One of the most “fit to print” news photos ever graced the April 10 New York Times front page, It was taken at the first memorial service to honor Police Officer Dennis Guerra, 38, whose life was tragically lost in the fire he and his partner Police Officer Rosa Rodriguez, 36, went to investigate. But what made this photo so very poignant was its close-up side view, of several officers sitting closely together with bowed heads and with each officer’s hand resting on the officer’s shoulder next to him. Photographer Jason Decrow’s eloquent rendering of the shared sorrow and the often sacrificial service of New York’s Finest deserves highest honors.
It’s art we need, in what must be a renewed crusade against senseless violence, or say a reckless illegal action which accidentally took the life of this beloved husband, father, and son, as he and Officer Rodriguez, mother of four, responded to a fire in a Brooklyn housing project. You no doubt know that the 16 year-old boy ignited a discarded mattress in the 12th floor hallway because he was bored. he told police.
The Times’ story was mostly about police officers’ lack of firefighting training. Officers Guerra and Rodriguez should have taken the stairs and not the elevator to reach the upper floor, where they were immediately overcome by what the newspaper called, “an avalanche of smoke.”
A few days after this reckless endangerment act took the life of police officer Guerra, another 16 year-old boy goes to his high school in Pennsylvania armed with two kitchen knives and stabs more than 20 students before being brought down by the principal and a senior high student. This teenager from a middle class background and low crime community has no known history of violent behavior.
While most prevention talk calls for more mental health resources to detect those susceptible to violence, I think also about reviving the “Scared Straight” television program designed to show teenagers especially just how awful life in prison can be. Ian Alterman, president of the 20th Precinct Community Council, agrees that this potential deterrent “should be looked at again.” The award-winning documentary was viewed most favorably by the 19th Precinct Community Council when crime was unusually high on the Upper East Side. But the program itself was never used in New York City.
Also ignored was the escalating youth violence warning issued by the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who was especially concerned with the growing and excessive violence in “youth’s entertainment menu.” So was then First Lady Hillary Clinton and Second Lady, Tipper Gore.
Surely the tragic and awful consequences of these horrific crimes need as much coverage as whatever makes the perpetrators commit them. The “why” is very important, but so is the “what” – as in the resulting lasting sorrow and loss, and yes, also for families of the “suddenly criminal” member. Indeed, it would help if any murder of an innocent were viewed as a “cataclysm.”
The Epiphany Episcopal Church on York Avenue would again raise those “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “Thou Shalt not Steal” banners that once waved above the church in high crime times. Raise the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” banner to honor Police Officers Dennis Guerra and Rosa Rodriquez, who is still hospitalized, and all those who lost their lives or health in the line of duty, and for those whose lives are on the line, all of the time – for you and for me.
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