A Thought: On Funerals

A few days ago, May 4th, 2016 to be exact, marked the one-year end of watch anniversary of NYPD officer Brian Moore who was violently killed while performing his duty of protecting and serving the people of New York City. We’re also about to head into Police Week, which honors the service and sacrifice of the about 140-160 officers that lose their life in the line of duty each year. Thinking about Moore’s death, and that of so many others, I couldn’t help but also remember the many, many times Dave put on his dress uniform, wrapped his shield in a mourning band, and took his place among the thousands of officers paying their respects to a fallen officer. Once he moved to Texas, Dave flew back and forth between NYC and Texas numerous times to honor his fallen brothers.

It’s devastating to know that this is the current reality of being a police officer in the United States. Attending funerals, wearing mourning bands and memorial shirts, and making donations to the families of the fallen are all part of the routine responsibilities that many police officers incorporate into their daily living. Just looking through Dave’s photos makes it plain how many officers have been taken too early, too violently.

And now, Dave is one of those fallen.

No matter who we are, no matter whether we grew up rich or poor, no matter the pigment of our skin, no matter our political leanings: We should all know that we have to do better.

For our communities.
For those brave men and women in blue who put everything on the line to keep us safe.
For our humanity.

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One funeral of too many.

A Story: Walking Besides Us

Some of the stories and anecdotes that you lovely people have sent me have been unbelievably moving, but this one just brought me to tears. It truly exemplifies the kind of person Dave was – how he always observed his world and looked out for the well-being of those around him; how he always thought of the little things that could make someone’s day a little brighter. Thank you so, so much, Cindy, for sending us this story.

I worked with David in the 9th precinct. I was his timekeeper. I wanted to give you my sincere condolences. I’m sure you know this better than anyone but he was a amazing man. I sent this same memory to Marta a few days after the services.

On May 14, 2013 I was awaken at close to midnight by multiple phone calls to tell me my fiancé was involved in a motorcycle accident and that he needed me at the hospital. When I arrived I was told he didn’t make it. It’s a day I will never forget and a pain that has yet to leave me. The reason why I’m sharing this with you is because I only chose to take a week off from work at the 9th precinct. I wanted to go back because I knew the support I had there was beyond no other and the work would keep my mind occupied.

I remember coming back to work and seeing David and the hug that he gave me that left me breathless (literally he squeezed me so tight I thought I was going to die) after he hugged me he extended his arms while still holding my shoulders and asked where I was headed. I told him I was going to buy something to eat and immediately he said I’ll drive you wherever you’d like to go. I smiled and thanked him but told him I’d rather go alone, that I could use the walk and fresh air because it had been a rough day for me and I’d been crying on and off all morning. He asked if I was sure and I said yes and thanked him.

As I walked up the street I glanced behind me to see him walking a few paces behind me. I turned to ask him where he was going and he said he was giving me my space but was taking the walk with me and wanted to make sure I was ok. He followed me to the deli and waited outside and then followed me back to the precinct. He did this without saying a word to me. All day he was poking his head into the payroll office just to check on me without saying a word. I’d just see his head peaking in from around the corner. Later on I asked him why he’d followed me to the store instead of walking with me and his response was: “I wanted to give you your space and also make sure you were safe. Besides, I had a feeling your fiancé was walking beside you and I didn’t want to intrude.” (He must’ve heard me talking to myself.) That brought instant tears to my eyes but also a comfort to my heart.

Needless to say everyday that I saw him I had a shadow and it made me laugh so hard but also helped me because every time he did it, I was at a weak/down moment and no one else noticed it but him. He had a heart of gold and will be truly missed.

The last time I spoke to David last month he congratulated me on joining the academy but tried so hard to convince me to join the academy in Euless. I promised him that I would come out to visit and he told me: “I guarantee you once you visit you’re never going to want to leave.” I was looking forward to that vacation but am grateful, thankful and blessed to be able to say that I knew him, and more importantly that he was a friend.

