Some are casting accused Athens cop-killer Jamie Hood, 33, as a victim because police killed Hood’s brother years ago. Hood himself told his acquaintances—the so-called “hostages” he held to stave off the closing loop of a manhunt—that he feared the police because they killed his brother.
The Daily Mail, a British paper basing its coverage on that of Atlanta’s own WXIA, Channel 11, begins its story with Hood’s apology for killing Athens Clark-County Police Officer Elmer “Buddy” Christian last week and his statement that “you know, they killed my brother. They were going to kill me.”
An apology offered with an excuse isn’t quite an apology, but it made great TV. Hood gave himself up to authorities three days after the killing on the condition that he be allowed to surrender on live TV because, he claimed, he was afraid of cops.
His orchestrated spotlight-grab has a lot to do with why the story reached the British tabloids and other international outlets. It also, let’s face it, plays into time-honored stereotypes about Southern law enforcement and blacks.
Officer Christian was white and his accused killer is black.
But it’s important to note that 43-year-old Tony Howard, another Athens-Clark County Police officer shot by Hood, is black, too. Hood, who was wanted in connection with a carjacking, is accused of shooting Howard in the face and chest before fleeing the scene of a traffic stop and going on to shoot and kill Christian.
This is a well-worn problem with news coverage and consumption; put a black person and a white person in any kind of proximity in a dramatic story and its racial aspects tend to drown out the facts.
The much bigger and more troubling story is the astonishing rise America has seen in violence against police officers over the past few years. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc., in 2009, 47 officers were shot and killed nationally. In 2010, that jumped to 59. So far this year, there have been 22. (Many more were killed in on-duty automobile accidents or duty-related illnesses.)
Their deaths represent not only a loss to their families, but far-reaching tears in the fabric of our society. They take an oath to uphold the law that protects us all. When they are killed in the process of doing that, their killings represent an assault on order and justice; all law-abiding citizens are threatened when a police officer is killed in the line of duty. That’s why it’s a big deal.
Such police officer deaths also leave a trail of heartbreak in their departments.
Added to the physical damage that Officer Howard is dealing with, is the psychological burden that very few of us could ever really understand.
When a police officer loses a partner or coworker to a criminal’s bullet, they never forget it. They never stop reviewing the tape, so to speak, asking themselves what they could have done differently to prevent what happened.
Patricia Cocciolone, an Atlanta Police officer who was providing back-up for Officer Rick Sowa in 1997 when he was killed while responding to a domestic dispute in the Lindbergh area, still has nightmares about trying to shoot the perpetrator, but the bullets aren’t working, she can’t seem to hit the target. She sometimes wakes in tears. Keep in mind that “Coach” herself took a bullet at point blank range from the perp as she lay injured on the ground, and you may begin to understand the level of responsibility and self-sacrifice that these officers feel for one another.
That is the path ahead for Howard. Even after his body has healed, he’ll be reviewing the events surrounding his fellow officer’s death for years to come. His police chief told news reporters that Howard woke in the hospital urging his fellow Athens cops to go get the killer and trying to give them pointers on where they might find him.
Howard needs love and support and understanding. He needs to know that he did the best he could and that what happened to Officer Christian was not his fault. He certainly doesn’t need to turn on his TV and see the thug who shot him and killed his friend making excuses for what is morally indefensible.