Sammie and I walked down the Parkway to the Cathedral earlier this afternoon to see the end of the funeral for Temple University police officer Christopher Fitzgerald. All four inner lanes of the Parkway had been turned into a parking lot from Eakins Oval to Logan Circle, a distance of about ¾ of a mile. Filled with police cars, mostly from PA and NJ, but I did see one from Washington DC. (Also impressive: after the funeral, all these cars cleared out quickly without the huge traffic jam I feared. So, I was able to get where I needed to go later.)
When we got to the Cathedral, there was a crowd of 100+ police officers outside because the Cathedral was full to overflowing. There were also color guards and a bagpipe band lined up in front. They had been standing there for about two hours by then. The weather app said that the temperature was 48 degrees, but in the shade of the Basilica and in the steady breezes, it felt much colder.
Sammie usually barks at men, particularly men in uniform. Strangely, he didn’t utter a sound when we got to the edge of the crowd of police. I stayed because I wanted to hear the pipers, expecting that they would play when the casket left the church. Sammie stayed quietly by my side as uniforms stood nearby and walked closely.
After the pipers finally played a short piece, the crowd started to disperse. Because all the roads were closed off, we could cut straight across Logan Circle. On the other side of the fountain, as we crossed a street that is usually a speedway, a throng of police officers surrounded us. One of them said to me, the old man hobbling along with his cane, “This is probably the safest street crossing you’ve had in a long time.” Couldn’t argue with that. Still, Sammie never barked. Cynics may say that he knew he was outnumbered, but I think he sensed the seriousness of the moment.
One friend seemed surprised at the widespread community grief at the death of Officer Fitzgerald, who was shot trying to prevent a carjacking. I think for the Philadelphia community his death has become a focus for the grief at all the deaths and injuries from the plague of gun violence we are enduring. For the police at his funeral, I think this funeral was a way to affirm why they wear those uniforms, that he died while protecting others. They needed to remind themselves after the terrible death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police.
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