End of Watch
The funeral cortege for my niece’s husband was long. First came the phalanx of officers on motorcycles. The engines roared with fury. Behind them, the hearse that carried the body of Officer Loren Courts, badge number 611, second precinct, Detroit.
Next came four long, black limousines, buffed to a shine. They crawled heavy, corpulent with the grief of the occupants – a wife, a son, a daughter, a father, a mother, four siblings, nieces, nephews, a grandmother-in-law. All beautiful souls.
The car I was in was a few back. My sister drove; my brother sat in the front seat. We gasped a few times as we tried to keep up with the enormous procession that snaked through the streets of West Detroit. Start. Full stop. Start. Full stop.
Police officers on motorcycles tagged teamed along the route to the cemetery to hold back traffic. Their bike lights flashed vivid blue and blood red. Many saluted as we passed. Thousands of law enforcement officers attended the funeral, as did the mayor of Detroit and the governor of Michigan. They did their level best to remember Loren and to mark the end of his watch. The end of his watch. The. End. Of. His. Watch. EOW. Badge 611 retired way too soon.
Loren was Black. His community was Black. Many stood in silence as Loren’s final ride on the streets was completed. I watched them watching us.
There were two I cannot forget. They were a father and son, or maybe a grandfather and grandson. It appeared to me that they had stepped out of their place of business. The older man wore a bright yellow track suit. He stood straight and tall. His solemn Black face was composed. The boy stood next to him; he was maybe aged 9 or 10. He wore a bright blue track suit that matched the older man’s garb.
The older man held his bright yellow baseball cap over his heart. Over his heart. The boy held an electric blue baseball cap over his heart. The older man nodded as every car passed. Other than the nods, neither moved a muscle. Their compassion telegraphed to those in the procession. They were a Black family paying respects to an officer who had guarded and protected their community. I wanted to thank them for showing up, for honoring a brother, a member of their family and mine.
Their presence and dignity touched me, the tears that had brimmed in my eyes all day breached the dam.
I flashed back to a short conversation my White family had with a young Black man outside the funeral home a couple of days before. He had been lounging on a fence and hopped off as we passed by. We stood out like thumbs, three White people in a Black neighborhood.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, his voice graveled with grief, quiet. An unmarked police car, black, stood in the street nearby. The sinking sun played shadows on the broken sidewalk. The early evening was warm, humid. The neighborhood was worn around the edges. We had just had a private viewing of Loren’s body – a handsome young man, 40, dressed in his starched blue-black uniform. Killed in an ambush by an assailant with an assault weapon. Loren’s cap was perched next to his head in the coffin – the bill a shiny, black mirror. The man who had hopped off the fence was attending another viewing, not Loren’s. His eyes were kind. He reached a hand to each of us. “I’m sorry for your loss, too,” my brother-in-law said.
People in the parking lot behind the fence paused, to watch this exchange.
“Hey man, we all cry the same tears,” the man said.
Just before the procession to the cemetery, I had walked up to the casket to say my final good-bye. Loren’s children and his wife had written love notes to their daddy and husband on the silk overlay. In black ink.
These images haunt me. They reflect the mix of excruciating suffering left in the wake of gun violence and small acts of kindness and love that save us.