I don’t know what it feels like to have someone take the life of my loved one so violently but I do know what it feels like to have spoken to my fiancé and kiss him sadly for the last time and not even know it. So, I can relate to Marta’s pain although no two people mourn the same. My prayer for you and the family is that you find the strength and peace within your hearts so that you may feel the comfort and security he is still providing for you all. He’s not watching you from up above. He’s walking beside you. May you and the family be blessed now and always.

Love always,

Cindy J., NYPD

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A Thought: On Doing Better

Yesterday, Dutch novelist and Huffington Post columnist Pia de Jong published her take on my recent blog post “My Brother Was Killed Because He Wore A Uniform.” Full disclosure, though Pia only knew Dave peripherally, she knows my parents through my dad’s work and has been touched by this tragedy for that reason. Pia’s piece marked the first time a more left-leaning outlet picked up my post (so please go comment & support the post!), and I well know this is because the author knows our family. At the same time, my piece has meanwhile been shared on various law enforcement Facebook pages (like Law Enforcement Today) and websites (like Police Daily), CBS DFW did an article on it, and the Star Telegram mentioned the post in a discussion of Dave’s killer.

Of course, the law enforcement community can easily relate to my post. It serves to humanize a man in a uniform at a time when media depictions of police officers are highly polarized. The LEO community cares because we all know that our husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and best friends are so much more than the blue they wear. Our loved ones’ job is not what defines them. Every single person in the law enforcement community can imagine and understand the fear and pain of losing their loved one. I imagine that many of the LEO readers see my post and contemplate the words they would write in tribute to their man or woman in blue, or perhaps, think about what would be written about them.

The question I’m grappling with is how the average person can be brought to see the humanity in officers. Unfortunately, the uniform is a symbol for a larger system that many people feel is problematic or even oppressive. And, you know what, support of our police does not mean that we can’t at the same time also acknowledge problematic officers or policies that inflict hardship and pain in some communities. It is not a contradiction to do so. It means we’re able to see the gray areas. It means that we have nuance.

Yet, there is a distinct separation between a problematic system and the individual officers that are sworn to uphold laws and perform the duty of protecting and serving their communities. The police officer is responsible for dealing with situations that most of the time, by definition, involve conflict, suffering and confrontation. Unless we have interacted with a police officer personally, and in a positive way, it’s difficult to look beyond the uniform to see the man or woman who is doing an important job that requires patience, bravery, and split-second decision-making.

How can we get to a place where, instead of yelling at each other from opposite sides, we face each other with tolerance, understanding and a true desire to find common ground?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Email them to the ForHofer email address, and I will post some responses anonymously.

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Dave’s NYPD graduation, before he could fill his uniform.

A Tribute: On Valuing Bonds

“When it came time for Dave to go to Texas, I was sad to see him go but incredibly happy for him to start a new journey and new chapter in life. As is everything in life, things and friendships change. Unfortunately, the frequency of our interactions grew further apart and I had invested into a new relationship myself as life seemed to begin moving in a new direction. I still managed to keep a brief contact with Dave and exclaimed to him how awesome his proposal was and how difficult he made it for many men to follow lol.

I now find myself dealing with feeling and emotions I cannot say I’ve ever felt in my life and that I cannot contain. I know the feelings are due to how genuine and true of a person Dave was and how difficult it is to comprehend that he is no longer here. I have had relationships that have come and gone during my time in this life, but Dave was much, much different. He valued the people he had bonds with, no matter how short or how long. He would show genuine interest and simply wanted everyone and anyone to come together and enjoy one another’s company. Dave had a wonderful heart and I hope and believe he is now at rest, looking down at all the wonderful relationships he had and lives he touched.”

~ B.B., NYPD

My Brother Was Killed Because He Wore A Uniform

I know this is a longer piece than normal, but I hope you will take the time to read this to the very end. And, if you think this is an important message, PLEASE share this to your networks.
Edit: For some, perhaps, unexpected responses to this piece, please check out this post.

