Dim lights, rural county

Rich’s hands shook. Anxiety that makes its way down the arms always seems worse when the hand is holding a piece of paper. It fluttered easily, belying the weight of its contents.

Rich was holding the statement he would read before the judge, hoping it in concert with his dark blue uniform and star-shaped badge would be convincing enough for the judge.

His Honor was not a hanging judge. He was known about town as a sympathetic man, devoutly religious. However, those who had watched him before knew he didn’t believe the term “tough love” was not reserved for parenting classes and rehab clinics.

It had been a long time–two years, in fact–since Rich had come face to face with man who now wore the familiar orange and white striped jump suit of the county jail. At the time, both of them had guns. At the time, both of them would be carried out of a dark little whole, bleeding to death.

That neither of them died was a surprise in itself. Rich had been shot through his groin. The bullet shattered his pubic bone and ripped through his rectum. The shock force of the 9mm bullet had ruptured his urethra. The man in the jumpsuit–they call him Iceen–had gotten himself into a worse fix. When he landed at the hospital that night, he had 25 gunshot wounds all over his body. Iceen had been alone. Rich had brought his fellow deputies.

But there they stood, both upright, both–at least physically–healed.

The room was full of people, most of them blissfully ignorant of the full magnitude of what was happening in front of them. Still, they were silent as they listened to the men speak. Rich sought justice. Iceen sought mercy. Neither could be fully satisfied when it was over.

It was the type of thing that happens every day in courtrooms. A defendant–knowing damned well he’d be found guilty at trial–hopes for a lighter sentence by pleading guilty and saving the court the inconvenience of a trial. A victim struggles to deal with the fact that some day his attacker will be out of prison.

For Rich, it seemed, the greater injustice was that Iceen would be going to prison for longer if he’d been caught carrying a few keys of coke. Instead he nearly killed a law enforcement officer. Since he didn’t succeed, the maximum sentence on Assault and Battery With Intent to Kill is 20 years. Iceen will be out before his hair turns gray.

The judge did all he could. He hit Iceen with the max and told him to make himself a better person while he’s inside. Iceen apologized, but made sure to mention that his blood was spilled that night, too. Some people just don’t know how to apologize.

Rich was as satisfied as he could be without the law being changed. He knew as he walked out, there were other people he’d need to talk to about that…people who spend four months out of the year talking about “doing things for the children” and “making education a priority.”

This year, in a county that doesn’t even hold half a million people, two of Rich’s fellow deputies didn’t survive.

That’s how I spent my morning. I’ve spent several weeks out of this year standing around in the dark, in the rain, in the heat watching deputies mourn their fallen brothers.

I still struggle to understand how someone considers shooting a cop as a viable option. I’ll admit, my environment–while exciting–has never been one that made me afraid of the police. However, of all the law enforcement deaths I’ve covered during my career, not once has the shooter been “afraid” of the police and trying to protect his life. He’s been afraid of going to prison. Selfish defined.

This is Friday. I’m not coming back to work for a week. In 48 hours I will be on a plane to a week of debauchery with some great friends. Two of us will turn 30 in the next couple of months. It’s time we have one last blow out and then get about figuring out what we’re going to do with our lives.

There was a time I thought I’d like to make a career out of law enforcement. As I pound on thirty’s door, I think less and less about law enforcement possibilities. The lack of respect our country has for its lawmen and women, I think plays a large role in my waning interest.

That feeling duly recorded, I shall now stop thinking for a few days. This trip is a necessity and I plan to make good use of it.

Back next week. Until then, keep an eye on and an arm around those you care about. And give them a kiss on the forehead for me.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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