When Jessie Came to Town

I apologize in advance for this post. It is undoubtedly the darkest thing I have ever published here. This incident reminds me of so many others I have witnessed and been part of over the years. My intention is not to indict the police officers in the line of duty. But we as a society need to come up with some solutions to the problem of the mentally ill that doesn't involve only officers trained for a very different type of confrontation. The mentally ill can be as dangerous as any criminal. But it is different.

I've worked with the police for decades and I've yet to meet someone who wanted to use their weapon. I've cared for officers far too often when they were struck in the line of duty. The rhyme just stuck in my head and is not an attempt to be cute or be whimsical about this horrible incident and all the lives it has damaged (including the shooter). It sort of wrote itself.

Aaron Campbell was his name,
serving up the pink mist brought him to national fame,
despondent over his brother’s loss, did not really understand the game,
shots fired from 20 yds, all that remains is who to blame.

Depressed and lost, frightened friends didn’t know what to do,
Hadn’t always been one to follow the straight and narrow, this much was true,
911 dispatcher sent the police into this volatile brew,
whether suicide by proxy was his intent, God only knew.

With eyes on one officer, trying to calm him down and take control of the scene,
did not know another lurked, rifle aimed, behind a car unseen,
what happened next from dispatch tapes and testimony was not hard at all to glean,
for the police bureau and the public would another tragedy come between.

With hands high and backing out, was startled by a beanbag round against his back,
reached around and twisted when an AR-15 once did crack,
the center of mass the only thing the sniper had in his track,
no spotter was in place, no command order given to act.

The shooter was certain he must have a gun,
and given any time he was certain, behind cover, to run,
and his brothers in arms in the open would bleed before he was done,
not going to happen on his watch when he too had a gun.

Couldn’t hear the cooperation in Aaron’s voice above the barking of a dog,
Of the great public safety machine, just another well armed cog,
that he was disconnected from awareness of the situation, was apparent from the scene log,
one bullet changed two men's lives each unaware of the entire field because of this intimate war's fog.

No violence to the police had he committed before the round his body did shred,
just a gaping wound where his brother once lived, into which had seeped unbearable dread,
Aaron Campbell’s life spilled out staining the street by his door red,
the only certainty at this scene was another young black man dead.

Though bad enough, an ordeal not yet ended,
lay dying in the street for 20 minutes unattended,
while his life’s blood with his surroundings blended,
time needed to secure the scene was the excuse contended.

The burdens of the street are immense out there on the job,
must handle anything from a missing cat to controlling a mob,
that traffic infractor may be fleeing the bank that, with a gun, he just did rob.
and other than Manson, for the worst offender’s loss, on camera, will some mother sob.

Perps high school graduation pictures on the front page,
do not usually do justice to the present, nor how far one has fallen presage,
“he was such a good boy”, cameras fix on the mother til a new scandal this story will upstage,
just serves as a means, the public to enrage.

Under siege are the police on the best of days,
Such stress must come out in any number of ways,
a public as the enemy mentality creates a malaise,
in a war zone, not a neighborhood, the right action hard to find within the maze.

All may explain though never can it justify,
why this depressed young man had to die,
no matter the explanations one may apply,
well armed, but ill equipped when one’s mind goes awry.

Sadly, in this city, not the only time,
depression became a capital crime.

As usual the bureau and city leadership slammed shut like great clams contemplating the stew,
No leadership emanated from the mayor’s office but that was nothing new,
the union marched in support of the officer as they always do,
and promises of change were made to protesters, again nothing new.

Democracy’s modern cycle with the public chasing shadows as each of its servants responsibility did duck,
would blow over like all the earlier incidents with any degree of luck,
the guy on the trigger with all the blame would be stuck,
senior leadership as usual merely passed along the buck.

Snippets from angry sermons made the late TV news,
but only ephemera emanated from the mechanical oversight reviews.
the Grand Jury was appalled and released their findings for all to peruse,
said the system and training was to blame, which did nothing the situation to defuse.

Behind walls of denial or in churches brimming with fulfilled expectation,
two waring parties smoldered awaiting the attention of a nation.
seething anger amongst a congregation,
local news ratings raised high but not the quality of information.

