On Wednesday, Virginia news media begin publishing an Open thank you letter from the Dermyer family. It's the latest installment in the public grieving for Virginia State Trooper Chad P. Dermyer, who was murdered by James Brown III of Aurora, Illinois, during a state police training exercise gone terribly wrong at the Richmond bus terminal Thursday, March 31.
The letter came on the heels of massive public mourning for the death, as well as support for the Dermyer family. If you're a Minnesotan whose only knowledge of the murder is a post on Minnesota State Representative Tony Cornish's Facebook page, this mourning and support for Dermyer may come as a surprise. The Vernon Center lawmaker and former lawman shared a short essay his son Gabe had written, which asked the questions:
I ask you all. Where’s the protests for Chad? Who’s going to block the highway for Chad? Where is the entourage of politicians for Chad? Time to ask yourselves folks, why is it that we are rallying for career criminals and violent felons, while selling out our law enforcement officers? I ask all Police leaders and administrations, as well as all responsible Politicians, where are the press conferences to defend your people?
So here's a look at Virginia's reaction to the murder.
Thousands mourn Dermyer
The day of the shooting, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe released the following statement after Dermyer was killed in the line of duty in Richmond:
"Dorothy and I are heartbroken by the senseless death of Virginia State Trooper Chad Dermyer, who died serving in the line of duty today in Richmond. Like so many brave Virginia men and women, Trooper Dermyer put on a uniform and risked his life every day to keep us safe, first as a U.S. Marine and then as a police officer. He was a husband, a father and a hero who was taken from us too soon.
"This is a loss that impacts us all. It should inspire prayers for the family, friends and fellow troopers who are mourning tonight, and gratitude for those who protect and serve. And as we grieve, we should also reflect, yet again, on how we can come together as a Commonwealth to end the senseless violence that costs the lives of too many mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters."
As is the custom, the governor ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the state capitol and other public buildings and he attended the funeral. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:
Gov. Terry McAuliffe met privately with Dermyer’s family before the funeral, presenting the trooper’s wife with the Virginia flag and his father the U.S. flag that flew over the state Capitol the day Dermyer died.
McAuliffe wasn't alone in Virginia leadership making public declarations honoring Dermyer. The Gloucester Daffodil Festival on Wednesday prompted a former senator and governor to pause, the local paper reports:
Among those packing the courthouse for the opening ceremonies were a dozen Daffodil Queens from years past, as well as several local, state and federal legislators—U.S. Senator and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner. . . .
Warner, during his brief comments, addressed the killing in Richmond on March 31 of Virginia State Trooper Chad P. Dermyer. Dermyer, who lived in Gloucester, was laid to rest on Tuesday.
“As a former governor, there’s always a special place in your heart for the state troopers,” Warner said, adding that his thoughts and prayers are with Trooper Dermyer’s family. “Law enforcement … we’ve got your back,” Warner said.
Thousands attended Dermyer's funeral on Tuesday. WAVY TV reports in Funeral service held for Trooper Dermyer:
HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Mourners from across the country and this region gathered at the Liberty Baptist Church to say their final goodbye to Trooper Chad Dermyer.
Dermyer, a former Marine and Gloucester resident, died in the line of duty last week after James Brown III shot him at a Greyhound bus station last Thursday. More than 4,000 were said to have been in Hampton for the service. Outside the church sat the patrol car of Dermyer, covered in flowers. . . .
There was an out-pour of support from local communities and across the nation for Trooper Dermyer in the wake of last Thursday’s shooting.
Today’s funeral service was followed by a procession to Gloucester County for a private burial. The 30-mile procession feature hundred of police motorcycles, and a long line of friends and family.
Many local residents from Hampton to Gloucester came out and stood along the route to pay their respects for Dermyer and to honor all law enforcement.
Virginia State Police Superintendent Colonel W. Steven Flaherty was among those speaking at the funeral, which was broadcast live, according to a post on the Richmond United for Law Enforcement Facebook page.
A Friday, April 1 vigil for the slain trooper was moved to VCU Siegel Center--a local sports area--to accommodate the hundreds who turned out, dressed in blue to honor Dermyer. Richmond Police Chief Deputy Steve Drew spoke at the vigil.
A 10th grader organized a Blue Lives Matter rally for the fallen officer outside of the Greyhound station where he was killed, WAVY reported. The rally took place on Saturday night.
On Sunday afternoon, Trooper Dermyer [was] remembered at a vigil in Gloucester:
The Gloucester community remembered slain Virginia State Trooper Chad Dermyer during a vigil Sunday afternoon.
“To put on the badge and put on that uniform,” police chaplain Sam Frye of James City County said. “Officers are making a conscious decision and commitment to lay down their life for their family and loved ones.”
The Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office organized the event that took place at Gloucester High School. Dermyer was a resident of Gloucester with his wife and two kids. The vigil was on a soccer field; a symbol of the Dermyer family’s involvement in the Gloucester soccer community.
Were roads blocked in Virginia? No, but they were lined for the funeral motorcade. Police leaders and administrators took the lead at public vigils and the funeral--and politicians spoke up for the fallen trooper.
Finally, there was no public support for the man who shot Trooper Dermyer.
Frankly, Bluestem is a bit embarrassed for the Cornishes in this one, since the document sweeps the mass response supporting Dermyer under the rug. Erasing the grief of thousands of people in order to shame police administrations and elected leaders? Seriously?
Closer to home: Minnesotans respond to officers down
Do Minnesotans, law enforcement brass and elected officials denigrate slain officers? We see much evidence to the contrary.
In February 2016, Fargo ND police officer and Minnesota National Guard veteran Jason Moszer was shot and killed during a standoff with a suspect in a house near downtown Fargo. People from both sides of the Red River mourned; Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton ordered flags flown at half staff on the day of the funeral of the Sabin, Minnesota, resident.
