Recently interim Police Superintendent Terry Hillard and 180 Chicago Police officers went to Springfield, Illinois. They made the trip to remember police who fell in the line of duty. Five new Chicago names were added to the Illinois Police Memorial this year. This week those police will be honored again, in a ceremony marking National Police Week. Chicago Detective Patrick Johnson was almost one of them. Johnson survived his shooting, and in this essay he remembers some moments from his recovery.
After I am home a teacher I know gives me a collection of letters her 3rd grade students wrote to me when I was in the hospital. The kids write about knowing people who were shot and ask relevant questions about the incident. While phrased simplistically, they show a frightening awareness of inner city crime and police work.
Dear Detective Johnson,
I hope that you are OK, sorry what happen. Did it hurt a lot when they shot you? I think that it did hurt. I think that it did hurt from that shot from the night. I feel bad for you cuz you are a Chicago Police. Oh! I hope that you could get the bad guy.
These letters remind me why I became a police officer in the first place. It is for the kids and the old people and the parents struggling to raise their families safely in battle zones. Battle zones like the one where I found myself on the ground on a recent Mother’s Day.
By early September I am walking with only a slight limp and have gained back most of the weight I lost. The colostomy bag is removed and I am feeling good. We decide to attend the annual candlelight police memorial vigil. Our little boy comes with us. He enjoys seeing the mounted unit and is blissfully unaware of the solemnity of the occasion.
The names of 525 fallen Chicago Police Officers are read. The candles are extinguished and the bagpipes play Amazing Grace. One final rite remained which would conclude the evening with the proper decorum.
With my son in his stroller next to us, we sit silently in our folding chairs among the crowd as the honor guard ready their rifles for the salute. We’re on the lakefront and there’s a cool breeze. The rustling of the trees is the only sound. The shooters fire in unison and the seven simultaneously fired shots ring out as one. I’ve forgotten just how loud the sound of gunfire is, how the sound of a startling crack bursts into the night air, so close, so loud. In an instant, I am no longer on the lakefront, I am lying in the weeds and the broken glass of that vacant lot. I’m coming to grips with the reality of a bullet that’s just ripped into me. The rifles popped again and from the stroller a scared little voice brought me back from the vacant lot pleading “home, home.” Tonight, we would go home together. Tonight I would watch him sleep in his crib the way I prayed I would again the last time the sound of gunfire rang in my ears at night.