When these things do happen, they remind us how vulnerable we all are, how thin the line is between civilization and savagery. These rare moments, when gravity seems to quit, leave us shaken, afraid, angry. They shame us. We ask: What is becoming of our world, our little safe corner, when something like this can happen?
Last week, as cop cars sped north, chasing after Charles Robert Wallace, the career criminal who shot two of our lawmen, a ripple of panic and dread rolled across the city. One reporter covering the action as it unfolded wrote on Twitter: “Never had this type of a pit in my stomach when reporting before. Very scary for the community. Lots of unknowns right now.”
Some things just aren’t supposed to happen.
Two public employees, on a routine Tuesday afternoon, aren’t supposed to be shot doing their job.
In these terrible moments, we’re also reminded how there are those of us who fight for justice, imperfect and human as we are, but brave enough to volunteer for the duty. Those who run into buildings, defend the weak and confront the wicked.
Local law enforcement has justifiably faced stiff criticism in recent years for its failures, its tendency toward secrecy and its avoidance of accountability. But it would be a mistake to ignore the bravery and righteousness of many wearing the badge.
That righteousness was on display last week, when Deputies Mike Northway and Matt Spink woke and went to work another shift. And then dutifully intervened on our behalf, so all of us could go home, cook dinner and watch TV, safe.
I was thinking about this the night of the shooting, after we sent our newspaper to press. It was 10 pm, and I was walking through my neighborhood to return a DVD at the store. I knew cops and deputies were still on the job, collecting evidence and checking on the wounded.
After dropping off the video, I followed a man — a boy, really — out the front door of the store. He was wearing shorts and a tank top, looking no more than 19, and he had two packs of diapers under his arm. From behind me, I heard someone shout, “He just grabbed those and didn’t pay!”
A clerk ran past me and confronted the diaper thief. “Do you want to go to jail tonight?” the clerk asked as he slapped one of the diaper bags out of the thief’s arms.
I rolled the scenario through my mind: A boy isn’t supposed to steal diapers, and a grocery clerk isn’t supposed to dodge right hooks.
I stood and watched as the two bounced like boxers in the parking lot, puffing their chests, taking half-hearted swings. The night seemed especially dark. Two deputies lay in a hospital and men were fighting over diapers.
Then someone called the cops, and I walked home.