Do your job!

Published 12:06 pm Monday, May 22, 2023

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Tracy K. Hall

National Police Week was from May 14 to 20, 2023. On May 15, Sumter County gathered to remember our peace officers who gave their lives protecting ours. Their names are on a monument which bears an eternal flame outside the Russell Thomas, Jr. Public Safety Building. It is a beautiful monument that calls us into reflection. It is testimony to what it means to serve a community. The price is sometimes higher than we ever expected, yet there are those among us who show up to work every day willing to pay such a price. On the memorial are names, but there is also space. There is space for another name to be carved into the memorial. We don’t know whose name may be carved next. We hope and pray there is never another name chiseled into the monument, but the fact remains, there is the space remaining for another who chooses to lay day their life so that ours may be saved.

Sumter County takes a moment to celebrate the character of a law enforcement officer

Most recently in December of 2016, Jody Smith and Nick Smarr stood between us and what was determined to hurt us. They paid for that choice with their life, and it mattered. It mattered deeply. On the days following the event, rituals took place to honor their lives. At their funerals, Buddy Johnson took the floor to address us. He had been not only given permission to bring “fire” but encouraged by Sharron Johnson, Jody’s mother to do so. And fire he brought. He laid out a path so that we would never be sitting in another room saying goodbye to an officer, and it came down to one phrase, “Do your job!” Buddy returned to speak to Sumter County again on May 15. He reported out on his assessment of how we had been doing our job. He invited us to a purpose, to live within something greater and bigger than ourselves. “You went out and you did your job. The community and the police came together, and you stayed together. Y’all are dealing with what is going on nationally and you’re doing it right. All of you are standing here together—that’s what you have done since Jody and Nick died. This community should be looked at from a national level. This is what you do if you want to fix some of the problems you hear about in law enforcement and community relations. Because you have figured it out here. You work on it.”  Buddy went on to say too many communities depend upon big government or “Washington” to fix the problems between law enforcement and communities. He declared Washington can’t fix the problems, there must be a grass root effort. We are responsible for setting our own example. From repairing on the local level, we will see national change. It is imperative our leaders support our law enforcement and be a piece of the solution. It is important that we as a community see our law enforcement for who they are—folks who dedicate themselves to standing sentinel between us and chaos. If there is one equalizing force for everyone it is the law. The law applies equally to all. There is reverence to be paid towards it, and especially reverence to be paid towards those tasked with enforcing it. But as Buddy stated, there is a need for grace as well. Our law enforcement isn’t going to be perfect. Sometimes in their uniforms and badges we deny them their humanity and expect them to be superhuman. In many cases they meet the challenge, but in every case they are human. The same holds true of this community, sometimes we let our humanity, complete with its cracks, show. From our law enforcement, we will need grace. Grace is a word and a way of life we must practice in order to see our good multiply.

Our leadership is in a place where they can support our law enforcement in a unique manner. Our leadership is supposed to represent us as a community. Are they treating our law enforcement with grace and looking to them to be the resident experts in enforcing our laws or are they constantly complaining without offering aid? Your leaders are to be held to the standards we set. Are we as a community setting the standard in which we partner with law enforcement to bring about the greater good? Are you bringing what you have to offer to the table to ensure our crime rate is diminishing? Are you honoring the leaders and the law enforcement who are working diligently together to make us a healthy community? Because, as Buddy would say, that is your job. Do it.

Our law enforcement is standing. Standing beside you, behind you, in front of you and in their standing, they provide what we sometimes take for granted. In many cases, we will never understand what they give to us. In fact, if all goes well, it is often the case we will never see the folks of law enforcement working fervently to make sure we never know the chaos. It takes a mighty person of character to take on a job which is done with such finesse we are often blind to their work. For such, for a law enforcement officer, they deserve honor and respect. Make sure you are doing your part to offer your honor and respect. Make sure those working on your behalf are also offering their honor and respect. It is not hyperbolic to say, your life depends upon it. Do your job.

The ceremony was complete with ritual and tradition. The fireman’s bell rang out as officers saluted the fallen. Taps was played as we stood in mournful hallelujah for those who paid with their lives. Names were read and remembered. From the Americus Police Department, we remembered: William R. Morris, William Cyrus Barrow, Homer Allen Lee, Mary Anne Barker and Nicholas Ryan Smarr. From Georgia Southwestern Department of Public Safety, we remember Jody Carl Smith. From the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, we remember John Kimmey. In remembering these names, we would be wise to remember the names of the law enforcement officers who chose to serve us, who still choose us and make a daily decision to be the one who stands for us. They have done their job. Godspeed as they continue to endure the race ahead of them.