By Nick Spano
Visiting the nation’s capital on a sunny afternoon in mid- March to soak in history is a great activity. Living in the area for the last 22 years, it is not odd to see rallies and a lot of tourists exploring Washington. This afternoon, American flags waving and signs saying “Blue Lives Matter” caught my attention.
Protesters were stuck like glue outside the White House all day expressing their beliefs. Law enforcement was supported by Washington’s downtown district in the past. But difficult months of violence between citizens and police officers have complicated it all. And there has been backlash against men and women in blue all across the United States. This has left authorities feeling under siege.
Dan Gilliam, is a retired United States Park Police officer in Washington D.C. He spent 17 years working with the park service police in D.C. He views all the controversy over police treatment of citizens as very upsetting. All lives matter in this world. I’ve seen death, destruction of families, and much more,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam wants to better help others understand that officers are people, too. His main focus is: “We put on the uniform to serve and protect the community in any which way possible.
The United States Park Police shares a rich history as the nation’s highest ranked and oldest police agency. While the agency performs routine police work, such as traffic stops, writing tickets, and dealing with emergency calls, it also works closely every day with the United States Secret Service.
Being part of the White House secret service provides you “detail work,” a code they use for escort schedules, training maneuvers, and protocol. Gilliam worked with the motorcycle unit most of his career. That post is considered a very high ranking position in the department. He dealt with escorting the president, vice president, and many dignitaries. Working with Secret Service meant taking risks, but also gaining opportunities. Gilliam has met the King of Jordan, the Dalai Lama, and many sports stars.
The biggest honor came at roll call one day. He was assigned to lead the motorcade to escort the funeral procession of the 40th President of the United States, President Ronald Reagan. Talking with Gilliam’s coworkers, you see a different side of the department and glean their views on “Blue Lives Matter.” They stress police officers should be protected in any situation they are put in.
A hardworking 27-year veteran for the Washington D.C. Park Police, John Summer deals with a lot of street crime. A street patrol officer, he see seen firsthand the hatred against the police. Before being assigned to the Park Police unit, he worked four years in undercover work .
Neighborhood watch groups were complaining that there was prostitution taking place in business district parks. Sometimes he ended up locking up runaway girls as young as 16. The tasl was heart breaking since his own daughter about that age.
“Seeing derogatory signs and having rocks thrown at you in your own community you protect every day is extremely hard to deal with,” Summer says. He says the lowest point in his career came in January, when riots escalated as President Trump was sworn into office. “Helping others became harder because you were more worried about your own safety,” he said.
Worrying about your own safety and seeing your fellow officers hurt physically n these situations becomes no laughing matter. He joined the police department with a thought to save and help people inside their communities. i
Having a family can be hard at times Gilliam and Summer said. Corruption and a negativity with the police might be overcome if people remembered that “any person who is willing to leave their family to protect yours is a good officer,” according to Gilliam and Summer.Gilliam’s wife feels deep support for the Park Police. “The department is a family in its own, they watch each other’s backs and respect their integrity and reputation they must hold at a high standard,” she said.
Police in Washington and in Columbia say “Blue Lives Matter.” Richland County Police Officer Jamie Russell, a newer officer, agrees. “All lives matter, especially cops who go above and beyond the call of duty,” he said, taking out his badge after sitting down at his favorite breakfast spot.
The badge provides a legal authority to its wearers and shows their allegiance to communities they serve, Russell said. Taking an oath is something every officer must do. It’s explained as not a privilege but an honor to wear the badge in order to protect and serve for the people. Recent killings of police officers worry officers’ families. Russell’s daughter, Blair, fears for her father’s life every day he puts on the uniform and leaves the house.
Police officers can sometimes be taken for granted, “There’s far too many things directed to officers who keep us safe,” said Blair Russell. “I see news articles of fallen officers somewhere in the United States killed in the line of duty and makes me scared.”
“This has to stop, no more violence should be tolerated,” she said.
Spano is a public relations senior