Operating at a loss

There were a couple of very emotional moments today at the memorial service for a co-worker, who died in a truly tragic fashion a few days ago. This man – only 43 – had recently been having some ups and downs in his life, and was experiencing more and more frequent anxiety attacks. One of these beset him at the office and alarmed some colleagues to such an extent that they called 911, believing him to be suicidal (on the basis of seeing him gobble some pills and acting strangely). He ran out of the office into the street, where some paramedics soon arrived, as well as some police officers. Eyewitness accounts vary, but somehow, for some reason, one of the police officers shot him, and he died of his wounds soon after. All of this occurred in a tranquil up-scale office park in a city just named the safest in all of California! It was not your everyday garden variety police shooting, and yet it was. Police shootings in this country are as rampantly epidemic as their causes – violent confrontations with officers by civilians.

My colleague was not a criminal, he was not a suspect, there was no crime as far as anyone can tell. There are differing accounts, that he assaulted one or two officers, that they also suffered some injuries, but the details about that have not been forthcoming, and the two eyewitness accouts I have heard entirely dispute that telling of events According to them, the man was sitting on the ground, surrounded by standing officers and paramedics.

Today at the service I heard that he had handed his phone to one of the paramedics, asking to call his father, that the father was called, and that the father was on the line when the shots were fired. As a father whose son means everything to him, that account was simply devastating to me. I cannot fathom the heart-stopping terror he must have experienced.

The widow also approached me at the service. She and I have a mutual friend but met only once, and she did not remember me. She wanted to tell me – and everyone – that her husband was not suicidal. The news media event of the incident was all about the “suicidal”, the narrative being pushed is the old suicide-by-cop cliche. This is not the true story. I worked with this man for a year and a half and saw him or chatted with him through skype every day. He was always an enthusiastic, energetic, eager fellow. Yes, he’d been acting manic and erratic but he only wanted to make things better in his life, not end it. What touched me most was the sheer devastation of his wife. They did not have the best marriage. They had plenty of troubles between them, but it was clear they loved each other deeply despite all that. The grief of this poor woman at the service today took my breath away, and there was nothing about the service itself that could do anything at all to help. It only seemed like so much wasted magical incantations of mumbo-jumbo.

There were the usual mentions of God’s plans and how we can never understand them but he’s resting now in the eternal palm of the Almighty and he will never die because of Christ but the truth is that none of use should have been there, that it should never have turned out this way, that the police sometimes really suck at their job and that America is a violent gun-crazy mixed-up hell-hole where God forbid you should smoke within 25 feet of an office building but in that same perimeter it’s somehow okay to go ahead and blow away an unfortunate guy who’s just having a bad day and it won’t even make a headline because by the time he passed away some cop was shooting an alleged bank robber and a domestic dispute turned into an officer-related shooting and there’s hella traffic on the Bay Bridge and it’s just another day around here.

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