Moszer's funeral was livestreamed from the Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. The Arena seats 5000-6000. Bring Me The News' digest of news coverage noted that thousands attended the funeral. The Star Tribune reported in 21-mile procession Monday for slain Fargo officer will wind into Minnesota:
. . . A memorial sign honoring Moszer stands in front of the Sabin Fire Department, and the flag outside is at half-staff. A poster shows a photo of Moszer. Friends, family and officers have written notes of remembrance on the white border surrounding Moszer’s picture.
Before the University of North Dakota hockey game Friday night in Grand Forks, the rink inside was bathed in blue lighting in tribute as the Fighting Hawks and University of Minnesota Duluth, Bulldogs took the ice.
KVLY-TV in Fargo reports that at least five people are being helped thanks to organs donated from Moszer. . .
Steven M. Sandberg
In mid-October, the state was shocked by the death of Steven M. Sandberg, an Aitkin County deputy sheriff who was monitoring an unhandcuffed suspect at St. Cloud Hospital; the suspect gained control of Sandberg’s gun and squeezed off several rounds.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith both attended the funeral, along with the 3,000 people [who] pour[ed] into tiny Aitkin to bury Deputy Steven M. Sandberg the Star Tribune reported. Some of the details:
This small city's biggest room couldn't fit them all.
Family members, neighbors and about 2,000 law enforcement officers from across North America gathered here Friday to honor one of their own, Deputy Steven M. Sandberg.
They began arriving at 6 a.m., standing in the cold rain, directing long lines of cars and emergency vehicles streaming into town. They were still standing vigil eight hours later, as raw winds swept the cemetery where Sandberg was laid to rest on a hilltop overlooking one of Aitkin County's many lakes.
The 60-year-old deputy was killed Sunday by a suspect he was guarding at St. Cloud Hospital. Sandberg left behind his wife Kristi, daughter Cassie, and a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone — particularly the 24-year veteran sheriff's investigator who took the time to listen. . . .
The town, home to about 2,300 people north of Lake Mille Lacs, dressed itself in flags and blue and black ribbons. A pair of ladder trucks hoisted a flag outside the auditorium, recognizing the almost two decades Sandberg also served as an Aitkin firefighter. Signs posted in stores around town said, "A hero remembered … never dies."
A death in the line of duty is always tragic, but it hits especially hard in a small community and a small force like Aitkin County's 18-officer sheriff's department.
"Minneapolis loses an officer, everybody probably knows them, but they didn't build a house with them, they didn't raise children together, probably didn't vacation together," said Jeff Beahen, president of the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association and chief of the Rogers Police Department. "It's a family."
"It's a tough day for Aitkin," said Aitkin Mayor Gary Tibbitts. "We've never lost an officer like this before … Now the community will wrap themselves around Kristi and Cassie."
Just as shocking, Mendota Heights officer Scott Patrick was murdered by Brian Fitch Sr. during a routine traffic stop on July 30, 2014. Thousands of Minnesotans mourned.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported in Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick laid to rest:
. . . “I will miss my brother,” fellow Mendota Heights officer Robert Lambert said in an emotional eulogy. “Scott, I love you. We love you. Rest now. We’ll take your watch from here.”
Lambert was one of about 5,000 people, including about 4,000 law enforcement officers from every corner of Minnesota and beyond, who gathered at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church for Patrick’s 11 a.m. funeral. . . .
Inside the church, Mendota Heights officers joined Patrick’s widow, Michelle, and daughters, 17-year-old Erin and 13-year-old Amy, along with Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and other dignitaries.
The crowd spilled into overflow tents and beyond. A Department of Public Safety spokesman said organizers got phone calls asking for information and directions from law enforcement officers as far away as Canada.
Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener said Patrick, a 19-year department veteran, chose a path he loved and never strayed from it.
“He was true to himself. He was true to his family. He was true to his profession,” Aschenbrener said. ...
After the service, police vehicles left in two groups on an eight-mile procession through West St. Paul and Mendota Heights to Acacia Park Cemetery. The cars lined the road as far as the eye could see — lights flashing, sirens silent.
Crowds of onlookers — from babies in strollers to a 92-year-old man pushing a walker — lined the route with American flags and homemade signs.
One sign read: “May God bless our neighbor, our friend, our hero.” Others bore Patrick’s 2231 badge number along with a simple “thanks.”
Rose Singer of West St. Paul held her small flag high throughout the roughly 40 minutes it took for the parade of peace officers to clear the spot she’d camped out along Butler Avenue and Smith Street. That’s just a block south of the scene of Patrick’s shooting at Smith and Dodd Road.
Like the other officers, Patrick deserved all of the respect he had earned through service to a community, state and nation.
Was traffic blocked? We imagine that an eight-mile funeral procession disrupted people's daily routine. Too bad. We suspect the motorcades for Dermyer, Moszer and Sandberg might have as well in their respective community.
Discounting officers down
Perhaps the most generous thing to be said of Gabe Cornish's comments is that he fails to see the response to the death of officers in the line of duty as public demonstrations. The vigils, rally and funerals are performed within a ritualized code of behavior. It is the vocabulary of grieving, not the discourse of discontent.
That the Cornishes should imply that citizens, law enforcement brass and political leaders haven't stood up for slain officers serves to cheapen efforts to honor downed law enforcement personnel. The reaction is real, and it's possible both honor fallen officers while reviewing procedures that will make situations less lethal for both officers and the general public.
But to ask citizens to never question police procedure and never protest as well, while disparaging public figures? Seems like another country, and some fragile notions about their own power.
Photo: People lining the street for the funeral motorcade for Fargo Police Officer Jason Moszer, via Forum News Service.
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