There was a lunch Wednesday to honor police officers who died while protecting the rest of us. At one table at First Baptist Church in this 15th annual Police Honor and Memorial Service in York County sat the families of the slain.
Lunch doesn't seem enough.
The latest to die on duty: a trooper from Clover named Kevin Cusack - so honest he once gave his wife a speeding ticket - who died in March while on a call around 2 in the morning. The rest died from the bullets of villains.
In a back corner of the room, quiet and alone because that is his way, a Rock Hill Police Department lieutenant named David Biggers sat. The first time I saw Biggers was years ago when he was helping a little old lady across Black Street. He blocked traffic. It seemed to take hours. He walked little steps with the little old lady. Only when she crossed did he get in his cruiser and leave. He waved to that lady. She waved back and smiled.
A hundred times I have seen Biggers since, at wrecks, traffic stops, shootings, times when people for unknowable, unfathomable reasons shoot at cops. He once hoped of becoming a Christian missionary in Taiwan. He stayed here instead and kept little old ladies from getting their purses stolen or hit over the head with pipes.
"Most of the guys here are off-shift," Biggers said of the crowd of more than 200 people, almost all cops. "The guys working now are on the street. Protecting people."
Sue Jordan Phillips was there. Her husband died on New Year's Eve 1975. Rock Hill Police Officer Steve Jordan was shot by a gunman who died in jail last year.
Chicken at a lunch seems not enough for Myra McCants, whose son, Deputy Brent McCants of the York County Sheriff's Office, was killed on Sept. 25, 1992. McCants was shot by two guys in a stolen car who are, lucky for all of us, still in jail.
And certainly not enough for Bettye Singleton, whose husband, Bill, walked into a domestic violence scene on Nov. 9, 1968, in Rock Hill and died from a bullet in his head. Bettye said softly, "My husband was a good man, and I miss him."
In the next chair sat the Singleton's eldest daughter, Barbara. "I was away at school, Livingstone College," said Barbara, quietly, about a father murdered 42 years ago. "I received word my daddy had been shot. I went to the hospital, but they wouldn't let me see him. I never got to say goodbye to my father."
That is what police officers' families deal with. Every officer's kids, or spouse, or mama - they tremble with fear every shift of every day. You could see it in the officers' faces Wednesday as they cut up their chicken and talked quietly. All this for a job that pays less than many jobs - cops start at $32,000 a year and pay increases are tough to come by. The job means nights, weekends, holidays, standing in the cold, facing drunks or just plain mean people, who at times have loaded guns.
The featured speaker Wednesday, longtime cop Mark Keel who runs the S.C. Department of Public Safety, put it this way: "Most people don't go to work every day wondering if they will come home at night - but you do."
First Baptist Church sits off Dave Lyle Boulevard near Interstate 77, not far from where Deputy Brent McCants was murdered. It is within sight of the bank that was robbed in March 2005, and a skinny self-described "nerd" of a young cop named Tim Greene risked his life and was shot at dozens of times by a convicted felon who had just robbed the bank. Greene and other police officers had to shoot back during a chase, and that guy who shot at cops in daytime traffic died. Thankfully, no one in the public was hurt by that guy who robbed banks and shot at cops.
"The bank is right over there," said David Biggers of the Rock Hill Police Department, the officer who helps old ladies and gunshot victims and those who are robbed by gunmen.
More than 17 years in the job, a wife and kid at home, a guy who worked his way up from the lowest rungs of the force, Biggers heard the speeches and prayers Wednesday. He heard the salutes.
"People ask me why we serve," Biggers said. "It's not the money. It's the people. They are out there right now. They need us. They appreciate us. We serve because the people out there deserve serving."
York County officers killed in line of duty:
Cpl. Kevin Cusack, S.C. Highway Patrol, March 27, 2010
James Brent McCants, York County Sheriff's Office, Sept. 25, 1992
Steven Wayne Jordan, Rock Hill Police Department, Dec. 31, 1975
William Singleton, Rock Hill Police Department, Nov. 9, 1968
Garnett "Dick" Dabney, Alcohol Control Board, March 31, 1968
Elliott P. Harris, York County Rural Police, July 17, 1932
Vigil in Clover
The Clover Police Department is hosting a candlelight vigil at 8 tonight to honor York County law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. The ceremony will be at Clover Memorial Stadium.