A police officer went to talk to about 75 senior citizens Wednesday about safety, after a recent fatal stabbing of a 77-year-old man in his apartment just two blocks away. The dead man is white.
It was never mentioned.
A dead man in the midst scares everyone.
The officer wore a blue uniform with a black band over his badge, to show his solidarity and pain for the five officers killed in Dallas last week.
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The audience at the senior center in Rock Hill, black and white and Catawba Indian, listened intently. And when it was over, they gave the officer an ovation.
All of them, of all races, thanking this guy in uniform.
But that was not enough. Several of the seniors lined up to shake hands with Officer William Andrews. Or more, give him a hug. Many of those people were white.
Andrews, 21 years a cop, the last nine of them on the streets of Rock Hill, is black.
Maybe they did not even notice.
Nobody said “black” or “white.”
They just said thanks.
All they saw was blue, the uniform, and black, the band over Andrews’ badge. They heard Andrews talk about starting in the Marine Corps and how he still today is in the Air Force. His whole life has been a uniform, and service, to Americans of all colors.
One lady, Linda Presnell, who lives right down the street from where the man was stabbed to death, hugged the officer once, then got back in line and hugged him again.
“I just wanted this officer to know that I care about him,” Presnell said. “And to thank him for all he does for people like me.”
Louise Schreiner hugged Andrews so tight it looked like she would never let go. She whispered to Andrews words that brought a smile, and thanks.
Afterward, Schreiner shared what she whispered to Andrews.
“I told him I appreciated his dedication, his courage, and that if it wasn’t for them, for people like him, the police, where would we be?” Schreiner said.
Andrews’ race never crossed Schreiner’s mind. It didn’t matter.
“These officers protect all of us, and what they do is dangerous,” Schreiner said. “It is dangerous for every one of them, no matter where they come from or what they look like.”
Andrews, who shook the hands and accepted the hugs, repeated the words, “Thank you so much.”
After Dallas, and police shootings of black suspects in Louisiana and Minnesota in the days leading up to Dallas, America has reeled from its problems with race and police. Those problems are real.
Black men getting killed by white officers is a legitimate concern of not just Black Lives Matter activists, but all people of all colors.
Black people have every reason to want answers about police killings. Police, the good ones – and that is almost all of them, of all races – want to give those answers and avoid the next problem.
There have been protests, fights, arrests, death threats all over America.
But not Wednesday in that Rock Hill senior center, where an officer visited those seniors who call for help and get help when their purses are snatched or their doors smashed in or their patio furniture stolen. These are people who were raised in segregation, both sides of it, and still in their 60s, 70s, 80s and a few in their 90s sit together and eat together and live together.
David Lee Geter, disabled and black, raised in segregation, alive his whole life through racial strife, thanked Andrews. Afterward, Geter took the coat of a white lady in a wheelchair and wrapped her shoulders in it as Andrews the officer walked out to protect somebody else.
“Every person here, in this room and everywhere, no matter what they look like, what color they are, are my people,” Geter said. “The police, too.”