Just days before my brother David was murdered, we had hatched a plan. He would fly into New York City from Texas and meet me at Newark Airport to pick up our older brother Boris and niece Valerie who were arriving from Taiwan. Our goal: to surprise our dad for his 60th birthday. For the past decade one of us had always been missing from our gatherings. The surprise, awkwardly captured on an iPhone, was as wonderful as could be imagined. There is a video of David and our dad encouraging Valerie to a wild high-five-off; photos of David in a sparkling cowboy hat, holding a mug of whiskey, gleefully teasing my mom about her liberal politics; and the recollection of a serious conversation between David and me about his plans for the future.  Two days later, David was ambushed and shot in the line of duty as a police officer.

On March 1st, a deranged young man set a trap in a local Euless, Texas, park. Ignoring the park visitors and near-by school, he assumed a position in a hidden area, carefully laid out various loaded weapons and fired off a few rounds. Those shots gained the attention of community members who called 911. “Shots fired” is considered a routine call in this area of Texas, usually easily explained by fireworks or the testing of a legal gun. David was not assigned the call – he was a “rover” that shift so he could go wherever needed. Knowing my brother, he heard that his good friends were answering the call and decided to back them up. David was the first on scene, noticed movement by a drainage pipe behind a bush and directed the person to show his hands. David was shot in the head. Chaos followed. The valor on the part of other officers prevented an even more devastating tragedy. However, ultimately the details are immaterial. My brother died.

David did not die because he made a bad decision or took an unnecessary risk. He did not die because he didn’t have enough training or adequate equipment. He died because he wore a uniform.

My brother’s path to becoming a police officer was not an obvious one. Born into a liberal, academic family, David attended a private liberal arts school in Brooklyn Heights (where he was a puppeteer, poet and Chinese language student), and later New York University. He was well-traveled and had been presented with a wealth of experiences and opportunities. His decision to become a police officer stemmed from his experience during 9/11 when he was fifteen. In the midst of the tragedy unfolding in New York City, my brother focused on the people who were working to make things better: the firefighters, the police, the EMTs, the community members lining the streets with water and snacks. The experience was so powerful that he wrote a multitude of poems contemplating the sacrifices required of those brave souls who make others’ safety their calling. Years later, against all expectations and to the great confusion of those closest to him, who had expected him to grow out of these aspirations, David joined the NYPD after college. He became a police officer with the idealistic vision to help make New York City a better place.

As bits and pieces of his biography have made their way into articles and news clips these past weeks, many have been tempted to mourn his loss as an “exceptional officer” in an otherwise problematic institution. This is a mistake.

There are countless reasons why my brother should be alive today, chief among them to give lessons to us all about how to care for one another. Yet, in that regard my brother is not an exception. There are many caring police officers who do good in an incredibly challenging profession. Unfortunately, we tend not to honor these officers. Rather, what makes the news out of the millions of positive interactions officers have with people daily are the very small number of these interactions that devolve into an abuse of power.  Most officers want to and do do their jobs well. They want to keep our streets safe. They want to help those who need help. They want to solve problems in their communities. However, instead of becoming teachers or social workers or psychologists, they chose to make a difference as a first responder, navigating the acute emergencies and difficulties that crop up in each of our lives.

In the aftermath of David’s death, we’ve heard a lot of stories about him from the officers who worked most closely with him. One of his colleagues from the 9th Precinct in NYC told me about how the two of them came across a severely emotionally-disturbed woman. She was rocking and screaming in the middle of a NYC street. His friend, an ex-marine with more years on the job than David, said he would have placed the woman in cuffs, made sure she couldn’t harm anyone, and then talked to her. My brother took a different approach. He started chatting with her, trying to calm her without having to take such measures. The result was that she slapped him straight across the face. My brother, knowing that she wasn’t a true threat first turned to his fellow officer and then back to her and said: “Did she just slap me? You just slapped me! You can’t do that.” The story goes on until the woman is voluntarily strapped into the ambulance and sheepishly looks at my brother and says: “I’m sorry.”

