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.

In Memory: 04/30/16

“I know some people dont like you because you give out tickets each day, but we all will remember ya’ll risk your lives for us each day. Once I watched this video, I never realized a tear roll down my cheaks like a angel coming from heavon to meet us. Police Officer…oh…Hofer you aren’t just a Police Officer, you risked your lives for innocent little kids and adults. Your in a better place called Hevean, as your up there can you tell my daddy I miss and love him, and tell him to be nice to you if not, you have the handcuffs.

Rest. In. Love
I may not know, but my dad up there can tell you all about me.
I will ask the man upstairs to make sure your family is safe as possible.
You have the handcuffs and we will make sure you will always do Hofer.
I’ve never seen my teacher ever cryed in my life, my teacher’s eyes were like a tiny river filler with tears and random kindness.”

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A Story: Line of Duty Decorating Injuries

“As I sit and read all of these touching stories about how Dave impacted so many lives, I can’t help but smile. I met Dave about a year ago when I started working at American Airlines Credit Union in Euless, where he sometimes worked as an off-duty officer. Although, the off-duty job was removed in January, we still consider the EPOs our family. We learned so many new things about each and every one of them, like what they liked to do for fun and what their favorite food was – just silly stuff. We even have nicknames for a lot of them.

As for Dave, he was the officer that was always smiling with a book in his hand. When I first met Dave he seemed very quiet and shy but as I got to know him he was far from it! Dave was super sweet and always willing to help. He would help us decorate for what we call “spirit contests” and he would tease about the possibility of getting hurt on the job for hanging up cotton clouds haha. We only knew him for a short while but he is truly missed. We have his memorial picture hanging in the hallway at the branch to give us a bit of comfort. It had been a while since he last worked with us, so at least now we can see his picture and remember him cracking a joke behind his book. I speak for all of us at the credit union when I say that we will always remember him for each and every one of his great qualities.”

-Melody E., AAFCU-HTC

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Responses to “My Brother Was Killed Because He Wore A Uniform”

Through the almighty power of the internet (and low privacy restrictions on some accounts), I’ve been able to find some pretty amazing comments in regards to my recent article about Dave’s killing. Of course, it’s not all too surprising that there are many folks who support our officers whole-heartedly, but what I was more intrigued by was the responses who perhaps aren’t from typical supporters of our men and women in Blue. Check out this one (I redacted the names for privacy reasons).

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Or, what about this one?Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 3.09.14 PM.png

Please let me know if you find any more responses similar to these! I’d love to see them.

A Story: How To Save A Life, Part II

Dave seemed to have a knack for saving people’s lives. Here’s a second such story.

“I remember the first times I saw David. He’d be by himself, drinking in my bar. David always was super well-behaved and kind of shy. I liked his glasses and they way his eyes blinked behind them reminded me of a baby bat. He always drank strong drinks, tipped well, and never got rowdy or hit on the girls. Finally, I asked him what his deal was, because he came alone but didn’t seem to need to meet people. “I’m a cop,” he said simply. I poured him a shot on the house. We became friends.

One night, later in our friendship, I was breaking up with my fiancee and it was a very rocky time in my life. David insisted on taking a cab with me to my house. On the bridge, I tried to jump out of the cab into traffic. I had been able to open the door, but David was fast and strong, slammed the door shut and held me close in his arms. I burst into tears and he remained calm. He just stayed with me until I was ok.

I cannot imagine the pain you must be going through. David was rare. He was an inspiration. He was a gentleman and a hero and a real man, and I will never forget him. I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for him, I truly believe that.”

Marian L., Friend

In Memory: 04/21/16

“Dear the COPS of Euless, I know that you lost an officer on March 1st. But just because you lost one doesn’t mean that you’re not a team anymore. You guys are the heros of Euless, you are the ones that protect this city. There would be many problems if you guys weren’t there. Don’t be sad, be happy to know that he is in a better place. He wouldn’t want you to be sad, he would want you to be happy. Sincerely, Dane from Harmony School of Innovation-Euless (5th Grade)”

 

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 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 Tribute: At the Dollar Store

“It was Saturday March 5th and I was heading to Bedford to attend the Service for Officer Hofer. I looked for a store close by to purchase some stuff to make a poster for my nephew to display… I stopped at Family Dollar on Texas 10. I got all the stuff I needed and headed to the register to pay, the man at the register making small talk with my nephew said “it’s poster time” to which I replied: “Yes, we are heading to Pennington field for the service for officer Hofer.” He said: “Oh! That’s just heartbreaking.” I said: “Yes it’s very unfortunate so we want to do anything possible to show support.” The man said: “he used to come in around Christmas time to check on us, we’d been robbed before and he just wanted to check on us.”

I didn’t really know what to say. I got a little bit choked up because although I never met David, it’s those little things that people will remember him by. The good he did around the community, that’s what any good officer strives to do. I’ve read the other stories and it’s almost like all of us who didn’t get to meet him while on patrol are doing so through these stories. Now this is not a personal story but I thought I’d share given that I’m sure it is one of many similar selfless things David did just because that’s who he was, a great police officer. Rest in Peace Ofc Hofer.

“Heroes live forever.”

~ Melissa M.,

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