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More can be less with police memorial processions

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Nov. 11, 2009 at 7:55 pm |
November 11, 2009 5:36 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

This may be the least popular question we raise all year, but here goes:
Might a fallen police officer be properly honored without a miles-long memorial procession of so many squad cars it ties up major city arterials for hours?

Seattle Officer Timothy Brenton, who was shot to death a week ago Saturday by a mad dog killer, deserved the high honors he received Friday. He deserved the personal tributes, the honor guard, the 21-gun salute, the memorial service at KeyArena. When law enforcement officers take bullets for the rest of us, they and their profession ought to be recognized.

It is possible to take good things too far. We respectfully suggest that what has become a tradition of incredibly lengthy street processions for both law-enforcement officers and firefighters has crossed the line.

In Brenton’s case, the City of Seattle hosted thousands of police officers and firefighters from across Washington, and from Canada, Idaho, Oregon and California. Many drove their official vehicles on a processional route that ran from Husky Stadium to KeyArena by way of Montlake Boulevard, Denny Way and other major thoroughfares. Apparently this had to be done on a weekday. People who normally use those busy streets were warned to avoid them from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

It is hard to miss the contrast between this public spectacle and the solemn – but far more intimate – honors bestowed on Fort Lewis soldiers killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Tuesday, for example, services were held in the North Fort Chapel for seven Stryker brigade members who were killed in Afghanistan two weeks ago by a single bomb. Because of the magnitude of the loss, the memorial drew members of Congress, generals, even Vice President Joe Biden.

Noticeably missing was anything like the immense procession of vehicles staged in Seattle Friday. The U.S. Army is not short of vehicles. By the logic that prevails in some police and firefighter memorials, the death of seven Stryker soldiers would have warranted several miles of Humvees and Strykers on Interstate 5 during rush hour.

At some point, more is less. Few dare say it out loud, but many citizens undoubtedly resent the takeover of their streets on workdays by officers from distant places who had no personal acquaintance with the fallen. Past a certain size, the memorial procession starts to seem less about honoring the fallen individual and more about calling attention to the profession in general and the risks it faces.

We submit that the public is already well aware of those risks. Brenton’s death, by itself, made the point all too emphatically.

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