This is what made my brother remarkable. He could create a connection to any other person. Even someone out of touch with reality could recognize his humanity. He conveyed his care and respect for people in many ways, but what the world seems to remember most fondly is his characteristic sense of humor. He could lighten any situation with a self-effacing joke, a bit of quick wit, or the adoption of an absurd German accent. He could bridge worlds. At a gathering after the memorial service in NYC, one officer made a futile attempt to understand this tragedy. He couldn’t. Confused, he could only say: “He loved everyone and everyone loved him: black or white, young or old, rich or poor. He could reach everyone.” My brother’s gift was his ease at bridging the gaps between people. He just happened to be wearing a uniform while doing this job.

We need dedicated first responders in order to help and protect our communities. If we are to promote healing between law enforcement and the communities they serve, we cannot allow ourselves to be guided by negative assumptions about what it means to wear a uniform, just as we cannot allow ourselves to be guided by assumptions about what it means to come from a certain zip code or have a certain skin color. The willingness to heal has to come from each one of us.

We are only presented with the images and stories that represent the polarizing extremes: a cop being killed; a cop behaving badly. But, life happens mostly in between and that is where the acts of kindness are, unknown to most of us.

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[Photo Credit: “The Human U.S. Shield” by 30,000 officers and men by Arthur Mole: This is a picture taken in 1918, which depicts 30,000 officers and men arranged into giant human US Shield. The photographer’s goal was to create a series of images that would help Americans feel good about themselves and boost patriotism.]

A Story: #904

This note was sent, anonymously, by one of the Euless PD officers. Thank you so much for sharing.

“A few months ago, when we were on shift together, Dave sent me a message through our unit computers and asked, “Where you at?” I told him I was catching up on paperwork at Midway Park. He rolls up a short time later in his patrol unit (#904) and, with a serious face, asks: “Bro, smell my unit. Do you smell anything?” Knowing Dave, I immediately assumed he was trying to set me up for a fart joke, so I told him, “Brother, I’m not going to pull your finger.” He laughed, but again, with a serious face, says: “For real. Tell me, does my car smell like a cigar?” He apparently couldn’t resist the urge to try out a stogie around Christmas time and I couldn’t blame him. His unit did smell a bit like a cigar, but the boys at our local car wash fixed him up good. Just don’t tell Chief.

That was what I used to think of every time I saw unit 904. It was, until that day at least, when he was again in Unit 904. His unit sat parked where he put it at that park when he arrived to assist his brothers. It sat there for hours after that God forsaken moment he was taken from us. None of us wanted to move or touch or disturb anything with it. We wanted it to be just as Dave left it. As if, somehow, maybe Dave would come pick it back up and drop it back off at base. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Nothing on that day did. It still doesn’t. I don’t know. I know I won’t drive 904 anymore though. That’s Dave’s unit.

Rest easy brother.”

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A Tribute: About Yankees & Hillbillies

I received this note from a Euless community member who met David through his work on multiple occasions. Thank you for sharing.

“I worked with David so many times that we started to know each other on a more personal level outside of work. I was a wrecker driver at B&B Wrecker Service. I didn’t know a lot of the officers by name – just by their faces. But, he knew me by name.
Not long before his passing he was called out to my mom’s house because some new people moved in next to them and they have a really big dog that never stopped barking. My mom told him I worked for B&B and he knew exactly who I was. She playfully asked if she could shoot the dang thing with a BB gun lol! He joked what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

When we would work a scene together it was always the same greeting. I would say: “What’s up, Yankee.” His response was: “Not much, hillbilly.” One day, I finally asked him what brought him to Texas. His response was that he wanted to live longer, that the streets of New York are pretty dangerous. He also mentioned some other things, like that he wanted to start a family with his fiance. But, that’s the main thing that stuck in my head. When I heard there was a shooting a prayed it wasn’t him. Then I got the word and my heart just sank.

I pray for all the men and women that risk their lives everyday to make this world a safer place for us to live. God bless you all and thank you for all the sacrifices that you make.

Officer Dave Hofer, it was an absolute pleasure and honor getting to meet you. And, I thank all the other cities that came together to make his memorial service possible.

