“Big things come in small packages.”
Idiom or cliché. Lesson or quip. Difficult as it was to grasp as a child, it now makes complete sense.
Same for small gestures. They mean big things.
The Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers is asking New Yorkers to “Go Blue” tomorrow by displaying a blue light at their house to honor the memory of Trooper Nicholas F. Clark. You can read their request on Facebook here. The 29-year-old member of the New York State Police was killed at a domestic call, shot by a suicidal man who then turned the gun on himself.
The PBA is also asking the public to donate to its Signal 30 Fund to support the family of Trooper Clark in the wake of their loss. ALL of the money donated to the charity goes to troopers and their families. There are no administrative fees.
Humanity marks its existence with symbols – gestures of remembrance and meaning – either individually personal, widely adopted, or both. Throughout history, events, causes, or ideologies use symbols to promote meaning. Whether ancient hieroglyphics from Egypt, today’s corporate trademarks, or a social movement phrase, singular gestures have impact.
Those gestures which traverse time and survive today’s often ridiculous pace are symbols that mean the most.
Law enforcement’s symbols prevail. Uniforms and badges, collar brass and bars, hats and weighty gun belts. There’s flashing lights and sirens, emblems, stripes, and logos. They’re meant to identify authority but not necessarily define it. Unfortunately, for some, such symbols instill fear instead of help, peace, calm, and order police provide.
For law enforcement, no symbol today is more universal than the color blue.
Displaying a blue light began with an idea in 1989 by the mother of a Philadelphia Police Officer killed in the line of duty. It was adopted by the national organization, Concerns Of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) and dubbed “Project Blue Light.” Displaying a blue light became ubiquitous several years ago when police families and supporters responded to a perceived movement against law enforcement on the street, in the media, on social media, with politicians, and within government itself.
That perceived hatred was national, but for every police officer it was local. And intimidating. That intimidation manifested in violence, overreaction, extremism, misguided and even misinterpreted social movements. Anarchists in our midst kidnapped even legitimate efforts and contaminated what might have otherwise been productive dialogue.
Attacks on police officers, while nothing new, have become personal because they’ve become as widespread as the today’s palatable disrespect for society, the establishment, and each other. The in-your-face approach to everything is the go-to tactic for more and more people when they don’t get their way. Diplomacy and tact, politeness and regard are no longer considered effective. Immediate satisfaction – even when it means pain, injury, or death to someone else – has become a widely adopted means to an end. For anything.
Even suicide. Suicide by cop. And if that doesn’t work, suicide after killing cops. Sadly, it’s happened frequently enough that it’s become a thing.
When the blue light movement grew, my wife and I displayed blue lights in every fixture on the front of our house. Today, a solitary light remains. And somehow today, that means even more to me.
That blue light is on singular switch, not a timer, which I specifically have to turn on and off. Initially it was because that’s the way our lights were wired. But it’s become a daily gesture for me because it forces me to think twice a day of law enforcement losses. Two times each day I think of our brothers and sisters in blue; of those we’ve lost, those at risk, their families, their sacrifices in death and their families’ sacrifices as they continue living with the loss.
When we lost Trooper Clark on July 2nd, I received a Facebook message from the wife of one of his college football coaches at Alfred. She commented about their personal loss and ended the message with a blue heart – the universal social media symbol for police support. I later found a Twitter message from her … just a blue heart. My wife would occasionally send me that same symbol while at work. Love and support.
Although I’m retired from police work, every time we lose a police officer, particularly to violence, it hurts the same. Cops reflect but have to move on. It’s partially survival, but moreover it’s law enforcement standing up to evil, as always, to protect even those who might harm them.
Which is exactly what Trooper Clark and his colleagues were doing July 2nd.
People who resort to violence may kill the police, but they’ll never take their hearts.
Blue belongs to the cops. You can’t have it.
But they’re willing to share it.
Display it. Wear it.
Support Trooper Clark. Put a blue light out on your porch tonight, wear blue tomorrow, or install a blue light at your place of business.
Hank Kula is a retired police sergeant with 26 years in law enforcement. A certified crime scene investigator, crash reconstructionist, and former journalist, Hank works as a police instructor with recruits, veteran officers, and supervisors. His instructional specialties are in crime scene management and investigation, photography, communications and public information. Click to view more articles written by Hank.