SCOTT DREYER: America’s Has A Short Memory When It Comes To First Responders

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Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  — John 15:13

On this date, we remember the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. At the World Trade Towers site, a total of 2,977 were killed on that infamous morning. Of those, 343 were New York City firefighters, 23 were NYC police officers, and 37 were officers at the Port Authority: they represented over 10% of the deaths. At the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, 184 died. In Pennsylvania, the 40 passengers and crew of United Airlines 93 died when some brave souls fought back against the hijackers; that doomed plane crashed into a field instead of hitting its target of an iconic, crowded building.

Due to the untold physical and emotional trauma of that day,  countless others who survived that fateful morning have since died or fallen critically ill. The burning jet fuel, asbestos, and other toxins created a poisonous cloud that caused lasting damage.

A few days after 9-11, a friend whose husband was a firefighter commented to me: “in times of danger, most people run away; but first responders run TOWARD the danger.” In a remarkable way, first responders are willing to “lay down their lives” for those in their communities.

I was a history teacher at Roanoke’s Patrick Henry High School on that fateful day in 2001. One book our 9th graders had to read as a part of their East Asian unit during my tenure there was “Hiroshima”, a first-hand account of another fateful day in 1945. One of the survivors interviewed was a Japanese Methodist pastor, Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto.  The book explained that in Rev. Tanimoto’s later years: “He was slowing down a bit. His memory, like the world’s, was getting spotty.”

I thought of Rev. Tanimoto and a “spotty memory” this week as we approached the 19th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. Right after 9-11, Americans celebrated first responders as heroes and realized they were more key players in life than, say, overpaid sports stars or celebrities. Nowadays, however, as a result of our culture’s “spotty memory,” many are villainizing first responders. If you believe enough news reports and social media posts, you could get the impression that all first responders are “armed and dangerous.” In actuality, it is that mindset that is dangerous.

On August 26 of this year, the Virginia Senate voted to remove a mandatory jail sentence for assaulting not only a police officer, but also any judge, magistrate, correctional officer, jail employee, firefighter, volunteer firefighter, or EMS personnel. Furthermore, if the assault does “not result in a bodily injury,” what once was an automatic felony can also be downgraded to a misdemeanor.

As one law enforcement officer explained it, this is why we are seeing rioters in some cities pelting police with balloons full of urine or feces. They can get away with it because it does not cause “bodily harm.” In these times of violence and chaos, what a terrible message to send all our first responders: “If someone attacks you now, their consequence may be much less than it would have been earlier.” Also, what a terrible message to send to potential criminals. Are the Democrat politicians hoping to make our new slogan: “Virginia is for Lovers of Chaos”?

  • What impact may this have on first responders’ morale?

  • What impact on veterans thinking to quit?

  • What impact on young people choosing to not enter that career?

  • What impact on volunteers needed to staff fire stations and rescue squads?

Here locally, Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) and Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) voted to reduce protections for first responders and judicial employees.

On Tuesday, Sept. 8–just 3 days before 9-11–the Virginia House of Delegates passed HB5013 which threatened to strip law enforcement officials of immunity while doing their jobs. Del. Rasoul was a sponsor of that bill. How quickly or effectively can a law enforcement official respond to a call if he or she is worrying: “what if I get sued for doing my duty and my family loses our house and all our savings?”

In a rare but refreshing move, Sen. Edwards and the Senate Judiciary Committee “passed by indefinitely” that bill last night, September 10. For now, first responders in Virginia still have immunity while doing their jobs according to their department guidelines.

This “special session” of the General Assembly was supposed to deal with the budget mess caused by overspending and declining revenues from the virus, not give a green light to those who wish us harm.

Scott Dreyer in his classroom.

– Scott Dreyer