Can there be good news in the midst of tragedy? The best news I read in the Washington Post all last week was on page 9 of Friday’s paper. It was part of the article on the shooting at the school in Oregon. It was this:
10:38 a.m. The Douglas County emergency center receives a report of active shooter at Umpqua Community College.
10:40 a.m. Dispatcher reports “Someone is outside one of the doors, shooting through the doors.”
10:44 a.m. Police report they have located the shooter in Snyder Hall and are exchanging shots with him.
10:47 a.m. The shooter is reported down.
Good news? Where is the good news in that? Well, did you do the math? Six minutes. Six minutes from the time the report comes into the emergency response center until the police have located and are engaging the shooter. Six minutes. It staggers the imagination. How did they do that? One could infer from this that police forces all over the country have learned the lesson of Columbine, where precious time was lost in a response protocol that just allowed the shooters to kill more people.
Behind such a successful response one can imagine planning meetings working out response plans and practical exercises to test them. For it must be clear to even the smallest of such police forces that no one can predict where the next attempted massacre will take place. It could be anywhere.
Amidst the heated public dialogue over gun control, mental illness and incidents of over-reaction by the police in some recent encounters, we forget at our peril that the police remain that thin blue line between us and would be evildoers run wild
I close with one of the prayers from Compline.
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”
For me, this prayer calls to mind doctors, nurses and other medical personnel on the midnight shift, in wards and emergency rooms, and clergymen and women responding to calls to rise from sleep and go minister to the hysterical, the sick and the dying. For a long time I didn’t know what to do with “shield the joyous,” but then it finally occurred to me that this refers to police officers on patrol shielding us from harm in the wee hours of the night and early morning as we return from a joyous late evening at the theater or dinner with friends with seldom a thought to the evils that could befall us. Christ acting through all these as they be the word made flesh – the hands and feet of Jesus in the here and now.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 6-October-2015.