Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial written by Jolene Almendarez, Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice.
As always, we are eager to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
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ITHACA, N.Y. — I have lived in the city of Ithaca for nearly a year and, until last week, have never felt as unsafe as I did while realizing that a police officer I talk to almost every day could have been shot.
It seems obvious. Policing is a dangerous job and officers are sometimes shot while on duty. I know that and so does everyone reading this article.
But to think about it happening in Ithaca feels like a stranger just walked into my house — like a bit of reality seeped into these 10 square miles. It’s supposed to be safe here.
While working on Wednesday, I heard on the police scanner that a shooting had been reported on Cleveland Avenue, just a few blocks from The Ithaca Voice office. So I rushed to the scene and instantly felt like the shooting was no big deal. There were no ambulances, fire trucks or police tape keeping spectators away from the scene. There were just a few squad cars. No injuries.
I gathered a little information, posted the story and headed back to the office. A few minutes later, though, I heard on the scanner that the shooter might have been caught, again, just a few blocks from the office. So I called the Ithaca Police Department Spokesman Jamie Williamson and found out that he was the one who found the alleged ‘bad guy.’
Officer Williamson said he was not responding to the shooting call. He was doing something that media organizations, including The Ithaca Voice, never really take the time to report about. He was headed to speak to a group of elderly people about how to reduce the risk of being a victim of a scam or crime.
While he was driving to the event, he heard on the police scanner that an officer thought the vehicle being driven by the shooter — a gray minivan with aftermarket rims — was sighted. But when the officer turned around to pull the vehicle over, couldn’t find it anymore.
By sheer luck, Williamson was directly nearby. He turned onto a random street and there was the van, parked on the street with a man inside.
Williamson called for backup and, when more units arrived, instructed the man (who Williamson says was very cooperative) to exit the vehicle.
It’s actually a really cool story — an officer catches a person of interest less than an hour after a shooting.
But we started talking about it in the newsroom afterward.
Williamson, who was alone when he found the van, could have been shot. That’s not an impossible thing that could have happened.
As a matter of fact, 26 officers have died in 2016 in the United States while in the line of duty. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which reports the deaths of officers throughout the country, nine of those deaths were automobile-related, 14 involved gunfire, one officer died of a heart attack, one died in an aircraft accident and another was killed by accidental gunfire.
According to a report from CNBC published last year, that makes being a police officer one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the country, with an officer dying about every 60 hours.
That brings me back to Officer Williamson.
I saw on Facebook that he recently went to Disney World with his family — I saw him with his two little girls dressed as princesses. I know that while he is a very professional and helpful person to work with as a public information officer, he is also hilarious and forthright.
I also know that what happened last Wednesday was not unusual. Every day, officers put their lives at risk to keep the public safe.
It can be hard to remember that, though, when politics and personal experience are factored in to how we think about police officers.
For instance, I have personally been hit on by a police officer in San Antonio while I reported a crime that happened while I was bartending. It was degrading and I wished I hadn’t called the police.
Another time in San Antonio, I got home from work to find my sliding door wide open and my dog gone. The police officer, who got to the scene nearly an hour later, refused to even get out of his vehicle to check my apartment for an intruder or missing items. I had to walk through my apartment with my elderly landlord. He didn’t even take an official statement from me.
I know those experiences, and others like those, are minor complaints in comparison to atrocious crimes committed against people, especially people of color, by police officers across the nation.
I do not excuse or defend those officers.
But I also cannot liken those officers — criminals is a more appropriate word — to officers like Jamie Williamson.
It’s worth remembering that while officers wear the same uniform, they are not at all the same.
Note: Nobody has been charged in connection with last week’s shooting and police said they are still investigating the incident.
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