Then Jessie came to town...

No doubt, never has he met a camera he did not like,
and not always at the right target does his aim properly strike,
but the bureau would make changes, they smiled to the mike,
and the Feds now would be brought in for oversight.

Got each of our leaders to come out of their hole,
oh how they wanted to make clear how they welcomed his role,
of course fixing the problem was always their goal,
before mis-communication claimed another lost soul.

Love him or loathe him he is never ignored,
everything will change, our leaders implored,
from bully pulpit public momentum was restored,
hopefully, this time, the dead will not be ignored.

No city, even one of roses, likes its dirty laundry to air,
especially across the breath of the land, less than perfect race relations to bare,
but if for only a moment away from the lawyers, can the parties a moment of clarity share,
a life lost might bring us closer to the truth if we dare.


Michael Lockridge said...

For most of the twenty years I served in law enforcement a significant part of my time was spent caring for the mentally ill. I had very little training, and there was very little made available. They needed far better than me, but I was about the best the were given on the law enforcement side.

Our county MHU shut down last year. Of course, for most of my twenty years they had only four beds available and none of the guests from the jail qualified, somehow. The shut down was due to even the pittance applied to fund them being withdrawn.

I was often assigned to our mental health unit because I related well with the inmates. They often asked why the other officers did not treat them like human beings. A question too complex for me to really answer.

Perhaps I related to them because I recognize that all humans are broken. Those who hide their brokenness well are not superior beings, better than those who cannot. The net result was that they behaved better for me, and that was the most we could hope for or expect in jail.

Finding good cops is hard, and it can only get harder. Yes, for a blue collar worker they are compensated well, but a good carpenter or plumber makes more (when they are working.)They certainly don't make enough to offset the finger pointing and legal liabilities that come when the job goes sour.

I can't speak to whatever Jessie is. Seeming champion of the downtrodden, he also reeks of snake oil. Has anyone evidence of good works arising in his name? How do the books balance against needless showboating and dark deeds in back rooms? I really don't know.

I admire your courage in attacking such a subject matter in poetic form. A rather good piece, I think.


Pliny-the-in-Between said...

I have to admit that I find Jessie a bit of a mixed bag as well. What I am hoping his visit opened up is a possibility for the bureau (which clams up and circles the wagon no matter what) and the public (with its damned if you do damned if you don't attitude toward the police) to have a conversation that needs to happen.

Michael Lockridge said...

Unfortunately, even when cops do the job well the public doesn't see it as such. The public just does not have the same training, experience and perspective of the police.

For example, the show Cops presents not only stupid-bad criminal behavior, but some pretty bad policing as well. Watching one show with my wife I noted that the take-down of a mentally ill person behaving badly was perfectly timed and only as violent as necessary. She thought the cops went off on the guy for no reason.

She could not read the man as I could. The cord was taught, about to pull the pin. If the cops waited any longer someone would get hurt. Yet to an untrained eye it looked needlessly violent.

With that kind of judgement even by people who are supportive of law enforcement, you can never win as a cop. As a consequence the public they serve and protect become just another enemy.

Even today I am dealing with the emotional and psychological scars of living so many years of my life in a constant state of war.

If the dialog can be opened, that would be grand. Any degree of improvement would be worth celebration.


Pliny-the-in-Between said...

A good friend of ours once told me he was doubly cursed - once as a Vietnam vet and once as a retired police officer - he wasn't sure which was more isolating.

What you say is true of many of our stressful services - only veterans really can understand so of what happens and why.

One of our local media outlets is doing something interesting that at least gives people some perspective.

They are taking some law enforcement training where they get to see how hard it is to make some of these decisions with the data and time available.

Michael Lockridge said...

I received an award for my blog. A silly thing, really, but a way to commend and promote other blogs and bloggers. I have awarded the prize to you, in the spirit of "pass it on."

You may collect the award (an image) at my blog.


Feel free to ignore this, of course. I usually do, but it was given with sincerity and I pass it on as such.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Thanks for the too kind words Micheal.