By Joel Phelps
No matter how great it was, telling someone about your vacation is akin to telling someone about a dream you had — all you’re going to get is a blank stare and a polite nod. Alas, I’m not telling you about a vacation, but rather a bittersweet trip to our nation’s capital.
I sat on the tarmac of Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport as I wrapped up my last column (my final observation being about the Washington Monument viewed from the seat of my plane) and posted it en route to our hotel with a slew of motorcycle-saddled police officers escorting our family of eight to our hotel in Alexandria, Va. The event: National Police Week.
Over the next 24 hours, at least 700 more families just like ours were bused in, but none of us were there to celebrate. We were there to honor the memories and lives of our relatives — police officers who go to work every day, just like you and me, but were killed doing their job. My family belongs to a group called Concerns of Police Survivors. It’s not a group anyone wants to be part of, I can assure you. It’s a nationwide group consisting of mothers, fathers, spouses, children, siblings, nieces, nephews and in-laws of fallen law enforcement officers.
I’m the brother-in-law of Brent Scrimshire, the Hot Springs officer who was killed in March 2020. Brent and I were both freshmen at Henderson State University when I started dating his older sister, Natalie, and for the next 16 years I had the fortunate opportunity to call him my friend and brother-in-law. The father of two very young children, Brent’s life was cut tragically short, and the lives of those who called him son, husband, daddy, brother or friend will be changed forever.
Washington, D.C., had never been on my list of places I wanted to visit. Politics bore me severely, and I could have cared less about seeing a statue of Abe Lincoln or, especially, a tall spear aiming pointlessly toward the sky. But the moment I stepped foot onto the National Mall, that all changed. In film, we’ve all seen Jenny shouting for Forrest and splashing her way through the Reflection Pool. Anyone who’s ever watched 10 seconds of national news has seen the Capitol as the backdrop of an anchor or reporter delivering the latest headline. We’ve all seen the Lincoln Memorial on the backside of a penny.
But to see these things in person is an entirely different thing, and no movie, photo or column can do it justice. The scale of it all is overwhelming. I’ve been to New York City, so these aren’t just words spilling from the mouth of some country bumpkin. The awesomeness hits you in waves. To experience the National Mall is one thing — it takes 40 minutes to walk from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial! At some point you realize that you’re actually in the capital city of the United States, where decisions are made that affect every single one of us.
Somewhere about the halfway point is the Washington Monument. My brilliant, well-traveled 16-year-old daughter pointed out to me the two-toned brickwork of the monument. She explained to me that, when the monument was about 1/3 of the way complete, the project was put on hold due to lack of funding, only to be resumed two decades later — well after the Civil War had ended — when the only masonry the builders could conjure didn’t match the original marble. So just as decisions made at the capital affect the people of the land, the actions of our society also have an effect on Washington.
From that point forward, this monument held my fascination. To see that the world’s most powerful country erected a wimpy, 555-foot obelisk* only to run out of materials?! And now, 137 years later, this mismatch of materials sticks out like a carpenter’s haphazard trim work! This schism of coloration, at least for me, symbolizes a nation divided and proves that major social reform leaves scars on every level of society.
An officer dies in the line of duty just about every day across our nation. Statistically, that doesn’t seem like a large number given the number of municipalities in the U.S. It’s akin to touting air travel as the safest form of transportation: the ratio of passengers aboard a plane at any given time to those on the ground or sea doesn’t equate to the number of plane crash victims to land/sea travelers. There’s a bunch of cops, no doubt, but there’s a WHOLE BUNCH of us.
Although I realized that Brent put his life on the line every time he went to work, I never thought for a second he would be one of those statistics. His death came at a tumultuous time in our nation — an unfortunate time when evil seems to be winning — and now he leaves behind a family that, like the Washington Monument, has a permanent and visible mark.
We as a people have got to support the ones who brave the evils of society to protect us, the average citizen. On behalf of all police survivors, families of living officers and the officers still brave enough to man the streets: Please, respect the badge. Life is too precious to waste.
*By today’s standards; in our defense, it was the world’s tallest structure at the time of its completion