Instead Of Painting Our Community As Racist Citizens, Say A Prayer For Our Police Officers
I was very disappointed to see the divisive and demeaning language used by a member of Westfield’s clergy in articles submitted to the The Post-Journal, OBSERVER, and the Westfield Republican. In discussing her reasons for organizing a protest in Westfield to support the Black Lives Matter movement, Pastor Shannon Smythe of the First Presbyterian Church in Westfield made several assertions about the residents of Westfield. Pastor Smythe said, “There is a lot that white folks who are living in white spaces don’t know or understand and it can be dangerous.” She added, “We are just as much a part of the white supremacy as any other place in the world. White folks don’t have to wait for people of color to be around to speak about the issues at hand and begin their journey towards becoming anti-racist citizens.”
Even more problematic and divisive than the words of Pastor Smythe were the actions of some of the protestors in the Lincoln-Bedell Park in Westfield carrying “Defund the Police” and other signs advocating the dismantling of police departments. I spent three decades of my life working for two different law enforcement agencies in Southern California. There are three main take-aways I learned from that experience. First, police departments are a critical necessity to maintain order. Next, police departments must exist because pure evil exists in this world and it is the police officer who must stop that evil from victimizing our communities. Finally, use of force by police officers is never pretty, but it is necessary to save lives.
Before I go any further, I want to emphasize what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis was not a justified use of force by a police officer. It was criminal homicide. I like many of my counterparts in Southern California police departments had to use force frequently, and in my career I was involved in an on-duty shooting that saved my life and multiple citizens lives on Easter Sunday night in 1990. I was a 26-year-old recently married police officer working a one-man car at night when I was dispatched to a burglary alarm in a commercial area of our city. While driving to the call I saw a small truck driving down a residential street without its headlights on. Something did not feel right and I diverted from my radio call and stopped the vehicle. What I did not know was that inside the vehicle was a drunk male who was a military combat veteran who had an argument with his girlfriend at an Easter celebration a couple of hours earlier. He left the party, went home to arm himself with a handgun, and had returned to his girlfriend’s family’s house to shoot her and her family members while they were standing outside in the front yard. I stopped him just before he was about to pull the trigger. The suspect then engaged me in a gunfight. As in any use of force situation that I found myself in I could care less what the race or gender of the suspect was. I just wanted to survive and make it home to see my wife and live for another day. Had I not been an armed police officer that night, the girlfriend of the suspect and her entire family would likely have been killed in a drive-by shooting.
For five years of my career I was a homicide detective which gave me a front row seat to constant death and destruction. This experience taught me about the level of evil that exists in our society and who must stop that evil from doing harm. I was one of the homicide detectives in the “Bedroom Basher” serial killer case where five women were raped and murdered by a man named Gerald Parker. One of those victims was nine months pregnant at the time she was raped and her baby was delivered stillborn. I was also the lead homicide detective in the first case in the history of the State of California that resulted in a death sentence for committing a murder during the course of a hate crime. The suspect, Gunner Lindberg, killed a young Vietnamese man with a very bright future named Thien Minh Ly, who was rollerblading on the tennis courts at his hometown high school. At the time Lindberg killed Ly, Lindberg was a fugitive from the state of Missouri where he had tried to kill a man with a shotgun. When you advocate defunding or dismantling a police department who are you going to send to arrest the Gerald Parker’s and Gunner Lindberg’s of the world? A social worker, a mental health counselor, a community outreach worker or whatever other politically correct title you want to come up with? No, people like this must be stopped by a police officer with a gun and a badge. Also, across this nation and even in foreign countries where I traveled to in pursuit of wanted killers, I can tell you there is no support for a city without a police department. The last place people want to live is in a community where police officers, firefighters, or school teachers are being laid off.
I am grateful to be living in Westfield where many truly honorable, hard-working, and decent people live. I am also grateful for the services I receive from the men and women of the Westfield Police Department, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, and the New York State Police. Any attempt by any elected official to defund or dismantle these agencies I suspect would result in that elected official looking for their next job.
Instead of stoking the racial fires and painting our community as white folks who are racist citizens, I would ask Pastor Smythe to instead say a prayer for our local police officers that they get to go home to their family safely after every shift. I would also hope Pastor Smythe would consider holding an upcoming service at her church dedicated to the recovery of Officer Shay Mikalonis of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Officer Mikalonis was shot in the head during a Black Lives Matter protest on the Las Vegas Strip. He survived the shooting, but unfortunately this 29-year-old police officer is paralyzed from the neck down, is unable to speak, and is on a ventilator.
For Pastor Smythe, and her group of protestors wearing their masks and holding their signs, I ask you not to divide and impugn our community, but instead be grateful that should your life be in jeopardy at three in the morning with a blizzard raging outside and you call for help, one of those men or women who you want to put out of a job will be there to help you.
Tom Tarpley is a Westfield resident.