~ Daniel R., Resident

A Tribute: A Letter

I received this touching letter from a Euless resident. Thank you, Arisha.

Hello,

My name is Arisha Sumar. I am a current resident of Euless, TX. It was a day when I was driving home from Texas Woman’s University, and the moment I entered Euless, I saw all the cops speeding and going so fast. I knew it had to be something serious. When I got home, my mom informed me that it was an officer-involved shooting. When I heard that, I started to pray. I just want to let you know that even though I don’t know David Hofer personally, it aches my heart to see such a good man go after all he has done for everyone and made such a positive impact. His lost has made an impact on the whole community.

I attended the funeral in Bedford and I am truly sorry for your loss. It was eye-opening to see how many people were there. I sat with another Euless resident who also didn’t know David Hofer and it made a big impact on her as well. Up to this day, I am still in disbelief about what has happened in my town. What David did is heroic and he will never be forgotten. I just want to say I am truly sorry for your loss and I am always praying for you and your family.

I don’t expect a response but just want to you to know that you guys are appreciated in every way possible. Also, I placed this sticker on my car and I am absolutely proud of it.

Thank you and God bless you all.

arisha

A Story: On Tattoo Sleeves & Solidarity

“I had the privilege to be one of Dave’s training officers when he came to Texas. There wasn’t much to teach Dave because he already knew how to be a cop. I just needed to train him in our procedures and navigating around the city.

This proved to be the biggest task because Dave would get lost as soon as he left the PD parking lot, but he picked it up very quickly.

Dave had to wear a sleeve on one arm to cover up his tattoos. This made him miserable in the Texas heat. One time at lunch he said “I can’t take it anymore” and pulled it off. I just laughed and told him to put it back on once we finished. To show support for him as his FTO [Field Training Officer], I wore one of my sleeves with fake tattoos on it into the PD and said: “If Dave has to wear one, then I wear one!” 

Once he finished training I got to work on the same shift with Dave and would chat with him at times, always with me ending up laughing. Dave made the work more fun and I regret not getting to know him better.

I have been touched by the many stories of Dave and how he impacted so many people. I hope that we can all become better people and officers because of him. RIP Bro.”

~ David P., Euless PD

A Tribute: From The Wife Of An Officer

The author of this letter preferred to remain anonymous due to her husband’s role in the PD. It’s a heart-wrenching and beautiful tribute. Thank you so much for sending it to me. Much love.

Dear David,

I did not have the honor of meeting you personally.  For that, I am saddened.  However, I have had the privilege of ‘knowing’ you through my husband, your co-worker.  I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for you.  I know, without a doubt, that you were an exceptional person, someone we all aspired to emulate.  I know this, not because of the extraordinary, heroic, and altruistic acts that I read on social media or heard about at your funeral, but because of the tangible transformation I see in my husband, because of your friendship. That is a testament to your character; an immeasurable gift that I will cherish forever.

“I needed Dave more than he needed me.  He was just ‘that kind of guy’.  He was authentic.”  Those are words not spoken by my husband about anyone else.  And, I mean no one else. No one. To hear my husband talk about your ‘larger than life’ personality, your passion for life and ‘living’, and your love for and devotion to Marta, your family and fellow officers, is to love you.

Your influence on so many people is incredible.  I am grateful, perhaps selfishly, for the life changing impact you had on my husband.  David, thank you for your wisdom, unconditional love, and selfless acts of kindness.  Thank you for your contagious laugh, your funny and often vulgar humor, and your acceptance.  Thank you for changing my husband.  Because of you, his life had new meaning. His love for others was renewed.  He was changed.  He IS changed. Forever. Because of you.

Helpless, I watch my husband cry and shake his head in disbelief that you’re gone.  He sees you in his dreams. He feels your presence in the warmth of the sun.   He still looks forward to talking to you at work.

You live on in so many ways, in the lives you’ve touched, and the hearts you’ve mended. 

David, know that you are loved beyond words.  More than life itself.  You. Are. Loved.