, I recommend listening to June Jordan’s classic and still tragically pertinent poem from 1974:

    Poem about Police Violence

    Tell me something
    what you think would happen if
    everytime they kill a black boy
    then we kill a cop
    everytime they kill a black man
    then we kill a cop
    you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?
    sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
    comes back to my mouth and I am quiet
    like Olympian pools from the running
    mountainous snows under the sun
    sometimes thinking about the 12th House of the Cosmos
    or the way your ear ensnares the tip
    of my tongue or signs that I have never seen
    I lose consciousness of ugly bestial rapid
    and repetitive affront as when they tell me
    18 cops in order to subdue one man
    18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle
    (don’t you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue
    and scuffle my oh my) and that the murder
    that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn
    street was just a “justifiable accident” again
    People been having accidents all over the globe
    so long like that I reckon that the only
    suitable insurance is a gun
    I’m saying war is not to understand or rerun
    war is to be fought and won
    sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
    blots it out/the bestial but
    not too often tell me something
    what you think would happen if
    everytime they kill a black boy
    then we kill a cop
    everytime they kill a black man
    then we kill a cop
    you think the accident rate would lower subsequently
    – June Jordan –


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